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Lesson Plan Immigration: Our Changing Voices

Through dialogue, documentation, research, and interviews, students understand their role in society. This unit provides a background to students' family histories, and gives them an opportunity to listen to the voices of immigrants of the past.

The students identify the issues involved with the migration of a community or family. By examining the traditional picture of immigration, students then consider their own families to have a better idea of their own history and their own voices.


Students will be able to:

  • use Library of Congress online collections to search and evaluate primary documents;
  • discuss their own family history and put it into context of immigrant stories;
  • analyze concerns and answers to questions related to migrations' shifts.

Time Required

Two weeks

Lesson Preparation



Lesson Procedure

These lessons can be amended to focus on any region of the United States. This project is divided into three lessons. They may be done individually or as a unit.

Lesson One: Research (2 - 3 days)

Introductory Activity

Begin by asking a variety of questions to assist students in thinking about their own cultural heritage.

  1. What is the origin of your last name?
  2. What is your mother's maiden name?
  3. When did your family come here?
  4. Where did they first settle?
  5. What were your grandparents' occupations?

Assign students a preliminary family interview.

  1. Have students interview a parent or grandparent.
  2. After the interview, have students share information with one another and begin to understand their own family journeys.

Background Information

Discuss general facts about immigration to the United States.

1. Immigration brainstorm

  1. What do we know about immigration?
  2. What are some reasons people come to the United States?
  3. Identify these terms and discuss how these issues affect immigrants:
  • quotas
  • refugee
  • alien
  • undesirable
  • inclusion
  • naturalization
  • xenophobia
  • emigration

2. Laws and immigration waves

  1. What laws have been passed that have influenced the flow of immigration?
  2. What are the areas where immigration laws have had the most impact?


1. Allow students to choose an ethnic group to research, either based on their own ethnic heritage or interest level.

2. Have students consider some or all of these questions:

  • Using print and Internet resources, answer the following questions about your selected ethnic group. When did the majority of the migration occur? Were there other “waves” of immigration that occurred after the initial dates?
  • What had been happening in their “homeland” that encouraged or forced many people to leave?
  • Where in the United States did they settle?
  • What types of jobs/labor did they do?
  • What additional reasons for leaving did people cite?
  • What cultural impact did they have on the United States?
  • What language did they first speak when coming to the United States? Did you find anything about the infusion of English into their homes?
  • Did you find anything about infusion of education or religion?
  • How were the immigrants treated when they first arrived? Were there any laws that may have been passed that encouraged or deterred them from becoming “active community members”?
  • What is current emigration from your country/region like today? Are the reasons that people come over today the same as in the past?
  • Has treatment of new groups of immigrants changed from years past?
  • What other important information did you find?

Lesson Two: Searching Library of Congress online collections (2 - 3 days)

Background Information

Discuss the Works Progress Administration project which resulted in the interviews found in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

  1. What is the brief history of the WPA project?
  2. Why was the project funded?
  3. Look at the questions of the interviewers. Why were those questions important?
  4. How descriptive were the answers?
  5. What ideas were supposed to be gathered or taken from these interviews?


Students research and analyze primary sources from the Library's online collections about selected immigrant groups.

1. Review search assignment with students.

2. Have students research the immigrant groups chosen in Lesson One

Search Assignment

You have gathered general information from Lesson One about a group that immigrated to the United States. Now look for more specific information by locating pictures and stories from your chosen immigrant group from the Library's online collections.

While you are free to search all collections, searching within the following individual collections may yield quicker results.

General search terms to use:

  • immigrants, migrants, migrant workers
  • specific ethnic groups such as: Swedish Americans, German Americans, Russian Americans, etc.


  1. Search for five photographs from your specific immigrant group.
  2. If you cannot find your specific immigrant group, you may look for pictures from the time period when the majority of your group immigrated.
  3. Look for visual images that make you aware of the experiences, celebrations and difficulties of the early settlers in this country.
  4. For each of the pictures, students analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  5. Remember to document the title of each picture, the photographer, the date and the publisher.
  6. Journal about the following topic: Why are these pictures so important for us in understanding things about our past?

Personal Narratives

  1. Search for five personal narratives from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.
  2. Try to find stories from your ethnic group and/or time period of immigration.
  3. If you cannot find stories specific to your group or time, select stories you think are the most interesting.
  4. Working alone or in groups, students analyze the oral histories, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Oral Histories to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.

Lesson Three: Our Voices (up to 5 days)

  1. Next, students look at their own family's immigrant heritage.
  2. Students interview members of their family, preferably from different generations. Consult Explore Your Community to learn more.

Lesson Evaluation

Evaluate student participation in class activities and final products according to criteria that you specify or generate in conjunction with the class.


Susan Cassata and Mary Reiman