Immigration Unit and Ellis Island Simulation

Submitted by Upper Elementary Teacher, Corrine Previte
Today in Upper Elementary, we took a quick trip to Ellis Island to kick off our unit on immigration. For the start of this unit, we decided to create an Ellis Island simulation where students would get an authentic experience of what it was like to be an immigrant. Students were able to create their own passports and choose what country they came from. For example, students choose Italy, France, Germany, etc. After they created their passport, they received their ticket for Ellis Island, grabbed their backpacks, and headed aboard the ship. Students were placed on the ship based on class and were told what accommodations they would receive on the boat. After they spent about “a month” on the boat students then went through 3 stations: registration, physical, and a psychiatric station. At each station students were asked a series of questions and based on their responses, it would determine their destiny. For example, it would determine if they would become a legal citizen, if they were held back in the observation station for a few days or detained and sent back home. While passing through to get to each station, students also had to go through an obstacle course to simulate the stress that immigrants went through in order to get from place to place. According to history, immigrants had to climb many flights of stairs while carrying all of their belongings in order to get from station to station.
After the simulation we were able to debrief about the experience. Many students stated that it must have been a difficult experience going through Ellis Island, especially carrying all of their belongings and waiting in long lines. Most students stated that it must have been a nerve-wracking and scary experience to go through. One student stated “I feel like you would have to have a lot of patience and it must be frustrating to wait there and watch.” Another student stated immigrants felt “scared, especially if you might lose a family member.” Overall, students enjoyed the experience and gained a clear understanding of what it was like to be an immigrant coming over to Ellis Island.
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