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Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story

By Eve Bunting. BridgeWater Books 2000. Grades 4-1

Annie Moore and her two brothers stood at the ship’s railing, watching Ireland disappear into the mist. Annie is not quite fifteen years old when she and her brothers leave their home in Ireland and sail for a new world in 1891. They long to be reunited with their parents, who emigrated to New York three years earlier in search of a better life. As the SS Nevada carries them across the stormy Atlantic, Annie is fearful. What if she doesn’t like America? What if her parents aren’t at the dock when they arrive? How will she look after her brothers? It is Annie’s fifteenth birthday when the ship, at last, steams into New York harbor. As she steps onto the dock and becomes the first immigrant to enter the gleaming new Ellis Island processing center, Annie receives an unforgettable birthday surprise.

Narrator: Annie Moore and her two brothers stood at the ship’s railing,

watching Ireland disappear into the mist.

Annie: I am not quite fifteen years old when my brothers and I

Narrator: leave their home in Ireland and sail for a new world in 1891. They long to be

Annie: reunited with our parents, who emigrated to New York three

years earlier in search of a better life.

Narrator: As the SS Nevada carries them across the stormy Atlantic,

Annie: I am fearful.

Narrator: What if

Annie: I don’t like America?

Narrator: What if

Annie: my parents aren’t at the dock when we arrive?

Narrator: How will

Annie: I look after my brothers?

Narrator: It is Annie’s fifteenth birthday when the ship,

Annie: at last, steams into the New York Harbor.

Narrator: As she steps onto the dock,

Annie: I become the first immigrant to enter the gleaming new Ellis

Island processing center,

N&A: and, at last, Annie receives an unforgettable birthday surprise!

The poem, “The Forefather Arrives” by Norbert Krapf is available at the following web address:

The New Colossus

Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs, astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

You, Whoever You Are

Walt Whitman
You, whoever you are!...
All you continentals of Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, indifferent of place!

All you on the numberless islands of the archipelagoes of the sea!

All you of centuries hence when you listen to me!

All you each and everywhere whom I specify not, but include just the same!

Health to you! good will to you all, from me and from America sent!

Each of us is inevitable,

Each of us is limitless—each of us with his or her right upon the earth,

Each of us allow’d the eternal purports of the earth,

Each of us here as divinely as any is here.

Reading a Picture (8.0)

(A photo tour of the Immigrants’ Ellis Island experience)

  • Jackdaw Photo Collection—Ellis Island: The Immigrants’ Experience

  • Ordering Information for Photo Collection:

Jackdaw Publications—800-789-0022 or

The purpose of this activity is to show participants the importance of using visual text (photos) to support and enhance students’ understanding of written text.


  • Start with a brief discussion about the power of pictures. Do you agree with the old saying “A picture is worth a 1,000 words”? Why are they good to use in our classrooms? What can a picture capture that words sometimes can’t or don’t? We want to encourage kids to create mental pictures of what they read (a great active reading strategy), but sometimes they don’t. Using pictures can be a wonderful support and enhancement for students’ reading.

  • We’re going to use pictures to help us understand the kinds of things immigrants might have experienced upon arrival in the United States. Participants will need a piece of paper to jot down brief responses as they view the pictures.

  • Show participants the picture of the Statue of Liberty. The text below will be attached to the back of the picture. [picture inserted on CD as placeholder]

Imagine that you have left your homeland because of persecution and lack of opportunity. For two weeks, you have been packed in the dark, foul-smelling steerage section of the ship because you are poor and could only afford the cheapest ticket possible. In this section of the ship, there have been no showers, no lounges, no dining rooms. Passengers in 1st and 2nd class have had access to delicious meals, but your food has been dished from a huge kettle into a dinner pail which the ship has provided for you. Because conditions are so unpleasant deep in the hold of the ship, you have spent as much time as possible up on deck. One morning, you are up on deck and you spot land far in the distance. Your ship draws closer and then veers out of the Atlantic and into the Hudson River. As it approaches New York Harbor, you spot the Statue of Liberty off to the left. Many others see it, too. What’s going on around you on this ship? What’s the atmosphere? What are people around you saying and doing? Take a few seconds and jot down phrases, images, sounds, etc. going on around you. Give participants enough time to jot a few thoughts. Then ask for a few volunteers to share. Ask participants what this statue symbolized for these immigrants.

  • After discussing the first photo, have participants create small groups and give each group one photo. Tell them to take a few minutes to carefully study the photo and discuss it in their group. What can they learn from reading the caption and noticing the small details? What seems to be the focal point? What message or story is the photographer trying to communicate? What might the people in the photos have been thinking about, what emotions might they have been feeling, what fears did they have, etc.?

  • Each group should then show their picture and briefly share some of the things they discussed in their group.

  • If participants have not already brought it up, close by saying that except for Native Americans, all of us are from immigrant families who at some point braved the perils of starting a new life in unfamiliar and sometimes inhospitable surroundings.

  1. Study the faces of this family as they travel on a ferry from the ship that brought them across the ocean to the Immigration Center at Ellis Island. What do you think they are thinking? Write, then share with a partner.

  2. Once you set foot on Ellis Island, your first order of business was to find the few bags and boxes that you had brought from your homeland. Sadly, in many cases, even those few possessions were lost in transit and never made it to the new world. Study this picture for a moment. Then choose one of these people as your focus. What might be going through his/her mind? How would you feel if you were in their situation? Write, then share with partner or do large-group share.

  3. After enduring the crowed conditions in steerage, immigrants faced more crowds and endless lines at the immigration center on Ellis Island. Sometimes they were there for just a few hours, but many had to wait for days to clear all the inspections before they were allowed into the United States. (no response)

  4. Of all the things they faced, immigrants feared the health examinations the most. Failure to pass could result in being sent back to one’s country of origin, which often meant a return to poverty or persecution. These men are undergoing initial medical processing. If they do not appear healthy, they are further scrutinized. Chronic conditions or contagious infections, especially of the eye, were causes for rejection. (Continue to show this photo along with the next one.)

  5. These immigrant children are being checked by New York City health inspectors after they arrived in the Battery in Lower Manhattan after landing at Ellis Island. The officers are checking them for signs of typhus, which had appeared in New Your City at that time. The United States did not accept many immigrants with debilitating or contagious ailments. Study both of these photos carefully. Jot down what you notice. What stands out to you? What questions do you have? Give a few seconds to study photos, then ask participants to share.

6. Once processed and accepted as immigrants, newcomers were finally allowed to

take the most important ferry ride of all—the one into New York City. During the

peak of immigration years at Ellis Island, 17 million people came to this country,

mainly from Austria, England, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Russia,

and Sweden. Smaller numbers came from the West Indies. Asians were completely

excluded from the immigration process at that time.

7. Although many immigrants settled in New York City, others faced another long

journey over land before they reached their final destinations. This is a German

family about to board a train, perhaps to Chicago, or Cleveland, or Detroit, or even

San Francisco. What do you think the inspector is pinning on them? Why would he

do this? The insert in the bottom left corner is a train ticket. Below “One Emigrant

Passage”, it says “In emigrant cars only.” Take a minute to think about all the ways

these immigrants’ new lives will differ from their old ones. What kinds of things

will they face? Is this going to be an easy or difficult transition? Why? Give a

minute for participants to jot responses. Ask for volunteers to share.

8. Stop and discuss obstacles we face today. When have you faced an obstacle and

how have you overcome that obstacle in your life? What lessons did you learn?

How did you apply these insights to your life? Write a brief paragraph about this

obstacle that changed your life. Teachers might also use this time to reflect upon the

privileges and joys we know as Americans and write about what that means in

relationship to facing obstacles in life.

9. Once here, many immigrants overcame poverty and prejudice to become

exceptional contributors to American life and culture. This is songwriter Irving

Berlin, who came through Ellis Island from Russia in 1892, as a young boy. He

wrote musical comedy, including Annie Get Your Gun, and such classic American

songs as “God Bless America” and “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” Except

for Native Americans, all of us are from immigrant families who at some point

braved the perils of starting a new life in unfamiliar and sometimes inhospitable


Grade Level Expectations

  • GLE 0601.8.1 Read and comprehend a variety of works from various forms of literature.

  • GLE 0601.8.4 Analyze the works of literature for what they suggest about the historical period in which they were written

Language Arts Indicators

  • SPI 0601.8.5 Identify the kind (s) of conflict present in a literary plot (i.e. person vs. person, person vs. self, person vs. environment, person vs. technology)

  • SPI 0701.8.11 Recognize and identify words within context that reveal particular time periods and cultures.

Materials needed:

Jackdaw Photo Collection—Ellis Island: The Immigrants’ Experience

Assessment activity: Reading a Picture

  1. Discuss with students the value of using photographs of historical events to enhance their understanding of written text.

  2. Show students the first photo (Statue of Liberty). Briefly explain living conditions immigrants had experienced as they traveled across the Atlantic. Ask students to put themselves in the shoes of an immigrant onboard that ship as the Statue of Liberty came into view. What would the atmosphere have been like on the ship? What might passengers be saying and doing? Write down responses. Then share. Discuss what the Statue of Liberty symbolized for the immigrants.

  3. Students form groups and teacher passes out the remaining 11 pictures to groups. Ask students to read the caption and study the composition of each of their pictures. They should be careful observers of the details within the pictures, discuss with group members what they notice, think about how they would feel or respond in that situation, etc.

  4. Each group shows their photo and shares a 1—2 minute response highlighting what they noticed, discussed, and thought about the photo.

EXTENSIONS: As a reflection on what we have done, stop and think about an obstacle in your own life. How did face this obstacle? What effect did this have on your life? How did you overcome this obstacle? Write a short piece about this and the effect you have had on others as you faced such an obstacle. We will share some of these in a few moments.
Students could follow this up with research related to immigration in the past as well as today. Students could also select one person they were drawn to in the photos and compose a piece of creative writing (journal, diary, letter, monologue, etc.) that might have been written by that person addressing his/her experiences as an immigrant.
Ordering Information for Photo Collection:

Jackdaw Publications—800-789-0022 or

Tea Party or Share the News (8.0)

  • Slips of paper with dates, inventions, and events from the Industrial Revolution

  • Patriotic cups


This activity is used to gather information, assess prior knowledge and actively engage students. Using the slips of paper with dates, inventions, and events in the Tea Party format, lead a discussion which will allow them to decide the central underlying theme is the Industrial Revolution. Discussion might include why some of the inventions led to a change from Agriculture Society to Industrialized Society. This, of course, led to a population explosion in the cities bringing many problems with it, such as congested traffic, sanitation, housing, disease. Another outcome of the Industrial Revolution and the Transportation Revolution, which came with the invention of the steam boat, was an influx of immigrants and goods from across the ocean. Many immigrants arrived from Ireland and Germany. One contributing factor to the Irish immigration was the potato famine. We will examine the trials and tribulations of the Irish immigrant in the next few activities.

Step-by Step:

  1. Give students the patriotic cup with the slips of paper already inside.

  2. Explain the name of the activity is Tea Party and we are going to pretend we are at a Tea Party and share some “gossip” or in this case, knowledge, with others in the room. ( this can be Share the News, also) Demonstrate with a partner how to go about the room, introduce yourself, and repeat EXACTLY what is on the slip of paper. Meet and greet as many folks as possible, to gain as much knowledge as you can in the time given. This also creates classroom climate in a room where others don’t know one another, such as the beginning of school or a workshop setting.

  3. Instruct them to listen carefully to what is said by others. Try to remember as much knowledge as possible for later reflection.

  4. Allow the group to mix and mingle for approximately 3-5 minutes.

  5. Direct the group back to their seats.

  6. Instruct the group to share their slips with their table group and decide what these slips of paper have in common, what might the central theme be.

  7. If the participants are having trouble, read some of the slips out loud and ask leading questions to guide them to the central theme of the Industrial Revolution, inventions, dates, and events.

  8. Lead a discussion which allows participants to connect the Industrial Revolution to immigration. Questions might include: What kind of society were we in America and England before the IR? (agricultural) What problems did the IR bring about? What outcomes did the IR bring? What did the invention of the steam boat help to create? (transportation of people and goods from across the ocean)

  9. Tell participants that the next several activities will center around immigration and the Industrialization of America.

Grade Level Expectations

  • GLE 0601.8.4 Analyze works of literature for what they suggest about the historical period in which they were written.

Language Arts Indicators

  • SPI 0601.8.10 Determine the author’s purpose for writing

  • SPI 0701.8.11 Recognize and identify words within context that reveal particular time periods and cultures.

Slips of paper with printed information of dates, inventions, and events from the Industrial Revolution; patriotic tea cups
aterials needed:

Assessment activity: Tea Party

  1. Give students a cup with a slip of paper inside which has printed dates, inventions, and events from the Industrial Revolution

  2. Explain that the purpose of Tea Party is to gather information, access prior knowledge, and actively engage students in constructing meaning.

  3. Have participants move from student to student, sharing their information with as many classmates as possible. Students can only share what is on the slip of paper, nothing else.

  4. Listen to others as they read their information in the informal setting.

  5. Return to desks and discuss how these events, dates, and inventions might be related. What is the central theme? Speculate on what the information on the slips of paper might be about.

  6. Encourage discussion and help students to identify possibilities for connecting events using prior knowledge.

  7. Lead discussion to the conclusion that these events, inventions, and dates all relate to the Industrial Revolution.

Assessment tool: Make a timeline of technological innovations from the Industrial Revolution. Have students write a brief statement about their predictions of the significance of these early inventions and how specific technological innovations impacted society during this era.


1681 Canal du Midi completed in France

1698 Thomas Savery's steam pump

1701 Jethro Tull's seed drill

1709 Abraham Darby smelts iron with coke

1712 Thomas Newcomen's steam engine

1730 Viscount Townshend develops 4-course crop rotation

1733 John Kay's Flying Shuttle

1745 Robert Bakewell's improved livestock breeding

1752 Benjamin Franklin confirms electric charge in lightning

1760 Enclosures increase in Britain

1764 James Hargreaves's Spinning Jenny

1769 James Watt's improved steam engine

1777 Grand Trunk Canal completed in England

1779 Samuel Crompton's Mule

1784 Henry Cort's puddling process for iron-making

1785 Claude Berthollet's chlorine bleach

1785 Edmund Cartwright's power loom

1786 Gas lights in England and France

1789 First steam-powered cotton mill

1790 U.S. cotton industry begins in Rhode Island

1793 Eli Whitney's cotton gin

1797 Henry Maudslay's screw-cutting lathe

1800 Alessandro Volta's electric cell

1803 Robert Fulton's steamboat

1804 Richard Trevithick's steam locomotive

1810 Friedrich Krupp opens iron works at Essen

1815 Humphry Davy's safety lamp

1825 Erie Canal built.

Stockton and Darlington Railway opened by George Stephenson

1831 Michael Faraday discovers electromagnetic induction

1832 Cholera epidemic in Europe

1834 Charles Babbage begins building his mechanical computer.

1835 Great Western Railway begun by engineer LK. BruneI.

Samuel Colt's revolver

1836 John Ericsson's screw propeller

1837 I.K. Brunei's steamship Great Western crosses the Atlantic

1842 Joseph Lawes' artificial fertilizer

Massachusetts Supreme Court establishes legality of labor unions

1845 Irish Potato Famine

1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels publish the Communist Manifesto

1851 Great Exhibition in London

Isaac Singer’s sewing machine

1856 Henry Bessemer's steel-making converter

1859 First U.S. oil well in Pennsylvania

1869 Union Pacific Railroad completed

Suez Canal completed

1871 Mont Cenis tunnel completed

1874 Barbed wire invented

1879 Thomas Edison's electric light

1885 Karl Benz's internal combustion engine
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