To prepare my students to learn about Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, I did an introductory lesson on immigration. The points of the lesson was to teach students how various "types" of immigrants had vastly different, and yet, very similar experiences. I started with a short Prezi presentation. If you're unfamiliar with Prezi, it's similar to a PowerPoint presentation, only a little more animated. This gave them a very basic background on the information before moving on to the project where they would learn more.
Since this was just a short, two day lesson, I let students pick their own groups. There needed to be no more than five groups. They were then given one of five pamphlets: Chinese, Eastern European Jews, Irish, Italian and Polish. Each pamphlet has a short little story about the immigrant pictured on the front. These are made up stories based on real-life experiences of immigrants. Every student was also given a graphic organizer. This has the six questions students have to answer about their immigrant group: why did they come to America, what was life like in America, what sort of prejudice and stereotypes did they face, how many immigrants came between 1840 and 1920, what types of jobs did they usually take and what were working conditions like, and were there any famous people descended from this type of immigrant? As they research their type of immigrant, students should fill out the row for their immigrant. For example, if they are the Chinese group, they should fill out the six boxes for the questions for the Chinese immigrants. They then took these six answers and made a poster, complete with pictures. I encouraged them to find political cartoons, especially the Chinese and Irish groups, and photos of immigrants from that time to really drive that point home.
After the posters were completed, they were hung up around the room. Students then went from poster to poster filling out the rest of the graphic organizer. This allowed them to compare the experiences of the different groups and learn about each immigrant group without having to sit through a lesson. Overall, the posters came out wonderful, and the students got a good look at the immigrant experience.
If you try out this lesson, leave a comment and let me know how it turns out.