The Immigrant Experience 1880-1920 Webquest Introduction

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The Immigrant Experience 1880-1920



Between 1820 and 1924, thirty-five million people came to America from countries around the world.  The trip to America was difficult and dangerous, but there were many factors that caused immigrants to want to leave their home-country (push factors) and come to the United States (pull factors). 

When they arrived in America, most European immigrants had to go to a place called Ellis Island.  At Ellis Island, immigrants were inspected before they were allowed into the United States. Other immigrants, primarily Asians, entered through Angel Island on the west coast; still more immigrants will come across the Mexican/United States boarder to the south.

As you complete the following activities, you will learn about experiences of some of the immigrants as they traveled to the United States

. You will also explore what life was like for immigrants as they settled in the country, what hardships they endured and successes they earned. You will also research what lasting contributions immigrants have made to the United States.

Today almost 50% of all American citizens can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island. Most came to America from countries all over the world, as passengers booked in steerage class, on the many steamships that were ferried to Ellis Island for inspection.  The vast majority had very little money and brought only the baggage they could carry.  They endured a difficult and dangerous journey because of dreams of a new life filled with economic opportunity and religious & political freedom. This is where your journey will begin!


As a final project, students will create a patch for our Immigration Quilt that artfully details aspects of the immigrant experience and the immigrant impact on American Culture.

Students will use their immigration journal (created in Word) to take notes over various immigrant experiences they've explored in this web-quest to meet the following objectives:

  • Compare and Contrast the experiences of immigrants entering through Ellis and Angel Island.

  • Analyze the motivation of immigrant groups that came to the U.S. between 1880-1920

  • Explain the role of political machines in the immigrant experience.

  • Analyze different ways American society responded to the great wave of immigration.

The Immigrant Experience 1880-1920

The Process

You will use Word to create an Immigration Experience Journal to keep track of your notes and artifacts from this web-quest.  Please make sure you title each journal entry. For example, your first entry will be labeled, "Step 1: Vocabulary," your second entry will be titled, "Step 2: Ellis Island Tour," and so on.

Step 1: Vocabulary
Use a dictionary to look up these words and write them in your Immigration Experience Journal (you will create a word document for your journal). The Words:

  1. Immigrant 10. Interpreters

  2. Ancestor 11. Detainees

  3. Inspection 12. Quarantine

  4. Migration 13. Trachoma

  5. Famine 14. Laborers

  6. Deport 15. Exclusion

  7. Detain

  8. Contagious diseases

  9. Manifest

Step 2: Ellis Island Tour
A. You must answer these questions in your journal:

  1. Take the complete Ellis Island Tour. Take notes in your journal of things you find interesting (at least 10 facts). 

  2. Copy at least 3 photos that you find helpful onto your journal; make sure you label them so you know what they are later.

  3.  When did the Ellis Island Immigration Station open?

  4. Why was it built?

  5. List several countries from which the immigrants who went through Ellis Island came.

  6. List the steps in the arrival process.

  7. What are some of the problems immigrants might face at Ellis Island? What are some of the reasons they might be detained.

  8. What would a future immigrant want to know about the process before coming?  

  9. After exploring the site, write a paragraph of a letter to a future immigrant telling him/her what to expect.

  10. Choose the countries of 3 immigrant groups that came through Ellis Island. Research 3 contributions to American culture that each group has made.  This would be examples of how their parts of their culture were adopted by the larger American culture, important contributions of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generations of people who came from these countries, etc.

Step 3: Angel Island Home Page:
A. In your journal answer the following questions:

  1. Explore this website. Take notes over things you find interesting (at least 5 facts).

  2.  When did the Angel Island Immigration Station Open? Why was it built?

  3. What was the difference in processing time between Ellis Island and Angel Island? Create a 3-column chart (or venn diagram) to compare and contrast the two immigrant entry points.

  4. Write at least two sentences explaining why there might be a difference in the experiences of the immigrants at Ellis and those at Angel?

  5. How did many detained immigrants express their feelings?

  6. Explain the Chinese Exclusion Act?

  7. What were 'paper sons' and 'paper daughters' ?

  8. Pretend you are an immigrant detained for several weeks on Angel Island. Write a poem that you might have brushed or carved on the wall. Express your feelings about leaving your homeland, being detained on the island or your dreams for a new life.

Step 4:  Tenement Museum
 A. Over 10,000 people lived at 97 Orchard Street between the years 1870 and 1915.  Explore this tenement and answer the following questions in your journal:

  1. Click on several floors and take notes on who has lived there in l870 and 1915. What changes did you note? What can you conclude about the families and neighborhood at each time in history by the changes you observed?

  2. How did the families organize their space?

  3. Make a list of activities that took place in each room.

  4. What things take place in your home today that do not or could not in 1900?

Step 6: Nativism - (no link) Answer the following questions:

  1. What is nativism?

  2. What did nativists object to?

  3. List & explain 3 laws passed that began to either exclude certain groups from coming to the United States, or hindered immigrants' abilities to participate in the democratic process.

B. Analyze these Nativism Documents and answer the following questions:

  1. Look at Document 1: Anti-Japanese Sign. What piece of legislation might this woman support and why? Explain your answer in detail using what you've learned so far.

  2. Read Document 2:  Is the author a nativist? Explain your answer in detail, citing clues from the reading passage.

  3. Analyze Document 3:  Immigration Before and After the Quota Laws. Immigration numbers declined among both groups, but one was much more affected by the Quota Laws.  Who do you think the Quota Laws were designed to keep out of the United States and Why. Explain your answer in detail.

Step 7: Jane Addams: Reformer
A. Explore how people like Jane Addams tried to make life better for Immigrants.  Define the following words, then use the link to answer the questions:

  1. Define: settlement house, Social Gospel movement, Americanization Movement

  2. How did Jane Addams help immigrants?

  3. What was Jane Addams' goal?

Step 8: Immigration statistics
A. Answer the following questions based on the data on this website:

  1. Between 1880-1930, what year saw the largest number of immigrants? How many immigrants?

  2. From which continent did the most immigrants come from between 1880-2000? Which continent brought the 2nd largest group of immigrants.?

  3. Look at the pie charts. Notice the pie chart for the years 1870-1910.  Based on all you have learned, why do you think the number of Asian Immigrants coming to America were so low?

  4. Choose one decade. Look at the total number of immigrants that came from each continent during this ten-year period. Now determine the percentage of immigrants from each continent in this time period. Create a pie chart on this data.

Step 9: Meet Today's Young Immigrants
A. Read about two (2) young immigrants from THIS century.  Their experience will be different from the immigrants of 100 years ago. 

  1. Create a Venn Diagram (or 3 column chart) to compare and contrast the immigrant experience of yesterday and today.

  2. Summarize the experience of these contemporary immigrants. Make sure you indicate what 2 immigrants you learned about.

Step 10: Making Your Quilt Square (Assessment)  - (no link)

A. You are ready to begin your final project!  You have taken notes over several aspects of immigrant life at the turn of the 20th century, and looked at a snap-shot of today's immigrant experiences.  America is the strong country it is today because of our blended cultures and strengths.  We are going to create a class quilt to show that depicts the contributions and experiences of immigrants.

You will choose an immigrant group and create a quilt square that shows your immigrant’s experiences: hardships and possible joys, push/pull factors, and contributions their culture has made to America.  Please see the scoring guide for details. Mrs. Henry will have a list of countries that immigrated to the United States to choose from.


Your journal will be evaluated on the accuracy and completion of your entries. Use the check-list below to make sure you have adequately completed this quest:

Immigration Journal Experience Check-list:

Completed all vocabulary words

Completed Ellis Island Tour

& Questions

Completed visit to Angel Island

& Questions

Angel Island Poem is thoughtful

& relevant

Visited Tenement Museum &


Completed Political Machines ß


Completed Jane Addams


Completed Immigrant Data


Current Immigrant Summaries (2)

Thoughtful & Relevant

Completed Journal

(neat & organized)

Congratulations! You have finished your web-quest, and should have a good understanding of the experiences of immigrants to the United States at the turn of the 19th century. Please make sure you have printed off your journal and pass in to me.ß

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