Lesson Plan: Ellis Island - Island of Hope, Island of Tears

Reasons People Emigrated to America

This portion from the 1989 film "Island of Hope, Island of Tears" describes some of the reasons why people left their home countries and traveled to the U.S.


In this lesson, students will explore immigration through the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration 1989 documentary "Island of Hope, Island of Tears." Students will hear some of the reasons why people emigrated to the U.S. and view their experiences along their journeys as they passed through Ellis Island.


  • WARM-UP:

    Think-Pair-Share: Provide students with the following question:

    Considering over 12 million men, women and children have passed through Ellis Island, why would people want to leave their homes to come to the United States?

    Have students think about their answer and share their responses with a partner, then through in-class or virtual discussion or on a classroom chat.


    Have students complete the vocabulary activity. If using their personal devices, they should make a copy of the Google Slide and match each term to the appropriate definition. If they are using this as a printed handout, they can draw arrows to the correct match.

    HANDOUT: Immigration Vocabulary Activity (Google Slide)

    • Immigration
    • Ellis Island
    • Journey
    • Steerage
    • Tolerable
    • Native Land
    • Consolation
    • Agony

    After reviewing the vocabulary terms and addressing any misconceptions, have students view the collection of video clips below, take notes on one of the accompanying handouts and respond to the related questions.


    You can post links to the videos along with the questions in this lesson and have students share their responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can save and share the accompanying Google documents and have students complete them as they view the related videos.

    HANDOUT: Ellis Island Graphic Organizer (Google Slide)

    HANDOUT: Ellis Island Immigration Note-Taking Chart With Questions (Google Doc)

    Video Clip 1: Reasons People Emigrated to America (3:37)

    Video Clip 2: Immigration: Historic Travels to the U.S. (4:12)

    Video Clip 3: Arrival to Ellis Island (3:07)

    Video Clip 4: From Ellis Island to the U.S. (3:05)

    1. Why did people leave their homes to come to the United States?

    2. Describe their experience as they traveled to the U.S.

    3. What happened when they reached Ellis Island?

    4. What happened if a person was not well when they were examined by the doctors? Describe their reactions.

    5. What were immigrants worried about as they headed off to cities across the U.S.?

    Using what they learned in the video clips, have students select one of the following handouts to complete about immigration to the U.S.

    HANDOUT: Ellis Island Immigration Collage (Google Slide)

    HANDOUT: Immigration Acrostic Poem (Google Slide)


    Ask students to consider their notes from the videos as well as class discussion. Have them take the point of view of an immigrant that has traveled to the U.S. Students should write a letter home to family members who did not join them on their journey. The letter should include information about their travel experiences, their time at Ellis Island and their plans for the future.

Additional Resource


  • Agony
  • Consolation
  • Ellis Island
  • Immigration
  • Journey
  • Native Land
  • Steerage
  • Tolerable


ImmigrationU.S. HistoryWorld History


Middle School