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Immigration to America in the 1800s

Lesson Plan

Group waiting at Ellis Island, NY Public Library Digital Collections

Grade Level:

This lesson is adaptable for grades 4-8.

Ohio Academic Standards and Connections:

History Benchmark B: Explain the reasons people from various cultural groups came to America
Geography Benchmark A: Use map elements or coordinates to locate physical features of North America
Geography Benchmark D: Analyze ways that transportation and communication relate to patterns of settlement and economic activity.
Social Studies Skills and Methods: Differentiate between primary and secondary source


1.  Students will be introduced to reasons people came to America.
2.  Students will be able to point out both the American and European continents on a map as well as various countries, cities and landforms
3.  Students will connect the different modes of transportation used for the journey
4.  Students will follow the actual life of one man who sojourns from Switzerland to Walnut Creek, Ohio.


Power point, video, words to the song “Erie Canal,” post-assessment test,  and map of the world for each student (map not included here)


These questions will be asked as an introduction to begin the lesson
1. What is an immigrant?
2. How is a canal different than a river?
3. Where is Europe?
4. Why did people come to America?

Map Work

Locate the following on a map or maps:
Switzerland, France, New York, Atlantic Ocean, Hudson River, Lake Erie, Boliver, Walnut Creek, Ellis Island

Immigration and the Christian Pfister Story

Go through the powerpoint to introduce idea of immigration and Christian Pfister. Powerpoint: Immigration to America in the 1800s
Discuss the concept that there are many different reasons people leave their home countries.
Some Reasons:
1. Economic Opportunity
2. Religious Freedom
3. Persecution
4. Adventure
Show pictures of Africa and remind people there were also people who were forced to come to our Country.
Show the film to explain Pfister’s trip and reasons for coming to America.  Video: Christian Pfister Immigrates to the US
Have a map for each students that he or she can use to follow the program’s narration of Pfister’s trip. 

Primary Source:

  and  "Erie Canal" lyrics powerpoint
YouTube recording of the song "Erie Canal."

Post Assessment:

After viewing the film and listening to the narrator; students will be able to pass the .

Future Lessons:

  • Each student has a family tree and at some point in the past one of their ancestors came to this country; ask them to research who was the first ancestor to come to this country.
  • What did people deem important enough to bring across the ocean?
  • Make a genealogical chart


Miriam Kratzer:  Lesson plan (adapted from Pfister family history lesson/K. Tisher)
Virginia Steiner: Ellis Island immigrant information narration
Kathie and John Tisher: Waves of Immigration movie maker video
Kevin Walton:  Introduction to Waves of Immigration
John Tisher: Closure and application
Special music: Erie Canal 
Sing-a-long: Miriam Kratzer, Bruce Hershberger, Virginia Steiner