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Immigration in U.S. History: Through the Eye of Editorial Cartoons

Lesson Plan

By Art Lewandowski

Grade Level:

9th grade World and American studies I

Content Standards/Benchmarks:

(based on 2010 Academic Content Standards)

World History: #2&3

American History: #7, 12

American Government: #3,4, 14

Economics: #6


Two 45-minute periods or 1 -90 minute block

Learning Objectives:

1. A general understanding of U.S. Immigration from the late 19th century through the present including its social, political and economic effects as well the immigrant groups involved

2. American public opinion has fostered fear and racism about most minority and immigrant groups

throughout history until that group can assimilate into the dominant culture

3. An understanding of the differing arguments concerning immigration policy


Generally students focus more on the causes of immigration and the perspectives of the immigrants themselves in a segmented, period by period view of immigration. This should have already been covered in class. In this lesson, students will relate the past of U.S. immigration to the present media conversation through a thematic, domestic perspective. Through an analysis of political cartoons dealing with immigration and racism from the 19th century through the present, students will make inferences about the opinions, biases and fears of Americans of these periods

relating to the social, political, and economic effects of immigration. After instruction and modeling of cartoon analysis, students will complete their own analysis in a small group, sharing this in discussion. Student groups will then, make and present their own political cartoon, promoting the stemming or continuance of American immigration.

Materials needed:

1. PowerPoint Presentation: Immigration: from the late 19th Century to the Present, containing all images and sources

2. Editorial Cartoon Analysis worksheet 

3. Drawing paper, crayons, colored pencils

4. Editorial Cartoon How-To and Rubric 

Introduction/pre-assessment (10 minutes):

1. Discuss/Review with students the push and pull factors for Immigration in the late 19th century. These factors have not really changed in the past 150 year and neither has much of the fear and racism associated with the issue of immigration. People are often afraid of the unknown, change and the outsider. Discuss the objectives of this lesson.

2. Show students the second slide (Red Gentleman to Yellow Gentleman. "Pale face 'fraid you crowd him out, ashe did me.") of the PowerPoint presentation and have them answer the following questions individually:

a. Who are the symbols/caracatures represented in this cartoon?

b. What is the message presented here? For or against immigration?

3. Discuss this political cartoon, breaking down the historical significance, caricatures, symbols, and text involved.

Discuss the message of the cartoon and the answers to each question. Do you agree with this artist? Why/why not? Discuss the issue of the cartoonist’s stereotypical depiction of ethnic groups as well as the fact that Early British cartoons depict Americans as Native Americans. Is this fair to groups? Why does this happen?

Procedure (day 1):

1. Introduce the second image in the Presentation (Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving Dinner) and Analyze similarly, noting symbols, images, text, etc., the message and point of view. Do you agree?

2. Divide students into 5 groups and distribute copies of images on slides 4-8, one for each group. Also distribute Cartoon analysis worksheets and have each expert group analyze their respective cartoon. Give students about 10 minutes for this analysis

3. Bring class together and discuss each cartoon as a class, drawing on the answers from each expert group

4. As a class, similarly analyze and discuss images on slides 9-13 noting the significance of reactions to waves of immigration during the Red Scare and immigration in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s and presently. What do you see: mostly Economic, Social, or political issues? Stereotypes? Reactions are similar throughout history.

5. Discuss political, social and economic effects of immigration (may graph this on whiteboard.) Discuss, what is your opinion about immigration? Why?

Procedure (day2):

1. Begin class reviewing/discussing the ambiguity of slide #13: Is this for or against immigration? Today you and a partner will create a political cartoon that takes a side or voices an opinion about American Immigration policy.

Discuss student opinions and why they might feel that way. What symbols might we use to express your opinion? Stress that stereotypes may need to be used but that there is a fine line between caricature and cruelty.

2. Distribute Political Cartoon How-to and Rubric worksheet, discuss project requirements and divide class into partner groups, preferably groups with a similar opinion on immigration.

3. Students should have majority of class to complete worksheet and political cartoon. Instructor should be sure to monitor student progress, especially during the initial brainstorming section of the activity

Assessment: (last 5-10 minutes of class)

1. Ask students to present, share and briefly explain their cartoons, collect when finished. (See Editorial Cartoon How -To and Rubric worksheet)


Some students will finish early, in this instance, or for homework and extra credit, students will write a reaction, disagreeing with the opinion voiced in their political cartoon. Reactions must be in complete sentences and state and support reasons why they do not agree with the stance of their cartoon.

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