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Student Projects

The New Americans Project

Authors: Leily Abbassi, Jennie Ganesan

Grade: 8th

Subjects: History, Humanities

Student presenting Illustration for The New Americans Project
Student presenting for The New Americans Project
Illustration for The New Americans Project
materials for The New Americans Project
Calendar for The New Americans Project
Calendar page for The New Americans Project
Poster for The New Americans Project
The New Americans Project presentation materials
Students at presentation
Students at presentation
Students dress as charictors for presentation
Student holding presentation materials

Students will become historians as they research the life of a “new American.” They will be partnered with a new American, either a person they know or one assigned by the teacher. Students will learn about the person’s life using interviews and research. Each student will create a unique final product to commemorate the person they researched. Students will participate in whole-class and small group activities such as webquests, field trips, and literature circles to enhance their learning about the historical issues surrounding immigration and the challenges faced by today’s immigrants. 

This project depends on community members who are willing to help. Therefore, it is imperative to pre-plan and solicit participants in your project well before the actual project start date. We suggest sending home a parent letter at least two weeks prior to starting the project in order to gather people who could be interviewed. Then, parents and students can have time to contact people they know who are first-generation immigrants. All students should be required to return a parent letter and suggest at least one person that would be available to interview. Since a project requirement was to research a New American of a different ethnic background than their own, students may have relatives available for interviewing, but will need to interview someone else of a different background. Therefore, the teacher can collect information about possible interview subjects, and match up students with a contact.  This process takes several weeks, so allow plenty of planning time in order to ensure that every student is able to be matched up with someone. It may be helpful to eliminate the “different background” requirement if you are finding that to be an impediment to making connections.  It is also helpful to have students complete a project plan, so that they are required to set up interview dates based on your due dates to ensure that their work is done on time.
In this project, students will first choose or be assigned to an immigrant from an ethnic background different from their own. Students will then research to learn basic information about their subject’s country of origin. They will learn about the processes of oral history, and in particular about how to interview people effectively. They will develop interview questions based on their research, and conduct a series of three interviews in order to gain a complete perspective on why the person left the country for the United States and the experiences they encountered as an immigrant. At least one of the interviews must be done in person, but the others could be via phone, email, or US mail, depending on how the subject feels most comfortable.
Students will then decide on a way they can commemorate the person they learned about and share their findings from the research and interviews. They will choose products they are interested in (see list below in “Products”) and then ask their subject which way he/she would like to be commemorated. They will display the products on an exhibition night at a gallery, and finally will give their final product to the subject as a gift at the end of the project.


Why do people immigrate to America?
How does it feel to be a stranger in a foreign land?
How has immigration affected America?
How do historians work?

Students will be able to choose from the following list of possible final products to document the “New American” they are interviewing; they will give the work they create to the participant as a gift at the end of the project. They will narrow the list down to three choices, and present those choices to the person they are interviewing, who will be given the final say in how they would like to be commemorated. The final products will be displayed on a community exhibition night at a local gallery.
·   Calendar
·   Documentary film (4-5 mins) with DVD cover
·   Scrapbook
·   Painting
·   A children’s story, such as an “A to Z” book
·   An autobiography and soundtrack, including book cover and CD cover
·   Students may also submit their own ideas for approval to teacher
Students will know:
·         Immigration Boom 1880-1920
·         Refugee
·         Tenement building
·         Passport
·         Visa, I.N.S.
·         Ellis Island
·         Angel Island
·         Assimilation
·          Push Factors and Pull Factors
·         Nativism
Facts and Information
·         What an immigrant is
·         Information specific to the country the subject is from
·         How people become citizens after immigrating
·         Information about the history of Ellis Island and Angel Island, including when and how both were used as ports of entry and detention centers
·         What quota laws were and how they affected immigration
·         What the Chinese Exclusion Act was; when it was enacted and repealed
Students will understand:
·         How immigration contributes to the richness of American society, past and present
·         The impact of different immigrant groups throughout American history
·         Why people immigrate to America
·         What life is like for immigrants in America, including challenges and discrimination immigrants face
·         How to view history from multiple perspectives
·         How historians use oral history to interpret events
·         The assimilation process for immigrants
·         The purpose, significance, and role of Ellis Island and Angel Island in the history of immigration to the United States
·         How it felt to be an immigrant arriving at Ellis Island or Angel Island, particularly how it felt to be detained or interrogated
·         Current challenges faced by immigrants to America
Students will be able to: 
·         Take adequate research notes about a particular country
·         Use the processes  and equipment related to oral history in order to conduct informative interviews with an immigrant
·         Create a commemorative product detailing the life and experiences of a “New American”
·         Write a poem reflecting the theme of “America Through My Eyes”
·         Read and analyze a work of literature related to immigration
·         Participate thoughtfully in online literature circle discussions by writing thoughtful, analytical responses and posing relevant discussion questions for peers
·         Create a work of art and artist statement that reflects their understanding of the literature
·         Compare and contrast challenges faced by different immigrant groups of the past and present
·         Write a song that depicts the experiences of an immigrant group from American history


The following books are suggested as possible literature circle or independent reading books that can accompany the project.  All center around the theme of immigration.

Alvarez, Julia. Once Upon a Quinceanera Coming of Age in the USA. New York: Viking Adult, 2007.

Auch, Mary Jane. Ashes of roses. New York: H. Holt, 2002.

Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

Bitton-Jackson, Livia. Hello, America. New York: Simon & Schuster Children’s, 2005.

Danticat, Edwidge. Brother, I’m Dying. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.

Dumas, Firoozeh. Funny in Farsi a memoir of growing up Iranian in America. New York: Villard, 2003.

Eggers, Dave. What Is the What. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2006.

Jimenez, Francisco. Breaking through. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Jimenez, Francisco. The Circuit Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child. New York: University of New Mexico P, 1997.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. Woman warrior memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts. New York: Vintage International, 1989.

McCourt, Frank. ‘Tis A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 2000.
The following websites have many helpful links to information and handouts regarding immigration.


Here is a suggested timeline for the project. Based approximately on 2 hour-periods each day.
Week #
Project Tasks
2 Weeks Prior to Project Launch
·   Send Home Parent Letter (request for participants)
·   Introduce Project
·   Introductory Pre-writing Activity
·   Introduce Literature Circle books
·   Choose Literature Circle Groups
·   Choose/assign people to interview for project
·   Students complete project plan
·   Field Trip to New Americans Museum
·   First Literature Circle Blog Post/Group Response
·   Reflection on Field Trip
·   Literature Circle Post/Group Response #2
·   Immigration Vocabulary Activity
·   America Through My Eyes Poetry Activity
·   Immigration Webquest
·   Prepare questions for first interview
·   Discovering Angel Island Simulation Activity
·   Literature Circle Post/Group Response #3
·   What makes a good interview?
·   Practice Interview
·   Literature Circle Post/Group Response #4
·   Choose 3 final product options
·   Country research
·   Proof of first interview Due
·   Work on New American Idol Song
·   Literature Circle Post/Group Response #5 (FINISH BOOKS)
·   Draft of Sketches for Literature Circle Project Due
·   Begin projecting sketches onto canvas
·   Proof of second interview due
·   New American Idol Song Due
·   Final Interview Due
·   Work on Final Product (Commemorative Gift)
·   Literature Circle Final Project Due
·   Final Commemorative Product Due
·   Give gifts to participants
·   Exhibition Night: Display Final Product for Community


Poetry and Art:  Students will focus on the theme of “America Through My Eyes,” and write a poem that shows what they think of as they see, hear, smell, taste, and touch aspects of Americana. They can write in rhyme or free verse to create a minimum 8-line poem. They will draw the frame and lens shape of a pair of sunglasses that reflect their personality and style, and color it however they like. Then, they will add their poem to the drawing, and draw 4-5 images in the lenses to reflect what they see as they “look” around America. For example, they might choose the Statue of Liberty, or a famous American icon. Students will then share their poems and artwork with the class using a gallery walk format with all their work on the walls.