Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about immigration and Ellis Island.  The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Ellis Island. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Help children learn about the immigrant experience that has shaped American history and culture. This movie will explore the history of Ellis Island and the immigration inspection process. It will also shed light on what life was like for immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We recommend holding plenty of discussions with children and encouraging them to share stories about their families.

Review with children that an immigrant is a person who moves to a new country. Why might people move? Hold a discussion and brainstorm different ideas. Remind children that during the 1800s, millions of people began moving to the United States. Some moved because of war or political strife in their home countries, while others moved in search of new business ventures or better job opportunities. Emphasize that the journey of the immigrant was not easy. Many had to spend their life savings in order to pay for the trip. Men usually immigrated first. After they saved up enough money, they brought their wives and children over. As a result, some families were separated for years.

In 1892, the government established an immigration station on Ellis Island, in the bay between New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey. Each day hundreds or even thousands of people would arrive by boat and pass through inspections. Due to limited space on the boats and at Ellis Island, people could only bring as many things as they could carry. Help children understand that immigrants were moving to a new country with very few belongings, were often away from their families, and headed to a place where they knew only a few people.

Upon arrival, potential immigrants were ushered through a quick health exam. As potential immigrants climbed up a set of stairs, officials watched for symptoms of illnesses, heavy breathing (which indicated potential heart problems), and signs of mental disturbances. These were indications that the person might not be able to find or maintain a job. Doctors then gave a “six second physical” and checked for diseases, including a contagious eye infection called trachoma. Sick people were sent to a hospital on Ellis Island, treated, and ushered through the immigration process again.

After the physical checkup, potential immigrants were asked a series of questions by immigration inspectors. Help children understand that the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island came from many different countries all over Europe and they spoke different languages. Translators employed by Ellis Island aided communication. Potential immigrants had to show the address of their final destination in America and prove that they had enough money to get to their destination by train. In addition, they had to show they had enough funds to sustain themselves for roughly two weeks while they settled into their new homes. Government officials wanted to make sure new immigrants were capable of finding and maintaining jobs and were able to afford shelter so they did not become charges of the state or cause other problems. Immigrants who passed the inspection process finally found their way to their final destinations and became official residents of the United States.

During its operations from 1892 to 1954, roughly 12 million people passed through Ellis Island. In its busiest periods, over one million people would pass through in a year. Ellis Island was known as the “Gateway to America.” But, many immigrants also called it “The Island of Hope” or “The Island of Tears” because this was where their fates were determined. Many children and adults today might hold the misconception that Ellis Island’s immigration process was strict and many people were denied entry. In reality, only about 2% of immigrants were denied. Help children understand that the inspection process was simply to ensure that potential immigrants were in good health and capable of finding and maintaining a job.

Help children understand what life was like for new immigrants in the United States in the 1900s. Many arrived with very little and struggled to make ends meet. Some Americans felt that immigrants were taking jobs away from people who were born in the United States, and as a result, many new immigrants faced racism and prejudice or were mistreated because of their religion or culture. Finding gainful employment could be tough for new immigrants.

In the mid 1900s, the government established quotas and restrictions on the number of immigrants who could move to the country. As a result, Ellis Island saw a decline in activity and eventually in 1954, it shut down operations all together. In the 1965, Ellis Island became part of the National Park Service and in 1976 it was opened to the public. In 1990, the Immigrant History museum opened on Ellis Island and it continues to operate year-round for visitors. Today, over 100 million people can trace their ancestry back to Ellis Island. Help children connect with their family histories. Invite them to share stories about their ancestors and imagine what life was like for them.