Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

In this social studies lesson plan which is adaptable for grades 5-12, students will use BrainPOP resources (including the Mission US: City of Immigrants online simulation) to explore the lives of the immigrants in early 20th century America.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Explore the story of America and the ways Americans struggled to realize the ideals of liberty and equality.
  2. Develop historical thinking skills that increase historical understanding and critical perception.
  3. Identify the personal turning points that young immigrants and their families faced as they decided when to make choices that would help them become more American and when to retain their traditional ways.
  4. Describe how the garment workers’ strike was a new experience for women (especially immigrant women), as they fought publicly for their rights as workers.
  5. Connect the passage of laws regulating factories with the circumstances of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire.


This lesson plan utilizes the Mission US game City of Immigrants, which puts the player in the perspective of Lena Brodsky, a Russian Jewish teenage girl who came over to New York. Lena helps out her brother and sister-in-law with rent and family matters, but also has to juggle her personal and social lives. It's a hard life being an immigrant and being so strapped for money. As Lena, the player helps her make decisions to better her life and improve her living conditions.

Familiarize yourself with game play prior to introducing City of Immigrants to your class. Click the "New Game" button, and then point and click on the buttons and text on the screen to navigate. When buttons appear on the lower part of the screen (e.g. the "Smartwords," "Pack," and "Badges") buttons, the player may click these buttons at any time to view the items that the player has collected during the course of the game.

The Mission US: City of Immigrants Game is divided into five separate “parts” (like chapters in a historical novel) as well as a prologue and an epilogue:

PROLOGUE & PART 1: Finding Home
 (1907) (15-20 minutes)

Story: In the prologue, Lena describes why and how she left Minsk, Russia to live in New York City with her brother. Lena enters Ellis Island and must answer the immigration inspector’s questions. She is met by her brother, becomes separated from him, and must find her way to his New York tenement on her own.

Tasks: Answer an immigration inspector's questions and find your way through Lower Manhattan.

PART 2: Family First
 (1907) (10-13 minutes)

Story: Lena is getting used to life in America. She gives her family the wages she earns sewing clothes in a sweatshop, and does grocery shopping and laundry for her sister-in-law. She must spend money wisely, so they can save enough to bring her parents to America. If she has time, she can go to the Settlement house

Tasks: Buy groceries and do the laundry.

PART 3: A Night to Remember
 (1907) (10-13 minutes)

Story: Lena sells goods from her brother’s pushcart, and continues working in the sweatshop. She also goes to the Settlement house and practices English with her Italian friend, Rosa. Lena’s brother is trying to expand his business, but will it help or hurt the family? Lena must decide how to spend her free time: helping her family or pursuing her own interests.

Tasks: Sell goods from the pushcart and go to classes at the settlement house.

PART 4: Factory Girls
 (1908) (15-17 minutes)

Story: Lena gets a new sewing job at a large factory. She is earning more money than at her previous job, but working conditions are difficult. Outside of the factory, she encounters a reporter who wants to interview her for an exposé about factory work, and also hears socialists in the park talking about workers’ rights. At home, Lena negotiates with her family to keep some of her wages as pocket money.

Tasks: Sew sleeves for the forelady at the factory.

PART 5: Uprising of the 20,000 (1909-1910) (15 minutes)

Story: Many factory girls have gone on strike, and Lena seeks advice on whether she should join the strike too. Once she joins the strike, Lena raises funds to help the striking workers, joins a picket outside of her factory, and is arrested for disturbing the peace. Ultimately, Lena must decide if she will continue striking or return to work.

Tasks: Seek advice about joining the strike and raise funds for the strike.

EPILOGUE (1911 – 1930) (5-10 minutes)

Story: Look through Lena’s scrapbook of the 1910s and 1920s to find out what happened to her after the 1909 strike.

Your students will gain the most from “City of Immigrants” if their gameplay experiences are supported by classroom activities, discussions, and writing exercises guided by your teaching expertise. The Mission US website includes a comprehensive educator guide that provides a wealth of materials to enhance and extend student learning. Materials include classroom activities, primary documents, writing prompts, timelines, as well as in-depth information about gameplay, classroom implementation, and alignment with learning standards. Selected materials from the Mission US website have been included in the lesson plan below.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Click on the game and play the Prologue video for students to introduce them to the characters and setting for game play.
  2. Ask students, What were the immigrants’ hopes for life in America? What challenges do you think Lena will face when she arrives in New York? Tie the video and game play to your current unit of instruction and what students have learned about immigration.
  3. Tell students you will provide around 15 minutes for them to work individually or in pairs to explore "Finding Home," first part of the City of Immigrants simulation. You may want to have students keep a journal to help them reflect as they advance through the game. Encourage students to jot down any unfamiliar vocabulary and make connections to prior knowledge.
  4. Talk with students about their experiences during game play, or use one of the vocabulary or writing activities provided by Mission US.
  5. Provide time for students to explore additional levels of game play and continue Lena's journey over the course of several class periods (and/or at home) for a total of approximately 90 minutes.To link game play with class discussions and create an artifact for assessment, you may want to assign SnapThought prompts to students. The SnapThought tool allows students to capture and reflect on key moments in game play. For example, you could ask students to find an example of a hardship faced by immigrants with limited English skills or an example of gender roles that are different from today, and write a reflective caption for their snapshot. You can find more SnapThought® ideas for the game here.
  6. As students move through the various levels of game play, connect their learning to the Primary Source documents provided by Mission US. You may want to have students analyze one of the photographs and compare it to the images they saw in the game, or compare one real-life immigrant experience to Lena's experience. Have students reflect in partner discussions, in writing, or via the SnapThought® tool.
  7. After students have completed all 5 parts of the game and its epilogue, challenge students to use the Character and Scene Printables to share what they learned about the immigrant experience. They can use the images to create a multi-media presentation (such as a digital poster or video) which re-enacts an important experience that was referenced during game play, or an important understanding that students came to as a result of game play.
  8. Extend student learning by asking students to take a snapshot of a New York City location in the game, and then use Google Street View to see what that location looks like today. Encourage students to write about how that place has changed over time. How might that place look different today if more immigrants had not come to America? What impact has immigration had on the development of the city?