I team teach reading two mornings per week at the local school. Mrs. M and I recently put together a variety of activities to celebrate the finish of a language arts unit on Immigration. We had two goals: help the students feel what it might have been like to be a new immigrant coming through Ellis Island in the 1800s, and learn about the ethnic heritage of the teachers and staff at the school.

For the first objective, Mrs. M and I spoke to the students only in Spanish–a language they do not understand. We marched them down the hall for a “medical exam.”

checking eyes and heart

When we returned to the classroom, each student had an interview (in Spanish) about their intentions.

“entrance interview”

When they managed to guess the correct answers, they eventually got some stamps in their “passports.

each student received a “passport”

…with “picture,” basic personal info, and eventual stamps for successful entry

As we went through this process, the students couldn’t decide whether to laugh and goof off, or whether to get angry that they couldn’t understand what we wanted them to do. Discussion helped clarify that this is often how new immigrants feel. Goal one: Successful!

Then we moved on to looking at the ethnic heritage of each teacher, staff member, and administrator at this little school. I had surveyed the adults ahead of time, gathering the information into a chart and writing it on cards to be put on a bar graph.

putting together the bar graph

It was fascinating to follow the progress of this activity and discussion time. It quickly became clear that these students fundamentally have no idea of world geography. They were baffled by the differences in names: Italian, Italy; Irish, Ireland; Swedish, Sweden; much less being unable to find the countries on a map.

We also had a long discussion about “Indian” versus “Native American.” Most of the students were quite offended that white people had decided they should be called “Native Americans.” All of them were adamant that they are “Dine” or “Navajo” or at least should be called “Indian.” They also did not want to include other tribal groups in their own grouping of “Indian.”

I assumed they could understand many different tribes making up “Native Americans” and many different nationalities making up “Anglo.” However, what the students came back to over and over and over was that they are Navajo and everyone else is “belagaana–other–not us.”

Ethnic Heritage of School Staff, Administrators, and Teachers

Seems to me this was a successful closing activity with lots to be learned…by ME, if not by the students!

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