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Grades K-2
Around the world and in our own communities, people move in and out of places every day, and they have done so throughout human history. Their patterns of movement reflect the conditions of an ever-changing world and, in turn, impact the cultural landscapes of the places they leave and the places they settle in ways that often last well beyond their own lifetimes. These imprints on a region include its ethnic make-up, spoken languages, traditions, local food, music, clothes, and other cultural markers. Thus, an essential part of understanding a region is its migration story.

This lesson will help students understand some key concepts of human migration through the examination of maps and migration patterns. Students will research and document the impact of migration on a region's cultural landscape. They will examine migration patterns on a global and national scale as a class and then apply that understanding to a class project telling a migration story about their own community.

Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, demography, history
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 1: "How to use maps and other geographical representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report, information from a spatial perspective"
Standard 9: "The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human population on Earth's surface"
Standard 10: "The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics"
Two to three hours

Materials Required:
Students will
  • understand that people move, and they do so for reasons;
  • use maps to learn about the patterns of human migration;
  • understand that the effects of migration are tied to students through their ancestry and community's cultural make-up;
  • document footprints or "cultural markers" left by migration on the cultural landscape; and
  • research and tell the migration story of the local community.
Geographic Skills:
Asking Geographic Questions
Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Answering Geographic Questions
Analyzing Geographic Information

S u g g e s t e d   P r o c e d u r e
To engage students in the migration topic, ask them if they've ever heard the phrase "the great American melting pot." Discuss what the phrase means (it emphasizes integration or assimilation of immigrants in U.S. culture), and introduce some other phrases that have been used to describe the United States, such as "salad bowl" (which emphasizes pluralism or multiculturalism), or "kaleidoscope" (which emphasizes that both the immigrants and society adapt and change). Explain that all these labels highlight the important role immigration has played in U.S. identity and culture. Explain to students that this lesson will focus on the movements of large groups of people to and from places, and the reasons for those movements.
Activity 1: What is Migration?
Before students examine migration patterns, they must understand what migration is and some of its key concepts. Have students study this Human Migration Guide (PDF, Adobe Acrobat Reader required) for background information on human migration. You may also find it helpful to have students review some of the sources in the Related Links section.

In small groups or with the whole class discuss the following questions:

  • What are some different types of human movements?
  • Why do people move? Ask students to think about why a group of people would leave one place to go to another. Prompt them to think about good things that would make people want to go to a new country (such as nicer climate, better food supply, etc.) and bad things that would make people want to leave their country (such as a food shortage, war, flood, etc.).
Activity 2: People on the Move
As a class, look at the "People on the Move" map in the National Geographic: Geography Action!—Migration: The Human Journey Packet (PDF, Adobe Acrobat Reader required) and guide them in pointing out some current patterns of migration across the globe.

Help students interpret the maps and discuss the following questions:

  • From which continents are the most people leaving?
  • To which continents are the most people moving?
  • What are some patterns of migration in North America? In theUnited States?
  • Why do you think these patterns are happening?
Give students a copy of a blank world map . Using the "People on the Move" map, have students find information to complete the following activities:
  • Color yellow the country to which more people move than anywhere else.
  • Color green all the continents from which people move to come to the United States.
Ask students why they think so many people move around the world, and why so many of them move to the United States. Explain to students that everyone in the United States today has ancestors who originally came from somewhere else. Have students find information about the first people in their families who came to the United States, and where they came from. (Alternatively, have students select a particular ethnic group in their community to find information about that group's country of origin.) Activity 3: Past Moves, Present Patterns
While present migrations are changing the face of the future, past migrations have helped shape the present makeup of populations. The ancestry, or roots, of the people in a region tie them to the migrations of their ancestors and help explain the history of the region. Have students share information about what they found out about the first people in their families (or the community group they leaned about) who came to the United States. Then, have students examine the "Past Moves, Present Patterns" map for the United States in the National Geographic: Geography Action!—Migration: The Human Journey Packet (PDF, Adobe Acrobat Reader required) and look at the tapestry of American ancestry, as shown by the most common ancestry by county.

Pass out one or more index cards to each student and have them write their family's (or selected group's) country or countries of origin on the cards. Each card represents one country of origin, so some students may need multiple cards. Have students take turns building a concrete bar graph on the classroom floor by placing their cards in bars with others who have similar ancestry.

Discuss the following questions:

  • How do the ancestry patterns of your class compare to those on the "Past Moves, Present Patterns" map?
  • Do more people from certain countries immigrate to one area than another because their ancestors did? Why do you think this is so?
  • How do you think communities with different ancestry and migration patterns are different from one another?
  • What factors might contribute to these patterns?
Activity 4: Migration: A Community Perspective
Now that students have identified major groups of past and current immigrants in their local area, it is time for them to investigate what impact those groups have had and are having on the cultural landscape of their community. Explain to students that migration effects places, as seen in its ethnic make-up, spoken languages, religious institutions, food, traditions, clothes, music, and other cultural markers.

Conduct a class project to help students learn about their community's migration story. Use the following National Geographic Geography Action! Migration: The Human Journey Project Checklist (PDF, Adobe Acrobat Reader required) to help organize the project. Depending on the depth of the available information, help students find out about the role some of the major immigrant groups of the past or present has played in the community's history. You can help students learn about their community by sharing information from historical documents and newspaper articles, and through photographs, and other artifacts. Some possible places to look include the public library, a town or city historian, local museums, newspaper archives, the phone book (to identify ethnic restaurants, religious institutions, clubs, etc.) and the Internet. (Note: the school or local librarian will often help gather the right resources ahead of time and help students in their research.)

In addition to this research into existing documents, you could also work with your class to complete the following activities to create primary source community records of your own:

  • Have some students conduct interviews (PDF, Adobe Acrobat Reader required) with community members who could share information about patterns of movement to and from the community as well as personal histories. For more ideas, see the Tell a Migration StoryWith Interviews activity.

  • Have other students photograph (PDF, Adobe Acrobat Reader required) (or sketch if cameras are not available) people and places that represent migration patterns or cultural markers in the community. Examples could include an ethnic community, such as a "Chinatown," ethnic grocery stores, a religious community center, street signs, architectural styles, signs in other languages, people at a traditional festival, ethnic food, etc. Have students brainstorm locations and ideas first, and be sure to get permission to take photographs in businesses, libraries, etc. Then have students label photographs with the dates, places, and short descriptions of the migrations represented by each. For more ideas, see the Tell a Migration StoryWith Photos activity.
When students have completed their research, have a community history day, inviting other classes to view your collection depicting the migration story of the community. Ask the local school, library, museum, community center, or city hall to exhibit your class collection.

Discuss with students some of the reasons that it is important to study migration. How does a community's pattern of migration make it unique? What can we learn about ourselves from this kind of information? Why is it important to preserve and pass on this information to future generations?
Suggested Student Assessment:
Student understanding should be assessed throughout the development of the lesson and project. Be sure students understand the basic concepts of migration—that people move; they move for reasons; and the effects of that movement are tied to students through their ancestry and current community's make-up.
Extending the Lesson:
  • Visit the EdNet Geography Action! Community to access lesson plan, audio files, live chats and classroom resources related to all aspects of migration. Geography Action! is an annual conservation and awareness program designed to educate and excite people about our natural, cultural, and historic treasures. Each year they celebrate a different topic related to conservation and the world.

  • Have students write a story about a fictional modern immigrant character. Ask students to use a journal format that includes information about the immigrant's family and background, and the reasons for traveling to a new home. They should also include details about their experiences during their journey and after their arrival.

  • Have students select stories from this list of books about moving to read about different reasons people move. Have students share their favorite story with the class and discuss what happens to the characters.
Related Links: