Immigration Line Up


Students will demonstrate the inspection process of immigrants entering Ellis Island Immigration Station in the early 1800’s while reinforcing mental math skills.


  • Self stick note cards


Write one number on each note card starting at number one up to the number of students in your class.  Distribute a number card to each student.

Explain to the students that the immigrants who came to America through the Ellis Island Immigration Station in the early 1800’s had to wait in very long lines.  Numbered cards were attached to their clothing for identification as they waited from two to five hours for a physical exam that lasted about six seconds. 

Doctors would observe the immigrants as they walked in these lines for any signs of illness. If immigrants showed any indication that they were sick or had a disability, they were taken out of line and sent to the hospital there on Ellis Island.
After discussing the inspection process with the students, have them turn over their number cards.

Tell the students to imagine that they are immigrants from the early 1800’s.

Explain that that they have just stepped off of a ship that they have been traveling aboard for the last two to three weeks. They may or may not have other family members with them and they may or may not have been seasick.

They will form a line to begin the inspection process.

Have them write what they are feeling as they make their way toward the inspection line, knowing that they could be sent back to their country if they fail the inspection.

Give the students a few minutes to write. Then have a few students share their writing.

Discuss how these immigrants may have felt during this process. 
Now have the students attach their number to their clothing.  Have students make a line at the front of the classroom.

Explain that they will be standing in line just as the immigrants did in the 1800s. Explain that you will be calling out directions and to listen carefully to identify the number.

When the number is called, the student with that number should sit down and imagine that they did not pass the inspection and will be taken to the hospital on Ellis Island and could possibly be sent back to their country of origin.

Examples of directions:

This number is greater than negative 10 and is a positive number less than positive 2. (1)
This number is three less than the square root of 81.  (6)
This number is an odd number that rounds up to 20. It is a prime number that is 4 less than 21. (17)

Continue giving directions until all students’ numbers have been called.

*These directions can be as simple or complex as needed.


After all students have returned to their seats, have them write how they felt when they realized that their number had been called out.

Discuss the possible reactions/feelings of immigrants who did not pass the medical inspection.



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