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Grout Museum District Excursion

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Overview of Immigration Activities

The immigration activities are designed to help students understand, interpret and appreciate the story of immigration to America, to Iowa and to Waterloo. Students will interpret artifacts such as biographical information, photographs, letters, maps, and news clippings to discover how people from various regions throughout the world came to Iowa long ago and in the recent past.


1 - Immigration Timeline to U.S. 1815-1954
After exploring photos and reading background information describing why immigrants came to America, students work in pairs to complete a chart indicating what caused immigrants to leave their homelands and the effects immigrants had in their new American communities (see key below). Understanding the important vocabulary words, cause and effect, will be essential to completing the table.

Then students identify a “secondary effect” for each original event. For example:

CAUSE: 1846 — The potato famine in Ireland
EFFECT: Many Irish people to immigrate to America.
SECONDARY EFFECT: Neighborhoods composed predominantly of Irish people develop in many American cities.

1815 — The first great wave of immigration begins.B = Five million immigrants come to America between 1815 and 1860.
1846 — The potato famine in IrelandD = Many Irish people to immigrate to America.
1862 — Congress passes the Homestead Act which grants citizens 160 acres of land in the west.A = Many immigrants want to come to America to own their own land.
1897 — Pine-frame buildings on Ellis Island are burned to the ground in a disastrous fire.F = Ellis Island receiving station reopens with brick and ironwork structures. (1900)
1910 — The Mexican RevolutionE = Thousands of people from Mexico come to the United States seeking employment.
1914-18 — World War IG = Immigration to the United States stops.
1921 — An immigration law is passed that limits the number of immigrants from each country.C = Immigration drops off.
1954—Mass immigration to America ends.H = Ellis Island closes.

2 - Push and Pull Factors

Have students brainstorm reasons immigrants came to America. Direct students to think about factors that would “push” immigrants to leave their home countries. Then have them think about factors in America that immigrants would find attractive, that would “pull” them toward America. After reading the material on push/pull factors found on the webpage, complete the “push/pull” chart as a group or in pairs (see key below).

In 1846 the Potato Famine leaves many people in Ireland without food. 
All across Europe there were huge crop failures in 1846 and 1847. Many farmers in Europe could not pay for their land. 
 The US Congress passed the Homestead Act in 1862. It granted citizens of the United States 160 acres of land in western areas of the country.
 Between 1880-1900 thousands of factory jobs become available in the United States because of westward expansion and development of new industries.
Many Jewish people leave Russia in 1882 because of hatred toward them. This kind of racism is called anti-Semitism. 

3 - Explore Ellis Island
Using an LCD projector display the photos and videos of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. As students analyze the visuals, the following large group discussion questions will help to focus their work:

  • How did immigrants travel to America?
  • What types of questions and tests did they experience when passing through Ellis Island?
  • How was Ellis Island organized?
  • What challenges did immigrants face when passing through Ellis Island?
  • How do you think the immigrant children felt?

Use the photos and virtual tour of Ellis Island as the basis for a descriptive writing assignment. Students will assume the identity of one of the people in the photograph. Composing a letter back home, they will describe their experience passing through Ellis Island and the journey from Ellis Island to Waterloo, Iowa.

4 - A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures
Students will work with a learning partner to review the photo of immigrant children (circa, 1908). Observation questions direct them to interpret the image using their prior knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Using the photograph as a starting point, ask students to assume the identity of one of the people in the photograph and write a letter back home. Key question starters are provided to help students create their character. Print the photo on the upper half of a sheet of paper. Have students write their letter on the lower half describing their experience as an immigrant to America.

5 - Immigrant Stories of Yesterday
Students will read and interpret biographical information about four men who came to Waterloo to find work during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Then they will interpret the challenges faced by early immigrants by creating an illustrated timeline with drawings arranged chronologically to illustrate the type of work each person did.

6 - Voices of the Past
Students will read and listen to audio files describing the stories of six immigrants who came to Waterloo during the early part of the 20th century. Using a graphic organizer, students will summarize each person’s ethnic origin, home country, reasons for coming to the Waterloo, occupation, and cultural aspects they brought with them when making a new life in America.

7 - One Immigrant’s Experience
Using the biography of Maren Olesen coming to the United States, students will interpret artifacts and photographs to discover the story these resources contain. Using the world map, students will trace Maren’s route to the United States from Denmark in 1890. Then they will use the map of the United States to draw Maren’s route from New York to Waterloo.

8 - The Mystery of the Lost Trunk
Students relive the experience of an immigrant child as they solve the “mystery of the lost trunk.” Being found in New York with nothing but high aspirations and a few dollars, students use their math skills to replace the “lost” trunk and its contents. A 1908 price list for common articles is provided as a starting point.

9 - Where Did We Come From?
Students begin by interviewing their family members to discover the parts of the world their ancestors came from. Then they create a map picture representing their cultural heritage. Examples of other students’ work is provided.

10 - Immigrant Interview
Students will develop interview questions, conduct an interview with a person who has recently immigrated to the community, write a summary of the major points of the interview, and share the summary with classmates.

Extension Activities

  1. Have students research the modes of transportation used by immigrants coming to Iowa in the first decades of pioneer settlement. Explore the following resources:
  2. Discuss methods of transportation used by pioneers in traveling to the frontier in the 1800's and read aloud the Journal of William Buxton describing his travels from England in 1853. Buxton traveled by ocean steamer, steamboat, rail, stagecoach and walking.
  3. Develop a Venn diagram comparing the reasons settlers moved to Iowa in the 1800's with the reasons people move to Iowa today.
  4. Ask students to compose two paragraphs comparing and contrasting the reasons pioneers moved to Iowa with the reasons some people move to Iowa today.
  5. Explore the New Iowans Program for additional resources related to immigration today.

Immigration Books to Read - Grades 4-8


Anderson, Dale. Arriving at Ellis Island. (Landmark Events in American History series). World Almanac Library, 2002.
Reading Level: 6.6
An overview of immigration to the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with an emphasis on the important role that Ellis Island played in processing the newcomers. Includes historical photographs.

Hoobler, Dorothy and Thomas. The Scandinavian American Family Album (American Family Albums Series). Oxford University Press, 1997.
Reading Level: 7.6
Like the other titles in this series, this book uses first-person narratives to describe the challenges faced by a group of people who immigrated to the United States. Includes numerous historical photos and detailed descriptions of everyday life.

Hoobler, Dorothy. We Are Americans: Voices of the Immigrant Experience. Scholastic, 2003
Reading Level: 6.3
Using personal narratives, this book chronicles the changing patterns of U.S. immigration over the years with a focus on the challenges faces by immigrants and how these newcomers have changed the United States.

Levine, Ellen. …If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island. Scholastic, 1993
Reading Level: 5.9
Using a question-and-answer format, this book explains what it was like to go through the immigration process on Ellis Island from the 1880’s to 1914.

Olson, Kay Melchisedech. Africans in America. (Coming to America series). Blue Earth Books, 2002.
Reading Level: 6.3
This book describes the horrors endured by Africans on the slave ships bound for America and the ensuing years of slavery. Includes archival photos, Internet sites and a listing of famous African-Americans. Additional nationalities are covered in other titles in this series.


Giff, Patricia Reilly. Maggie’s Door. Wendy Lamb Books, 2003
Reading Level: 5.2
A boy and girl set out on a dangerous journey from famine-plagued Ireland, hoping to reach a better life in America. Immigration history comes to life through a theme of courage and hope for the future. Factual information on the potato blight is presented in an afterword.

Hesse. Letters from Rifka. Puffin Books, 1993.
Reading Level: 5.1
Based on a true story, this novel describes the trials and perseverance of immigrants on their voyage to America. Twelve-year-old Rifka and her family flee to America in 1919 to escape the harsh treatment of Jews in Russia. Rifka documents the hardships in letters to her cousin, written in the blank pages of a book of poetry.

Hest, Amy. When Jessie Came Across the Sea. Candlewick Press, 1997.
Reading Level: 3.5
A thirteen-year-old girl from Eastern Europe immigrates to New York City, where she works as a seamstress for three years to earn money to bring her grandmother to the United States. The striking illustrations portray life aboard an immigrant ship and a spirit of hope and optimism.

Woodruff, Elvira. The Memory Coat. Scholastic, 1999.
Reading Level: 6.2
Through the experiences of two children, readers learn why Russian-Jewish families fled to America at the turn of the century to escape persecution. In an author's note, Woodruff describes the true story of an immigrant child who got through the dreaded Ellis Island inspections after her family turned her coat inside out.

Woodruff, Elvira. The Orphan of Ellis Island. Scholastic, 1997.
Reading Level: 5.5
During a school trip to Ellis Island a lonely ten-year-old orphan boy travels back in time to 1908 Italy and accompanies two young emigrants to America. An author's note tells of Woodruff's own Italian immigrant relatives. The time travel fantasy provides a sense of history and offers an unusual perspective on the true meaning of family.

Overview of Industrialization Activities

The industrialization activities are designed to help students understand, interpret and appreciate the story of early industrialization in Waterloo. Specifically students explore the concept of interdependence as applied to population growth, transportation development and industrial expansion. This study of Waterloo’s ag-industry becomes a case study in economic development as students interpret artifacts including biographical sketches, advertisements, photographs, and news clippings. These primary sources reveal how industry, transportation and the community resources worked together to become a mutually beneficial, self-sustaining economic ecosystem.


1 – Cause and Result Relationships
After exploring photos and reading background information related to Waterloo’s early development, milling, railroading and meat packing, students work in pairs to create a fishbone diagram illustrating how various economic factors were connected to each other through cause and result relationships. Understanding the key vocabulary words, cause and result, will be essential to completing the diagram.

2 – Profiles of Early Ag Businesses
Ask students to identify how early the businesses and industries in Waterloo developed interdependently. Then have students read the business profiles describing some early industries of Waterloo. Ask individual students become “experts” on one industry that they will profile for the class. Then with a partner, have them complete the graphic organizer identifying the similarities and differences between these businesses.

3 – Where Are the Women?
As students read the background information and analyze the visuals, the following large group discussion questions will help to focus their work:

  • Why were very few businesses started or owned by women in 1900?
  • Why were women not considered equal to men?
  • What kinds of work did most women do in 1900?

Use the photos and discussion as the basis for a career education research activity where students work with a partner to review current advertisements for available jobs. In addition to investigating the kinds of job options today, have students explore current job opportunities for women. Then have students write a paragraph comparing employment opportunities for women in 1900 with today’s world of work.

4 – Industrial Classification
Students will read and interpret information about selected industries that thrived in Waterloo during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Then, students create a classification system to group the industries by type. The activity closes with students identifying the companies that still exist today and writing a paragraph explaining why these companies have survived for over 100 years.

For students who won’t be able to cut and paste a copy of the list of companies, it may be helpful to print a copy of the following for each student prior to the lesson:

Put a star beside each company that is still in business today.The Altstadt & Langlas Baking CompanyBeck-Nauman & Watts CompanyCanfield Lumber CompanyWaterloo & Cedar Falls Rapid Transit RailwayWilliam Galloway CompanyWaterloo Gasoline Engine CompanyRath Packing CompanyWilliam A. Welty CompanyLitchfield Manufacturing CompanyThe Iowa Dairy Separator CompanyDeere & Company (originally The John Deere Company)

5 – Production Prediction
Ask students to think about how industrialization increased the scale of production and brought about manufacturing systems.

In this activity, students will read about the concepts of mass production, specialization, and division of labor. Then they work with a partner to complete a chart and predict which industries in 1900 would likely have used specialization, division of labor and mass production and which ones would not.

Next, partners will complete the Mass Production Matrix. Specifically they identify the advantages and disadvantages of mass production from the perspective of factory owners, factory workers, and consumers.

Finally, partners list items found in the classroom which were mass produced and those that were made by hand. Provide an opportunity for students to share their lists with the class as an oral presentation.

6 - Evolutions and Revolutions in Transportation
After observing photos and exploring background reading information, students will describe how railroads helped factories and food processing industries grow in the early 1900’s.

Then students will review the Prairie Pathways map, and write a paragraph describing how transportation routes have changed from pioneer days to modern times.

Extension Activities

  1. Ask students to research how industrial development changed the lives of ordinary people. How would industry of the past be compared to information-based society of today?
  2. Ask students to research the role of company managers and investigate what skills (mathematical, linguistic, critical problem solving) are important when running a business today.
  3. Ask students to create a timeline for 1890 through 1920 listing important national and international events for the time. Ask students to hypothesize how historical events influenced industrial development.
  4. Have students research important American inventors for the period 1880-1920 evaluating the long-term impact of their inventions.
  5. Ask students to research the energy sources that powered the factories of the industrial age. How do they compare to energy sources today?
  6. Ask students to create a diagram illustrating the economic interdependence: raw materials are processed in factories which make various products. A worldwide transportation network is used to distribute products to market throughout the world. Products are purchased by consumers. Consumers work for companies and organizations which produce goods and/or services that are marketed throughout the world…..and the cycle goes on.
  7. Lesson Plan: Who Really Built America? Students examine how work affected the American child within a rapidly growing industrial society between 1880 and 1920.

Industrialization Books to Read - Grades 4 - 8


Bial, Raymond. The Mills. (Building America series). Benchmark/ Cavendish, 2002.
Reading Level: 6.5
Looks at the different types of mills used by people in the 1800’s to grind grain, saw logs into lumber, and create power. Also provides information about the men who specialized in building mills.

Carlson, Laurie M. Queen of Inventions: How the Sewing Machine Changed the World. Millbrook Press, 2003.
Reading Level: 5.2
Provides a look at the history of sewing and how it was transformed in the 1850s when American inventor Isaac Singer not only invented a practical sewing machine, but a way for everyone to afford one.

Crewe, Sabrina. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Gareth Stevens, 2004.
Reading Level: 6.1
Describes the events surrounding the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in March, 1911, and explains how the fire led social reformers and unions to fight for workers' rights.

Josephson, Judith Pinkerton. Mother Jones: Fierce Fighter for Workers’ Rights. Lerner, 1997.
Reading Level: 4.8
A biography of Mary Harris Jones, the union organizer who worked tirelessly for the rights of American workers in their struggle for safety, shorter hours, and the end of child labor.

Kalman, Bobbie. The Gristmill. (Historic Communities series). Crabtree, 1990.
Reading Level: 5.0
Discusses the steps for building a gristmill and grinding grain into flour. Includes numerous illustrations.

Murdico, Suzanne J. Railroads and Steamships: Important Developments in American Transportation. Rosen, 2004.
Reading Level: 7.2
Explains how industrialization created a need for long-distance transportation in nineteenth century America, and chronicles the development of the steam locomotive, railroads, and the steamship.

O’Brien, Patrick. Steam, Smoke, and Steel: Back in Time with Trains. Charlesbridge, 2000.
Reading Level: 5.0
Describes the development of locomotives as seen through the eyes of a young boy and his family’s experiences driving trains from the 1830’s to the present.

Thimmesh, Catherine. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women. Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Reading Level: 6.0
Tells the story of how women throughout the ages have found creative solutions to problems in everyday life by inventing items such as correction fluid, space helmets, and disposable diapers.


Duey, Kathleen. Zellie Blake: Lowell, Massachusetts, 1834. Aladdin Paperbacks, 2002.
Reading Level: 6.1
A young girl working in the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, faces a difficult decision when her boss asks her to spy on the other workers. Includes descriptions of daily life in the newly industrialized city of Lowell.

McCaughrean, Geraldine. Stop The Train! HarperCollins, 2001.
Reading Level: 6.2
In 1893 Oklahoma settlers fight the Red Rock Runner Railroad to keep the train coming into town, because they know that without the train their community will die.

Moss, Marissa. True Heart. Silver Whistle/Harcourt Brace, 1999.
Reading Level: 4.2
A young woman at the turn of the century realizes her dream of becoming a train engineer when a male engineer is injured and unable to drive his train.

Paterson, Katherine. Lyddie. Lodestar Books, 1991.
Reading Level: 6.5
A compelling story of an impoverished Vermont farm girl who becomes a factory worker in Lowell, Massachusetts. Lyddie is a strong female character who depicts the miserable life of mill workers in the 1800’s.

Field Trips

The Field Trip Guide provides things to do before your class visits the Grout Museum and activities for your class to do after visiting the Grout Museum District.

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