Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

The Melting Pot of Gilded Age and Progressive Era

U.S. History

K20 Center, Aimee Myers | Published: May 27th, 2022 by K20 Center


In this lesson, students will analyze primary and secondary sources to determine the push and pull factors that led immigrants to come to the United States by the millions in the 1880s through the 1920s and will also examine the immigrant experience upon arriving in the United States, including the impact of nativism and settlement house assimilation programs.

Essential Question(s)

What causes people to move? How do people change when they move to a new place? 



Students will engage in argumentation through the Four Corners instructional strategy to explore the concept of America's melting pot.


Using a graphic organizer, students will analyze different stories of recent immigration. Then students will compare a recent immigration story to a children's video focused on the concept of the American melting pot.


Students will use an active reading strategy called CUS and Discuss to learn about immigration from the 1880s through the 1920s. Then students will deepen their knowledge by using the Strike Out strategy to review and evaluate significant components of historical immigration.


Students will read primary source documents revolving around immigration from the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Students will then read a poem written during this historical period. Using an H-Chart, students will use the primary documents and the poem to synthesis their thoughts on immigration during the 1880s to 1920s.


Students will revisit their thoughts on the idea of the American melting pot by participating on the Four Corners activity again. After the Four Corners activity, the individual assessment will revolve around two different writing assignments: (A) an immigrant first-hand account and (B) a comic strip depicting the immigration experience.


  • Attached "Graphic Organizer-Immigration Story"

  • Student handout: "Rush of Immigrants"

  • PowerPoint presentation: "Immigration in Gilded Age and Progressive Era"

  • "Student Handout Immigration Primary Texts"

  • Poetry handout: "New Colossus"

  • Rubric: comic

  • Rubric: immigrant experience


Guide the students through a Four Corners activity. Place one of four signs in each corner of the room that read Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree, then pose the following question to the students: "Is America truly a great 'melting pot'?" Ask students to move to the corner that best represents their opinions. Give students a few minutes to discuss their thoughts with peers who selected the same corner. After students have had a few minutes to discuss, ask them to choose a representative to speak for their position. After each representative speaks, ask students if they would like to move to a different corner after hearing different perspectives.


Hand out the attachment "Graphic Organizer Immigration Story." Instruct the students to read the directions and answer the questions. Allow students to use their own electronic devices or school-provided devices to access the webpage Once there, have each student choose one of the six stories to read and fill out the "Graphic Organizer Immigrant Story" sheet. You may wish to assign students randomly to one of the stories so each of the six stories are represented. Ask students to identify the push and pull factors for their immigrant. What factors "pushed" them to leave their home country? What factors "pulled" them to come to the US? Have students summarize their immigrants' experiences, noting hardships or improvements in their quality of life.

After students have finished their individual work, ask students to get into small groups of 4-6 and compare the experience of their immigrant(s) to those of the rest of their group. They should discuss similarities and differences of the immigrant experience. Make sure that each group member represents a different immigrant story. Once students have had time to share in small groups, have the small groups share out with the whole class to develop a greater understanding of the similarities between most immigrant stories.

Show students the Schoolhouse Rock cartoon from 1976 titled "The Great American Melting Pot," which can be found YouTube (linked here or URL in the Resources section of this lesson). Ask students to get back into their groups, then give them approximately 5-10 minutes to compare and contrast the children's cartoon with the real-life immigrant stories they explored. You may want to use a Venn diagram to assist students with their compare and contrast.

After the groups meet and turn in their Venn diagrams, allow students to discuss as a class how the immigrant experience was portrayed in the cartoon and compare that with the stories of real-life immigrants.


Inform students they are going to participate in a CUS and Discuss activity. They will first read a secondary text about the history of immigration from 1880-1920. This handout discusses the types of immigrants who came to the United States, the reasons immigrants chose to leave their homelands, what happened upon arrival, and what life was like for immigrants once they settled. Distribute the "Rush of Immigrants" handout to students.

Using the CUS component, students will circle important terms (C), then they will underline important details (U), and lastly, put a star next to the main idea (S). After they have read the handout and annotated it using the CUS component, bring the class back together and discuss the important terms, details, and main idea.

Once students have actively engaged with the handout using the CUS component of CUS and Discuss, as a class, discuss their CUS components from the article. Give them a few minutes of time to share their thoughts and ask any questions they may have about important terms or details.

Additional information about the historical elements of immigration can be given through the provided PowerPoint presentation. The PowerPoint is developed in a way that can be shared with students electronically. There are question on key slides that ask students to stop and reflect on the information provided. If students do not have access to view the PowerPoint on their own, the teacher can present and discuss the PowerPoint as a class.

After the PowerPoint presentation, students will participate in a Strike Out activity to review and evaluate the information they just gained. Allow students to get into groups of four to five. Each group should have a secretary who records their responses. Ask students to think about the historical information they have gained about immigration through the handout and the PowerPoint. Groups will decide on the seven most significant concepts to know about immigration from the 1880s to the 1920s. The secretary will record these seven most significant elements. Once groups have completed their lists, ask them to each pass their lists to another group. The other group will examine the list and choose one thing to mark off the list. They will mark it off because they believe that it is the least significant on the list. Continue this process until the list has made it through at least three groups, at which point each list should have three different things marked off. At this time, groups should pass the list back to the original authoring group. Come back together as a class and ask students to share their remaining list items. Create a whole-class list on the board or on a large sheet of paper so everyone can see the collaborative list.

After the collaborative list has been made, ask students to share some of the items from their lists that were marked off. Ask the class to share why they felt like these items were less significant that those remaining on the list.


Instruct students that they will now look at the immigrant experience by exploring the writings of actual immigrants and native-born Americans living at the turn of the 20th century. These stories are primary documents from this period in history and are provided in the lesson materials. Instead of making students read all of the stories, use the Jigsaw strategy for the reading.

Assign each student one of the readings to jigsaw primary sources detailing the immigrant experience and the American response. The documents consist of six excerpts: (1) Chinese Immigrant Lew Chew Denounces Prejudice in America, 1882; (2) Italian immigrant Rocco Corresca writes about American opportunity, 1902; (3) Jane Addams: "Immigrants and Their Children," Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes, 1911; (4) Alzina Parsons Stevens, "Life in A Social Settlement—Hull House, Chicago," March 1899; (5) Metropolitan Temple, Chinese exclusion, 1902; and (6) Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, 1916. Ask students to read these documents, noting either the push or the pull factors that were a part of the immigrant experience (for the immigrant documents) or the attitude toward immigrants and the rationale (for the American documents).

Once they have all had time to read their assigned pieces, allow students to get into pairs or groups of three or four. They should group up with peers who had the same reading as their own. Give students a few minutes to discuss the reading with their partners or groups.

Once students have had time to discuss their primary documents, inform them that they are going to use an H-Chart to make connections between that document and a poem written during this historical period. Give students the H-chart handout (located under Attachments) or just have them draw an "H" on their paper. Ask them to write down some of the most significant aspects from their primary document onto the left-hand side of the H-chart.

Distribute the poem "New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus. With their group, students should read the poem, and then they should write down significant aspects from the poem into the right-hand side of the H-Chart.

The last component of the H-chart requires students to build some type of synthesis from the two different texts. This should go beyond basic compare and contrast. Students should analyze both texts to construct their own understanding of immigration within this time period.

If time allows, ask students to share their H-Charts with the class. Since the readings were jigsawed, this will allow the class to hear different historical perspectives and also form a cohesive understanding of the poem.


At this time, teachers might want to revisit the Four Corners activity from the beginning of the lesson. This will allow for any adjustment in understanding, now that students have a historical awareness of immigration during the 1880s through the 1920s and how those situations still impact us today.

For individual assessment, ask students to choose between the following two options:

A) Assume the role of a federally-commissioned immigration reporter and write a account of the average immigrant experience (where the person is from, push/pull factors, and experience upon arrival). A rubric is provided under Attachments.

B) Create a comic strip that summarizes the (1) reasons for immigration (push/pull factors), (2) immigrant arrival and settlement patterns, and (3) treatment/attitudes toward immigrants. These assessments may be completed for homework. A cartoon rubric is provided in the lesson materials. If students have technology access, they can create immigration cartoons at: The teacher can create a teacher account, and students using this account can post their completed cartoon in a gallery format.

C) If time is a factor, some of the previous activities can also be used as assessments (e.g., Venn Diagram, H-Charts