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The Great Migration
The Great Migration Lesson Plan
This lesson focuses on the Great Migration, dating 1916-1930. Students will use a variety of resources from the Schomburg Center for the Study of Black Culture, including the narrative The Great Migration written by their scholars; external web sites that have been evaluated by teachers for their resource value; and maps and other visual resources. This lesson focuses on the pioneers who left the familiar South to move toward the promise of a better life, and those pioneers who paved the way for others to follow. Appropriate for middle school and high school students, the lesson's goal is to allow the student a well-rounded study of the migration.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 6-12
For use with:The Great Migration
Concentration Area:History
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • How Progressives and others addressed problems of industrial capitalism, urbanization, and political corruption.
  • How the Progressive Movement influenced different groups in American society (e.g., counter-Progressive programs of labor organizations compared to social democratic programs in industrial Europe, the response of mainstream Progressives to women's issues, the changing perception of Native American assimilation under Progressivism, the founding of the NAACP, how African-American women contributed to the movement, how the International Ladies Garment Workers Union provided alternatives, the success of the Progressive movement to groups outside the mainstream).
  • How racial and ethnic events influenced American society during the Progressive era (e.g., the movement to restrict immigration; how racial and ethnic conflicts contributed to delayed statehood for New Mexico and Arizona; the impact of new nativism; influences on African, Native, Asian, and Hispanic Americans).
  • How the United States changed between the post-World War I years and the eve of the Great Depression.
  • The major social issues of 1920s America (e.g., the emergence of the "New Woman" and challenges to Victorian values, the purpose and goals of the "New Klan," the causes and outcome of Prohibition, the ethnic composition of immigrants and fears these changes represented, the "Red Scare," the Sacco and Vanzetti trial).
  • Influences on urban life in America during the 1920s (e.g., new downtown business areas, suburbs, transportation, architecture, the idea of the "civic center" ).
Time required
Anywhere from two traditional class periods to two weeks, depending on depth and breadth of student research
Materials needed
  • Narrative, The Great Migration
  • Internet connection for viewing internal and external links
  • Library resources
Anticipatory Set

  1. Lead the class in a discussion of these questions:

  2. Where would you like to live when you are 25? Why?
  3. What is special about that location?
  4. What have you heard about life in that city?
  5. If you would like to remain in the city in which you currently live, why? What are the special qualities of the city that attract you?

  1. Have the map of the migration on the overhead projector or on students' computer screens. (link to map of this migration)
  2. Hand out copies of the narrative; or, if students are online, they can read it on their screens. If the reading level of the class is low, you may opt to read and stop at intervals to check for understanding.
  3. Once the students have read through the narrative, have them start filling in any information that they can based on the following series of springboard questions:

  4. What dates, from beginning to end, frame this migration?
  5. Where is the point (or where are the points) of origin of the people?
  6. What was their existing circumstance in that location?
  7. Why did they leave?
  8. How many left?
  9. Where did they go?
  10. How did they choose their destination(s)? Were the destinations chosen before they embarked upon their journeys, or were they arbitrary in nature?
  11. What event or circumstance ended this migration?
  12. What did they find when they got to their destination? How did the reality differ from what they had been told about the North?
  13. What is the legacy today of this migration in both the points of origin and destination?
  14. How does this migration fit in with the other migrations (can only be done if studying a group of migrations)? Are there any connections between migrations?
  15. For any unanswered questions, direct students to other resources, such as the gateway, other areas of the site, and library resources.
  16. Facilitate students in a discussion about characteristics in a person that would allow them to leave everything that is familiar to them to venture toward the unknown. Answers such as faith, determination, courage, are common here. Students reflect on these African-American pioneers who left their familiar ground with the hope of something better for their future generations.
  17. Then, assign students to research African-American individuals who were "first." They can get ideas from the narrative they just read, such as Oscar DePriest, the first black to sit in the House of Representatives. They can also go to the web site and look up African-American Heroes at or sports heroes at to find a subject for their research.
  18. When they do their research, make sure students include the following:

  19. A background history of the subject;
  20. What the subject did that made him/her famous;
  21. The subject's legacy;
  22. Student reflection on qualities subject possesses that made him/her successful; and
  23. A picture of the subject.
  24. Have students present their findings in oral presentations to the class.

Assess oral presentations using the 20-point rubric that follows as a basis, multiplying by five to weight the grade or to convert to a letter scale.

Grading Element and Total Possible Points Excellent



Not Satisfactory

No Work

Oral Skills

Effective Speaker:

Tonal variety, Speed, Volume, Clarity
Minor Problems:

Monotone, Soft, Mumbling, Too rapid
Numerous speaking problems


Minimal participation
Communication lacking


Wanders off topic
Does not participate
Historical Research

-- Locates and uses specific historical arguments and examples

-- Relates examples consistently to topic

-- No factual errors
-- Locates and uses general historical arguments and a few examples

-- Relates some examples to topic

-- No factual errors
-- Locates and uses general information

-- Weakly links facts to topic

-- Some factual errors
-- Little research

-- Limited understanding of arguments, not related to the topic

-- Many factual errors
No research

Related Works

  • The Schomburg Center has numerous images of African Americans in urban settings in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries. Visit the online exhibit Harlem 1900-1940: An African-American Community at: The exhibition includes a timeline, teacher materials, and a resource list. Additional images of African American Women Writers of the 19th Century are available at the Schomburg Center's digital library collection at:
  • Further images of urban communities may be found online at the Mid-Manhattan Library Picture Collection featuring 30,000 pre-1923 images from books, magazines, newspapers, prints, postcards, and photographs at:
  • The Library of Congress' American Memory Collection features over seven million online digital documents. It is a rich resource for a wide variety of documents about the African-American experience, including the online exhibit African-American Odyssey. American Memory's homepage is, and African-American Odyssey is at:
  • Interdisciplinary Links

    • Language Arts: The immigrant experience lends itself to creative expression in many forms. With the English teachers, students may read some of the poetry or literature associated with the immigrant and migrant experience, from Emma Lazarus to Langston Hughes. They also may do one of the following:

      • Write journals or letters to those they left behind from the point of view of both a migrant and an immigrant.
      • Create a front page in the manner of one of the ethnic newspapers of the time.
      • Create poetry.
      • Design an illustrated cartoon storyboard for African-American migration (possibly patterned after the children's cartoon An American Tail).
      • Present the experiences through other genres.
    • Music/Drama: As part of their studies of the migrant and immigrant experience, students will create a presentation incorporating music, images, dance, and literary samples into a presentation that might be shared at an elementary school. Students will need to create a script capable of being staged by the school (including settings, orchestration, and costuming) to serve as a framework and transition between musical or dramatic interludes. If there is a performance of the musical Ragtime, students may wish to attend it or talk with the director or other members of the theatrical group putting on the production for inspiration or guidance.
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