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The Northern Migration
Open Door, Closed Door Lesson Plan: Discrimination in Immigration and Migration
The narrative The Northern Migration mentions that several Midwest states prohibited African Americans from migrating into them and that elements of the Canadian public also discouraged migration. Open Door, Closed Door is best used with the narrative to introduce or reinforce geographical knowledge and to help visual learners to create an organizer so they better understand the narrative. Students will select a nation and learn about its immigration policies, both current and (where possible) in the past. Then, students will add their information, either on a bulletin board chart or map, or a computer spreadsheet. The class will evaluate which nations have the most restrictive racial policies and which are the most inclusive.
Grade Levels:Middle school, grades 6-8
For use with:The Northern Migration
Concentration Area:Social Studies
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 slavery shaped social and economic life in the South after 1800 (e.g., the cotton gin and the opening of new lands in the South and West led to increased demands for slaves; differences in the lives of plantation owners, poor free black and white families and slaves; methods of passive and active resistance to slavery; escaped slaves and the Underground Railroad).
  • Different economic, cultural, and social characteristics of slavery after 1800 (e.g., the influence of the Haitian Revolution and the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, how slaves forged their own culture in the face of oppression, the role of the plantation system in shaping slaveholders and the enslaved, the experiences of escaped slaves).
  • The social and cultural influence of former slaves in cities of the North (e.g., their leadership of African-American communities, how they advanced the rights and interests of African Americans).
Time required
One 50-minute class period depending on the amount of outside reading or media center research assigned
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Ask students to read the narrative The Northern Migration, in particular the segment "Racial Restrictions in the North."
  2. As they read, have students look for answers to the following questions:

    1. Which states banned or restricted African-American migrants?
    2. How much could a "good conduct" bond cost a migrant?
    3. What is meant by the word "circumvent"? How do you think this might be done?

  1. Ask students, either individually or in teams, to research the immigration policies of different nations today. Either assign or allow students to select a nation (a different one for each student). Explain to students that they will be trying to find out about immigration policies for the present and the past. Internet access to the official embassy website of a nation will provide the most current information and the chance to e-mail embassy staff with queries about historical immigration policies.
  2. Ask students to find answers to the following questions for the present and the past:

    1. Is immigration to this nation allowed? Is there a numerical limit to annual immigration?
    2. Is there a quota system favoring immigrants from certain nations, or is it the idea of "first to apply, first to enter"?
    3. Is there a preferential entry system favoring immigrants either with family connections or with special skills or education?
    4. Is there a restriction on people with health problems (physical or mental)?
    5. Is there a requirement for immigrants to have a certain amount of money?
    6. Do immigrants have to show proof of an employment offer, or are they prohibited from immigrating because they have been promised a job that might otherwise have been given to a citizen?
    7. Are immigrants of certain political parties or ideologies restricted?
    8. Are immigrants of certain religions restricted? Are immigrants who adhere to certain religious practices (e.g., polygamy) restricted?
    9. Are immigrants required to be literate, either in their own language or in the language of the nation to which they are immigrating?
    10. Are immigrants required to have a visa, work permit, or other documentation besides their passport? If so, what is the cost?
  3. Ask students to add their information either to the bulletin board chart or spreadsheet program. Alternately, they may complete the questions on the Immigration Policy Summary Sheet for an individual nation and post it on the wall map, connecting the chart to the nation with either a marker line or yarn.
  4. When the students have completed recording their findings, either print out the spreadsheet or provide time for students to study the bulletin board map or chart. Ask students to evaluate which modern nations are most inclusive (open door) and which are most restrictive (closed door). If they have sufficient data, ask them to evaluate which nations of the past were most inclusive and which were most restrictive.

1. Ask students to write a paragraph explaining how the map or chart they produced helped them to understand whether most nations of the world have been "open door" or "closed door" in their immigration policies.

2. Evaluate paragraphs on a five-point scale (which may be weighted) or a five letter-grade rubric as follows:

Grading Elements Points/Grade
No response 0/F
Response is not linked to question or map/chart, shows little insight, offers a few very general ideas, and has many technical problems (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 1/D
Response is not clearly linked to questions or map/chart, shows some insight, provides only general answers, and has some technical problems (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 2/C
Response references questions and map/chart, shows some insight, provides some specific answers and some general ones, and demonstrates most technical elements of good writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 3/B
Response references questions and map/chart, shows originality and insight, provides specifics, and demonstrates technical elements of good writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 4/A

Related Works

  • The New York Public Library's Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection online includes numerous illustrations and photographs of immigrants and locations familiar to all, regardless of origin, including Ellis Island. It is located at:
Interdisciplinary Links

  • Social Studies (Government/Political Science): Many immigrants choose to become citizens of the United States. If possible, obtain a sample page of the citizenship test and ask students to take it and see how well they can do. Ask students to find out the current requirements for citizenship and the steps immigrants must go through to become naturalized citizens. If the administration and school board are willing to coordinate with the federal immigration judge, it may be possible to hold a naturalization ceremony in a non-courthouse venue, such as at a school.
  • Culinary Studies/Home Economics/Music: Coordinate with a cooking instructor and students who may wish to prepare a reception for new citizens following a naturalization ceremony. The students will prepare refreshments and arrange entertainment for their guests. The teacher or students may inquire if the phone company is willing to donate some international calling cards so the new citizens can call their friends or families in their native lands.
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