Poetry and Ellis Island

Lesson overview

In this lesson students will use Google Expeditions to explore the experiences of immigrants arriving into Ellis Island and read ‘The New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus before analysing the use of personification within the poem.

Learning outcomes
  • To explore the journey of immigrants arriving into Ellis Island, New York
  • To distinguish the features of the Statue of Liberty
  • To relate understanding to the poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
  • To identify key evidence from the poem
  • To justify interpretations with selected evidence

Expedition Prep Checklist:

Download the Google Expeditions App on all devices and select the expedition Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Explore the expedition and locate points of interest. Scenes 1-3 (though teachers may wish to use all 7 depending on the level of discussion).

Review the video content in the Lesson resources section to update your knowledge and develop some teaching ideas.

Lesson steps
  1. Introduction (20 mins)
    Lead a discussion on the following questions: What do you know about people travelling to America in the 19th Century? What kinds of people were they? Why were they travelling? What would have been some of their hopes and fears?
    Explain what a sonnet is and why it was traditionally written.

    Students sketch an image of the Statue of Liberty and around it and record their ideas to the questions above.
  2. Expedition (20 mins)
    Guide students through the expedition while asking them to consider the following questions: What details can you pick out as you look at the statue? What thoughts or feelings might you have had on seeing it after a long journey? What characteristics might you give it?
    Students add to their ideas during the expedition documenting on their Ellis Island sketch and adding their answers to the prompt questions above.

    Read the poem ‘A New Colossus’ (see Student Sheet, in the Lesson resources section) aloud whilst the students are in a Statue of Liberty scene (Scene 1 or 2).
  3. Activity (20 mins)
    Students discuss the following questions: Why is it useful to see the situation at the level of the individual? What do the children need and how could we help them?

    Students read the poem themselves, identifying and annotating those key words and phrases that show the Statue of Liberty to be a ‘beacon of hope’.
    Lead a discussion on the personification of the statue and the form of the poem.

    Students write a response to the ‘Essential Question’ using their notes and sketch.
    How does Lazarus present the Statue of Liberty as a beacon of hope in ‘The New Colossus’?
  4. Extension
    Students compare the presentation of the Statue of Liberty in this poem with Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s ‘Unguarded Gates’.
    Students write a journal / diary entry in the character of a 19th Century immigrant, expressing their joy / wonder at seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time.
    Students write their own sonnet about a favourite landmark or place.
    Students visit the ‘U.S. Monuments’ Expedition and create poems based on another U.S. landmark.
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