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Immigration and Iowa

Lesson Plan Item

General Information
Grade 3rd Grade Class Social Studies Length of Lesson 40-45 Minutes
Lesson Title Immigration and Iowa
Unit Title Immigration
Unit Compelling Question What would compel people to move to a new place?
Historical Context:

This lesson allows third grade students to expand their knowledge of immigration in the United States and Iowa.


Immigration to the United States began when the first non-native traveler landed on the North American continent hundreds of years ago, and continues to this day.  After Iowa was opened to settlement in 1833, the rich soil, rolling hills, and available farm land attracted immigrants from England, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Germany.  Communities were established in Adams County (French Icarians), Winneshiek County (Norwegians), Black Hawk County (Danish), and Scott County (Germans), among others. 


Ellis Island opened in 1892 and for nearly 60 years millions of immigrants passed though Ellis Island.  Immigrants came to the United States from countries such as Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Germany, escaping war, famine, and seeking greater opportunity. At Ellis Island they waited in lines for full approval and entry into the United States after which they traveled across the United States using the railroad system until they reached their final destination. 


Today immigrants come to the United States from all over the world.  They may seek employment, education, unification with family, or simply freedom to live their life and seek greater opportunities.  Recent immigrant communities to Iowa have included Vietnamese and Bosians.

For more information:  https://iowaculture.gov/history/education/educator-resources/primary-sou...


~ Teaching Iowa History Team


2018.040.001  This certificate, issued by the District Court in Marengo, Iowa, declared that Adam Bormann, an immigrant from the Kingdom of Bavaria, was a citizen of the United States. Bormann settled in the Amana Colonies, a set of communal villages founded in Iowa County by the Community of True Inspiration, a group of Pietists from Germany, Switzerland and Alsace who fled religious persecution in Europe.

The Community of True Inspiration came to the United States in the 1840s and founded a community known as the Ebenezer Colonies in New York. In the 1850s, the group created a new set of communal villages in Iowa known as the Amana Colonies. The settlers of the Amana Colonies maintained an independent and religious lifestyle until 1932. The community then split into two organizations: the non-profit Amana Church Society and the for-profit Amana Society.

The Community of True Inspiration was a religious organization founded in 1714 under Eberhard Ludwig Gruber and Johann Friedrich Rock near Himbach, Germany. The group followed the religious formations of Pietism which focused on Bible study, prayer and meeting the spiritual needs of the people by connecting to God. The group was met with controversy as the members did not take part in military duties and sent their children to church-led schools. To escape prejudice, group moved short-term to Buffalo, New York before settling in Iowa. The village was named "Amana", meaning "remain true" from Song of Solomon 4:8.

The first Amana Colony in Iowa was founded in 1854 by 800 immigrants from Germany who formed the Society of True Inspirations. Described as a utopian-style organization, the group created a communal society that supported the religious and specific lifestyle that had been persecuted against in Germany.

After arriving in Iowa, the colonies expanded to 7 villages spread over 26,000 acres and the residents created an economic living by establishing small businesses such as shops, bakeries, wineries, and through small factories creating furniture and other household items. The society also found work in farming. All residents were guaranteed food, shelter, money and health care in the communal setting, along with being provided a stable retirement plan.

Families lived in apartments that were assigned to each family by the elders of the community depending on how new the family was and the size of the family. All buildings in the community were organized in a central pattern to create close connections with each other and in agreement that all property was shared.

The religious beliefs of the Amana residents focused on giving care and primary focus to the elderly. Housing was made to benefit the elderly by allowing them to live closer to their families and by creating an economic system that provides longterm care for the elderly.


2018.048.009  This trunk was used by by Peter Oertz, who immigrated from Denmark to Cedar Falls, Iowa, in the late 1870s. Like many other immigrants, Oertz had to fit all of his belongings into this trunk. 

Beginning in 1840 to the time of WWI, nearly 300,000 Danes immigrated to the United States from their home country in hopes of finding opportunity and work. The Homestead of 1862 convinced many immigrants to head to the Midwest due to their experience in farming. With some settling in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, new railways allowed people to continue on to and settle in states such as Iowa and Nebraska.  A large number settled in Southwest Iowa as the landscape reminded them of their home. The towns of Kimballton, Clay, Sharon and Elkhorn soon became the new home to  a large number of Danish immigrants, with the 1895 census showing Danes as 64.5% of the population in Clay (including Elk Horn) and 89.9% in Sharon (including Kimballton).

~ Matthew Miller, Teaching Iowa History Team
Lesson Supporting Question How did immigrants/groups shape the culture of the United States and Iowa?
Lesson Overview

Students can use a website to complete an interactive tour of Ellis Island.  They can then make connections between Ellis Islands interactive tour and the court documents that states a person immigration into the United States of America. 

Primary Sources Used
Resources Needed

Primary Documents from Teaching Iowa History 2018.040.001 and 2018.048.009




Lesson Target
  • Students will be able to demonstrate what compels people to move to a new place and how the culture of the United States and Iowa was changed by the different immigrant groups.
  • Students will be able to make connections between Ellis Island and Iowa.
  • Students will be able to make connections between the Ellis Island immigration certificates and the people that reside in Iowa.
Lesson Themes Immigrants
Lesson Procedure
Step Procedure Time Differentiation plan / Additional Information


-Introduce Immigration to Students 
-Students should write in their Social Studies Journal 
-The Students will answer this question in their journal: What is the definition of immigration? What are some possible reasons people would migrate into the United States? 
-The students will write a response in their Journal and then they will share out at their table groups. After a few minutes I would call on one person from each group to share out what they talked about.

5 min.  

-Give a brief overview of what the class is going to do today. 
-Explain to the students that we will be doing a interactive tour of Ellis Island on the computer.  

- Explain the classroom rules and rules when it comes to using technology.  

7 min.  

-This is the time that the students will is to explore in their table groups this website: http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/immigration/ 
-Help students make connections to “Ellis Island”, you might write on the board some examples. 
-Connect the immigration photo to Ellis Island, Immigration, and then to Iowa.  
-Point out that the immigration photo connects Iowa to Ellis Island.  
-Have this guiding question on the board “What common themes are you seeing for reasons why people might immigrate into the United States? 
-This website will allow students to read different stories about immigrating into the United States.  
-Students will be able to read stories from long ago and today.  https://www.loc.gov/item/90708370/. 

- Use the primary documents from Teaching Iowa History. 2018.040.001 and 2018.048.009

-Students will then right down key words on a whiteboard that the stories they read have in common. 

15 min.   

-Put a picture of Ellis Island on the Board from Library of Congress 

- Put the primary documents up next to them as well so the students can compare. 

5 min.  

-Call on groups to see what common themes and reasons they think people immigrate into the United States.  

-Tell them they need to think like historians to be able to help them make connections.

-After looking at immigration as a whole, focus in on Iowa’s history with immigration 

    - Show the picture of the certificate again and also show the picture of the immigrant trunk.
5 min.   

-Have students write in their Social Studies journal about connections that they are making between Iowa and Immigration. 
-Make connections to why individuals might immigrate into Iowa.  

    - How have immigrants impacted Iowa?
5 min.   


Formative Assessment
(How will you use the formative assessments to monitor and inform instruction?)
  • Use the students social studies journals.
Summative Assessment
(How does the lesson connect to planned summative assessment(s)?)
  • There would be a few more lessons based on immigration. Then the question from this lesson would be, "What are some connections between immigration and Iowa?"
Author Information
Author Taylor Lawson Reviewer Dr. Chad Timm, Simpson College Created 06/23/2019 Last Edited 02/14/2020
Lesson Plan Development Notes: Social Studies Methods, Simpson College, Spring 2019

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