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Teaching Guide

Teaching Immigration: Era of Open Borders

Oh say can you teach?


Unless you or your students are Native Americans, you're all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. It's easy to forget that. It's also easy to forget that you can teach this concept without having to dress up as the Statue of Liberty (hope you saved the receipt for all that gray-green paint).

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing images, documents, and quotes of the era.
  • modern connections to show how the heated immigration debate still rages on.
  • discussion questions looking at immigration through lenses of politics, race, economy, and more.

You can't go wrong with this teaching guide.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Irish immigrants may have encountered hostility in America, but they were willing to endure it in order to escape the desperate conditions produced by the potato famine in their homeland. In this exercise, your students will read a first-hand account of conditions in Ireland in 1847. Then they will consider the manner in which foreign economic and social crises of this sort should influence American immigration policies.

1. Direct your students to this site, where they can find an account of a trip through rural Ireland in 1847. Before they read the narrative, break your students into two groups. One group will read with the intention of finding reasons for opening America’s doors to Irish immigrants. The other will read with the intention of defending sharp restrictions on Irish immigration.

Instructions for Your Students

Irish immigrants were driven to America during the 1840s and 1850s by the potato famine. Many Americans supported America’s open door policy for humanitarian reasons. Many others opposed the massive influx of newcomers. At this site, you can read a first-hand account of the famine. Be prepared to use it in supporting either an open or closed door policy regarding Irish immigration.


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