Social History for Every Classroom


Social History for Every Classroom

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Let's Make an Immigration Deal

In this game, students are assigned different immigrant identities and advance based on their access to economic opportunity and religious, political, and social liberties at different times in U.S. history.


  • Students will understand how race and national origins affected immigrants' access to political and economic opportunity throughout United States history. 


Note: The teacher should print out and cut apart the game cards before play. The teacher should also project the attached gameboard (if using Smartboard) or draw a gameboard on the chalkboard. If drawing, the "path" of the gameboard should have at least 20 spaces. 

Step 1: Pose, in turn, each of the following discussion questions to the class. Ask students to share out possible responses:

  • Why do people come to the United States? (the "American Dream", for a better life and to improve their children's opportunities and welfare, to work and to make money, for freedom or to escape political or religious persecution, some are forced to come)

  • Why does the United States want people to come? (to fill labor needs [agriculture, factories]/don't want people who can't work, need mixture of unskilled and skilled workers, increase diversity, promote democracy at home and abroad)

Discuss with students: One might say there is an implicit deal being made--now and historically--regarding immigration: if you come to the U.S. to work, you will improve your standard of living for you and your children, and enjoy the rights and freedoms of citizens. Some call this the American Dream; we're going to call it "Let's Make an Immigration Deal"!

Step 2: Divide students into four or more groups; assign each group one of four immigrant identities (it is okay if some groups have the same identity): African female, Irish male, Chinese male, and Russian Jewish female. 

Tell students that there will be four rounds; each round is a different era in U.S. history: the colonial era, the mid-1850s, 1910, and 1925. Explain that not every team will move every round.  

Explain that in every round, each team will be dealt a Liberty card (what rights and freedoms you have) and a Labor card (what kind of job you have and how well it pays). Each card has dollar signs or torches to represent how much of either wages or rights the character has in each era.

The teacher should use the key to determine which card to assign in each round. 

Step 3: Begin play. A dollar sign or a torch represents one space on the game board. A representative from each team should move his player card forward (or backward) depending on the number of points indicated on the card in each round. 

After Rounds 2 and 3 (mid-1850s and 1910), announce that each immigrant group can come up with a "survival strategy" to play in response to the cards they have been dealt. Survival strategies are whatever actions they might take in the year (mid-1850s or 1910) to improve their fortunes. They should write down their strategy on the cards provided and share it with the teacher/judge. The teacher should evaluate and award up to three spaces (moving forward on the gameboard) depending on the historical plausibility and its likely effectiveness of the strategy presented.  

Step 4: After play has concluded, lead a discussion of the following:

  • Who has moved forward the farthest?  Who has not moved very far?  

  • Describe your experience...what kind of deal did you make? How did the deal for your immigration group change over time? Which do you thik was more important to your immigrant--labor or liberty?

  • Think about the "survival strategy" cards you played. Were there any common strategies among the different groups? 

Think about the following historical understandings and discuss how game speaks to these ideas:

  • How have tensions between the nation's need for labor and its anxiety about new immigrant groups played out in different times and places?

  • In what ways has race (and racism) played a key role in the nation's immigration history?

  • What strategies did immigrant groups use to survive in a new home and challenge discrimination? 

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2011.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Let's Make an Immigration Deal,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 24, 2023,

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