First, I gave each student a post-it note with a name of someone who was on a ship manifest coming into the harbor using www.ellisisland.org. Usually I would try to find passengers who had the same last name to denote a family travelling together. The students would have random post-it notes and have to find their family based on their last name The post-it would also tell them where they were sailing from and how old they were.
Then, I would have them walk outside into the heat and put on a blindfold to depict the idea of having to travel to a place they had never been to with strangers. I packed them into my "ship" and enlisted other students to periodically spray them with water (with a tiny spray bottle), sway them as a ship or rub a teddy bear (a rat) on their legs or arms. I also had a few students making barfing noises. When I finally told them their voyage was over and they had made it to Ellis Island, they had to stand in line in the heat outside (in Louisiana) and I spoke to them in Spanish (I am a former Spanish teacher) in order to show them what it was like coming in to a foreign land and not knowing the language.
Then, they had a "medical exam" to see if they could enter the country and they had to go through a background check to see if they were on a criminal list. This was a throat and cough check - no touching! There's a reason I became a teacher and not a doctor, ha! If they did not pass, they were sent home with or without their "family."
When they finally got into the cool classroom, I'd have the poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus playing with a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the screen. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched
refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" The magnitude of being able to come into the United States hit them and they were able to have some empathy with those who traveled so long and went through so much to be able to come into this country and hope for a better life.
When the whole role-play was over, I asked them to write a letter back home to their family telling them what it was like to come through Ellis Island (every detail!). They then created a voice recording (either using the voice recorder or with the video camera on their phone) of their letter and were directed to use the same emotion they felt when they were able to come into the classroom after their "ordeal." They then emailed the recording to me and I made QR codes for a statue of liberty poster in my room after I uploaded them t. This,...they won't forget soon!
Click here for the rubric I used for their letters. I wish I had taken pictures but I was the family organizer, barf planner, ship captain, medical examiner, Spanish speaker etc etc! by Kathleen