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A Timeline About the History of Immigration in America

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America, a nation of immigrants, has attracted a large number of people from around the world. Ever since the first Europeans moved here in the 1600s, American has experienced complicated relationships with newcomers. In every cycle of immigrants, the newcomers have often faced animosity, reflecting the social and economic conditions of the time. Explore this interactive timeline created by KQED’S The Lowdown that takes a look at  America’s  immigration policies.

Find hundreds more engaging math-focused media and integrated activities, all aligned with CCSS at PBS LearningMedia. 

Suggested Activity:

Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to


● interpret graphical data

● observe general trends in data

● generate questions for further research

Common Core State Standards: 6.SP.B.5

Vocabulary: Immigration, immigrants, infographic, residency

Materials: Printed copies of the Immigrant Residency infographic


1. Introduction (10 minutes, whole group)

Students will have varying familiarity with immigration, so a brief discussion about the topic may be appropriate. Explain that immigrants are people from one country who settle in another country. Most legal immigrants are admitted into the U.S. because they already have a family member legally living there, they have been hired by a U.S. company, or they have been granted asylum.

Next, explain to students that an infographic, or information graphic, is a visual image designed to present complex information quickly and clearly. Hand out printed copies of the infographic. You may project this in the classroom as well. Give students a minute or two to silently make some observations on their own. Then ask them, What information does the infographic contain? For this initial conversation, do not try to interpret the data. Instead, make sure that students know that the graph shows the number of legal immigrants gaining U.S. residency every year from 1820 to 2012.

Be sure to point out that the graph does not show the number of new arrivals to the country each year; rather, it lists the number of immigrants who obtained legal U.S. residency during that year. This distinction is important. In 1991, only about 420,000 of the approximately 1.9 million immigrants who gained legal residency were new arrivals to the country. The rest were people who had immigrated legally before 1991, but obtained legal permanent resident status in that year. People who legally obtain U.S. residency may legally work and live in the country, although they are not citizens.

2. Activity (10 minutes, pairs)

Have students look at the infographic in pairs. Each pair should try to answer the following questions:

● In terms of the rate at which legal immigrants gained U.S. residency, describe the period between 1940 and 1990. What trends or patterns do you see?

● During which 20-year period did the numbers of legal immigrants being granted U.S. residency change the most rapidly and unpredictably?

● Write down your observations about U.S. immigration and residency from 1820–2012. What story do the data tell?

● How, if at all, would you predict the rates of immigrant residency to change over the next decade? What other information would you need to help you make an accurate prediction?

After the groups have finished, have them record three questions about immigration and U.S. history to which they would like to find answers. The questions should arise from the data in the infographic, although they need not be mathematical. Appropriate questions may include, Why were numbers of legal immigrants obtaining residency so high between 1907–1913? How did rates of residency change after 9/11?

3. Conclusion (5 minutes, whole group)

Survey the groups’ responses about some of the questions presented and ask students to justify their answers with evidence from the infographic. Conclude by compiling a list of student-generated questions about immigration and residency.

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