Photo of 5th Grade - Ellis Island Narratives from Barbara De Santis

5th Grade - Ellis Island Narratives from Barbara De Santis

By Barbara De Santis




The project provided an opportunity for students to reflect on a unit studying immigration (primary focus was Ellis Island), utilize primary documents, and practice first-person narrative writing. All of this was disguised as making a movie for me!


As the In-Class Support- Technology Teacher (and a Save Ellis Island Ambassador), I planned this project with the classroom teacher. We reviewed material on Ellis Island. I selected about a dozen photographs and we spent a period in a classroom with a SMARTBoard so the students could examine the photos (and get up close and personal). They made the final choice and selected which person they would portray. The classroom teacher supported their script preparation.

I wanted this project to enable the students to truly feel the immigrant experience. While primary documents are always in their textbook, there is seldom time to closely examine the images looking for clues to foster understanding. Some of the students had demonstrated that their preferred learning style was visual- using the photographs made it easier for them to understand the situation. In the same way, many of them dislike writing- this exercise (where they created their script) wasn’t seen as a written assignment - it was the avenue to make the Voicethread.

Easy Parts

This class had completed several VoiceThreads over the year with me - they are professionals! It is an easy process.


Every once and a while, the recording would not function. We logged off (and then back on again) to complete the work. Because Voicethread saves your work on an ongoing basis, you do not need to worry about losing material. And the students didn’t mind re-recording - in fact, they wanted to improve their performance.


I used Brainpop, Discovery Education videos, and personal stories as background for the project.


Letting the students select the photographs (from a collection) pressed the students to select the best photograph to tell the story. I was amazed at the details they gleaned from the images - they found things I had missed!


One variation would be to allow students to add their own family photographs and interview their relatives for an oral history. Next time, I might incorporate the use of background music during the presentation. I have shared this Voicethread with my Save Ellis Island Ambassador peers. It will become part of our project for the Dodge Foundation as we look to integrate immigration experiences in the classroom. I can envision a series of history Voicethreads where the students portray people discussing the situation.