Activity 1: Patterns of Diversity in the American Landscape

Materials Needed

  • Table 1. "Immigration to the United States by Region: 1821–2000" (PDF: 33KB)
  • Table 2. "The Foreign Born Population in the United States: 2003" (PDF: 12KB)
  • Graph paper
  • Colored pencils
  • "America's Racial and Ethnic Minorities," Population Bulletin 54.3 pp. 3-5;11-14
  • Access to the Internet or color printouts (U.S. Census Bureau)


  1. Explain to the class that, with the exception of American Indians, everyone living in the United States is either an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. Allow students to share personal stories about their families' immigrant origins.
  2. Distribute copies of Table 1 "Immigration to the United States by Region: 1821-2000," pieces of graph paper, and colored pencils. Assign one decade from the table to each student (or pair of students, depending on class size). Have students construct a bar graph for their assigned decade. Post the graphs in chronological order on the chalkboard and have students discuss the changing patterns in immigration over the past two centuries.
    • Where did most early immigrants originate?
    • Why did these people decide to leave their homes and come to a new land? Make a list of push and pull factors on the chalkboard. (Students may need to do some research in order to address this question.)
    • When was there a shift in the origins of immigrants?
    • What factors might explain this shift? (Again, this may require some research.)
    • Where do most current immigrants originate?
    • What are the push and pull factors influencing today's immigrants? Make a second list of push and pull factors on the chalkboard.
    • Discuss the similarities and differences between early immigrants and those arriving today.
    1. Ask students to think about ways in which immigrant populations leave distinctive marks on the built landscape, such as place names, ethnic neighborhoods, churches, food customs, language, celebrations, etc. If time permits, have students do an "image" search using an Internet search engine to locate examples of "immigrant footprints" on the landscape.
    2. Have students read the Population Bulletin "America's Racial and Ethnic Minorities," pp. 3-5; 11-14. Also have students examine Table 2, "The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2003."
      • Where did most of the foreign-born population originate?
      • Where do most of the foreign-born population live in the United States?
      1. Write the terms "race" and "ethnicity" on the chalkboard. Explain that these are terms used by demographers and the U.S. Census Bureau to identify different groups of people. Help student develop an understanding of these terms. Race is not a scientific term. There is no consensus about how many races there are or about what exactly distinguishes a race from an ethnic group. Many social scientists agree that, while race may have a biological or a genetic component, race is defined primarily by society, not by genetics. Ethnicity usually is defined by cultural practices, language, cuisine, and traditions—not by biological or physical differences.
      2. Direct students to the U.S. Census Bureau's online atlas, Mapping Census 2000, available at Have them navigate to Section 3, "Diversity," page 3, "Minority Prevalence, 2000." Guide students through all of the map elements (title, legend, state-level inset) so that they understand what type of data this map presents.
        • What are the racial and ethnic groups represented on this map?
        • What is the difference between the main map and the inset map (upper right)?
        • Describe the distribution of racial and ethnic minorities throughout the United States.
        • Why does the map omit the white population?
        • What factors might explain the patterns in racial and ethnic population distribution?
        • Locate the state in which you live on the map. What patterns of race and ethnicity can be observed?
        • Compare the state in which you live to the national pattern.
        1. Conclusion: When students have completed the activity, lead a class discussion of patterns of race and ethnicity in the United States and in the state in which you live.
        2. Evaluation: Following the class discussion, have students, working independently, summarize what they have learned about immigration, race, and ethnicity in the United States in a carefully developed essay. Remind students to include a clear thesis statement and to draw supporting evidence from the maps and data sets used in the lesson.