Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Teachers' Guide: Before your visit

Push and Pull of Immigration

Deciding Whether and Where to Go

Reading: "Peopling Pennsylvania"

Have students read the article "Peopling Pennsylvania" for background on immigration trends in Pennsylvania history.

Immigration Timeline Graph

Distribute print-outs of the Timeline of U.S. Immigration or project the timeline for the whole classroom. (Timeline is also available as a PDF without events, if you wish to have students research and add their own push and pull events.)


  • When are the biggest peaks of immigration? What were the push factors during those periods? What were the pull factors?
  • When were the lowest periods of immigration on the timeline? What stopped the flow? Missing push factors? Missing pull factors? Both? When were there push factors, but no pull factors? [Civil War, the Great Depression] When were there pull factors, but no push factors? [World War I, World War II]
  • How does the size of each ethnic group change over time? Which ethnic groups have had more immigrants over the years? Which ethnic groups have fewer immigrants over the years? How have changing push and pull factors caused these changes?
  • Try to find out when some of your ancestors immigrated or migrated to Pennsylvania. Mark when they came on the timeline. What push and pull factors might have influenced their decision?

The Immigration Timeline Graph shows big trends, the movement of millions of people! But each one of those millions of immigrants had to make a personal decision to take the risk of leaving home and starting over in a new place. Now we'll take a look at some of those personal decisions.


Assign students the characters they will assume on the field trip (Museum characters). Ask them to research the character's homeland at the time he or she immigrated (about 1900).


  • What was happening in politics, economics, and in social and religious life?
  • What do these events suggest about the character's situation in the "Old Country"?
  • How might they have come to the decision to leave? What "pushed" them away from home?
  • Imagine being the character and think about how he or she might have answered these questions:
  • What problems do you hope to solve by leaving home?
  • Why do you think leaving will help?
  • What problems might your decision create?
  • Who and what would you regret leaving?
  • When did you decide the risk was worth the possible gain?

Push: A Calculated Risk

Distribute "Weighing the Costs and Benefits" graphic organizer (PDF file). You may have students work individually, in small groups with other students assigned to the same character, or as a class by drawing the grid below on the chalkboard.

Whenever we make a decision about a big change in our lives, we do a cost-benefit analysis (we probably don't call it that--we might call it "hemming and hawing"!) Very few changes are all good or all bad. There are always "pros" and "cons" to consider.

The same was true of every voluntary immigrant to the USA. Each one had to weigh both the risks (or costs) and the benefits of staying vs. leaving. Again, assuming your character, write as many "pros" (benefits) and "cons" (risks or costs) you can think of for leaving and for staying home. The first set is given as an example.




I don't have a chance to better myself.

Traditions hundreds of years old tell me exactly where I fit.


I'll miss my family.

I'll be able to send them money when I get a good job.

Pull: Picking a Destination

Deciding that you are better off leaving home is only half of the decision you would have to make as an immigrant. You would also have to decide where to go!


Place to achieve goal


Social, religious


Draw this grid on the chalkboard and ask students for examples of economic, political, social, and religious goals (reasons) their characters might have had in choosing their new homes. Then work on the second column (refer to the Immigration Timeline graph and do a bit of research, if necessary) and ask for suggestions for places they might go in the year 1900.

Discuss and fill in the grid :

  • What kind of place would help you fulfill each of these goals in 1900?
  • Besides America, where could you go? Why choose America over those other places?
  • What did Johnstown have to offer to meet those goals?

Primary sources: Letters from home, Letters from America

Directions: Let's hear from the immigrants themselves:

Activity: Good-Bye Letter to a Friend

Directions: Write a letter to your friend explaining why you've decided to leave and move to Johnstown in America. Things to consider in your letter:

Activity: Packing To Go

*Note: Before your museum visit, assign as homework, preferably the day before the JDHC field trip.

Distribute the worksheet "Move It On Out" (PDF), a packing list for a contemporary move.

Activity introduction


  • Have you ever had to move from one place to another? What were the reasons for the move (both the push and pull)?
  • How did you feel about moving? What were you excited about? What were you worried about? Did your fears come to pass?
  • What things were better than you thought they would be? What things were worse than you thought they would be?
  • What did you enjoy about your new home? What did you miss from your old home?
  • Looking back, did the good things outweigh the bad, or vice versa?

Directions: If you were moving overseas to another country, what would you take with you? If you couldn't take everything with you, what would you decide to leave behind? What couldn't you live without? What would you definitely leave behind because it's not worth the trouble?

Think about these categories as you look around your house: Clothes; hobbies, special interests, school, future, equipment. (For this exercise, assume your parents are not going with you, so don't count on them to bring anything!)

Bring this list with you tomorrow when we go on our museum visit.

Alternatively, conduct this activity with the whole class using the following graphic organizer on the chalkboard:

Can't live without

Hope there's room

Definitely leave behind


Hobbies, special interests

School things

Furniture, equipment

Continued on the next day "During your Museum Visit"


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