Postcards from the Past


Students will learn about Ellis Island and the people who passed through on their way to a new life in America. Students will write a postcard from the perspective of an immigrant at Ellis Island.

Coin Type(s)

  • Quarter

Coin Program(s)

  • America the Beautiful Quarters


Students will demonstrate an understanding of postcard writing.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies


  • K
  • 1st

Class Time

  • Sessions: Two
  • Session Length: 20-30 minutes
  • Total Length: 46-90 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Individual work

Terms and Concepts

  • Greeting
  • Body of a letter
  • Closing
  • Ellis Island
  • Immigrant


  • 1 overhead projector (optional)
  • 1 overhead transparency (or photocopy) of the "Ellis Island Sights" worksheet
  • "Ellis Island Sights" worksheet
  • 1 class map of the United States
  • 1 copy of a text that gives information about letters
  • 1 copy of a text about Ellis Island
  • Chart paper
  • Computer paper or construction paper
  • Index cards (to serve as postcard)
  • Markers
  • Crayons
  • Computer, with the Ellis Island website bookmarked:


  • Make sure to model for the students how to write a postcard.
  • Print out and copy the worksheet (1 per student).
  • Complete a sample of the "Ellis Island Sights" worksheet ahead of time.


Lesson Steps

  1. Read the students a text on letter writing. Explain that a shorter way to write a letter is to use a postcard. Model writing a postcard. Note that some postcards have pictures on one side.
  2. Describe the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program for background information. Explain to students that the back of a coin is called the "reverse," and "obverse" is another name for the front.
  3. With the students, examine the Ellis Island Quarter. Locate the site on a class map and note its position in relation to your school's location. Give a brief and age-appropriate description of Ellis Island and its importance in American History.
  4. Explain that immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were seeing America for the first time, and the sights and sounds were likely different from their homeland. Answer any student questions. Have students describe a time when they experienced something new (moved to a new town, started in a new school, started taking piano lessons, etc.) and ask what they were thinking/feeling as they started this new experience.
  5. Introduce the students to the "Ellis Island Sights" worksheet. Explain that as you read the selected text aloud, students should record four things that they would see at Ellis Island if they were arriving in America for the first time. Read the selected text about Ellis Island to the class. Have the students record their findings on the worksheet. As you are reading, emphasize possible sights students should write down. Discuss what students wrote on their worksheets as a class or in small groups.
  6. Have the students create a postcard using index cards and their "Ellis Island Sights" worksheet. Have them write their postcard from the perspective of an immigrant arriving on Ellis Island using the conventions they learned about letter writing (greeting, body, and closing). Make sure to point out that descriptive words help those reading their work to picture what they saw. Have them include three pictures on the "front" of the postcard with descriptive labels or captions.
  7. Have the students present their postcards to the class.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Allow students to work in pairs.
  • Allow students to use a scribe to label their worksheets.
  • Have students create a virtual scrapbook using a program like Powerpoint.
  • Allow students to use clip art or photographs rather than drawings.


  • Have students write a longer letter (1-2 pages) rather than a postcard.
  • Have students create a virtual scrapbook alongside the postcard.


  • Take anecdotal notes about the students' participation in class discussions.
  • Use the students' worksheets and projects to evaluate whether they've met the lesson objectives.

Common Core Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any Common Core Standards.

National Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any National Standards.