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Primary Sources - Workshop in American History Workshop 6 - The Census: Who We Think We Arehomesitemap
Introduction -Link Before You Watch - link Lectures and Activities - Link Classroom and Applications

Workshop 6
Classroom Applications

Reflect on how you teach the census in your classroom. How would you teach it differently with primary sources?

Now consider these lesson ideas contributed by Primary Sources teachers:

Image of Tammie McDaniel

Examine Immigration Laws With Census Data
Contributed by Tammie McDaniel

I began by introducing students to the census documents. This was the first time they had seen census documents, so we had a whole-group discussion about the categories and how the data might be used. I also used the activities from Primary Sources, Activity One: How Would You Fill Out the Census Form? and Activity Two: What Resources Are Needed in a Community?, to help students become more comfortable using the census.

Once the students were familiar with the census documents, we used them to shed new light on old topics; for example, immigration laws and statistics. I divided students into small groups and asked each group to first examine and then compare and contrast the different census documents. Using this information, the groups prepared for a whole-group discussion on the validity of the census and how the results shape national policy and everyday life. Finally, they each wrote a brief position paper in which they assessed whether the census is necessary, useful, and influential in setting government policy.

Student work was guided by the following questions:

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What distinguishes these census documents from one another?

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Why do you think there has been a trend to gather more information about individuals through the census?

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Do you believe this information should form the basis for government policy?

To conclude, I gave students excerpts from the 1920s immigration laws and asked them the following questions:

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Is there evidence that the census shaped immigration policy during this period?

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How can census data be used to reinforce nativism and even racism?

Tip: You can get your students more involved with the census by using data from your own city. Go to the Resources Page for census data on U.S. cities.


Image of Carol Siriani

"I would definitely [have] the students use the various census forms. I thought that going through and actually filling out the forms was really interesting -- the increasing invasiveness of the questions, how much longer it took to fill out the 1970 one from the 1830 one."
— Carol Siriani

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