Much of the story of Mississippi’s people, both past and present, has focused on, as Willie Morris writes, her two great blood sources: Great Britain and West Africa. (Morris, My Mississippi , p. 36) However, it is both short-sighted and historically incorrect to ignore the influences of other smaller ethnic groups in the state’s development. The Italians comprise one such group. In this lesson, students will study how and why the Italians came to Mississippi. They will discover unique aspects of the Italian heritage and their contributions to the state’s culture. Ideally, they will also recognize the commonalities shared by all Mississippians.
Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 2, and 4.
Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12.
MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT
- Mississippi History Now article
- Butcher Paper (optional)
- determine why Mississippi’s Italian citizens can be referred to as an “ethnic group;”
- discover the reasons for the Italian immigration to Mississippi;
- on maps, indicate the origin, the route, and destinations of Italians who immigrated to Mississippi during the late 19th century;
- profile the lives of Italian immigrants in Mississippi, including ways of making a living, obstacles to their success, and efforts to overcome discrimination;
- create a graphic showing Italian influences on Mississippi’s culture.
OPENING THE LESSON
On the board or overhead, show the term ITALIANS, vertically in acrostic form. Ask students to copy the word on a sheet of paper. Ask students to write sentences underneath their acrostic to describe what they know about Italians living in Mississippi. Students may have difficulty with this. After a short period of time, ask them to share what they think they know and to fill out parts of their acrostic with terms that describe the Italian culture in Mississippi. Ideally, this exercise will encourage students to want to learn more about this important ethnic group in the state.
DEVELOPING THE LESSON
- Ask students to define the term “ethnic group” by writing a definition in their notebook below their acrostic. Have them share their ideas and come to consensus on the correct meaning. They should then edit their original definition. Ask them to determine if and how Mississippi’s Italian population can be referred to as an ethnic group. Continue by asking the students to determine their connections to other ethnic groups in the state. Teacher may wish to draw a “chain” on the board or overhead to show Mississippi’s original inhabitants (Native Americans), the French, Spanish, British, and Africans so that students will have an overall picture of how the current population and culture of the state evolved.
- Lead students to discuss reasons for immigration. Have them read the first sections of the Mississippi History Now article to determine specifically why Italians came to Mississippi. They should include this information in their notes.
- Divide the class into five learning groups. Using the Mississippi History Now article as their major resource, ask students to complete the following assignments:
- Construct a graphic using a world map, a United States map, and a Mississippi map. Indicate the origin, route, and destination of Italians as they came to Mississippi. Show areas and specific towns in Mississippi where they settled.
- Compose a chart or other type graphic showing the different ways the Italian immigrants made a living.
- Detail obstacles faced by the immigrants and tell how they worked to overcome them.
- On a Mississippi map, show the location of prominent Italian families and businesses.
- Make a collage or other type graphic showing the Italian influence on Mississippi.
- Students will make presentations to the class. Teacher may wish to use a rubric to guide them. After each presentation, students will write a paragraph in their notebooks to indicate what they learned from the group. Ask them to put each paragraph on a separate page.
CLOSING THE LESSON
- Ask students to re-read the entire Mississippi History Now article and to write additional notes below each paragraph they have written.
- Using their notes, ask students to make a new ITALIAN acrostic and to fill it out completely to turn in.\
- Throughout the discussions, teacher should encourage students to recognize not only the unique characteristics of the Italian culture but also the many ways all cultures are similar.
- As a summative exercise, teacher may wish students to write a comprehensive essay on the topic, allowing students to use their notes. Teacher may prefer to administer an objective test.
ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING
- Participation in classroom discussions and writing exercises
- Cooperation in group activity
- Group presentation
- Acrostic completion
- Essay; exam
EXTENDING THE LESSON
- A visit to the classroom by an Italian American (with a Mississippi background) would be informative.
- Students would enjoy learning how to play the game of bocce.
- When You Make a Good Crop: Italians in the Delta, video resource.
- Some students may wish to research a particular Italian family and present biographical facts in a creative manner.
Carpenter, Barbara, Ethnic Heritage in Mississippi, Mississippi humanities Council, 1992, pp. 170-171. (Pictures of Italian Americans included.)
Morris, Willie, My Mississippi , University Press of Mississippi, 2000, pp. 39-40.