Closer Readings Commentary

“City of Immigrants”: An Educational Game for Women’s History Month

This last game works well with the scope and sequence in most high schools. … The cool thing is their Educators page … a variety of materials support use of the missions by teachers, including overview and background information, standards alignments, activities, and primary sources, plus videos of teachers using Mission US with their students. It’s the videos that I think are especially powerfulgiving you a chance to see what this looks like in practice. —Glenn Wiebe on History Tech

This Women’s History Month immerse yourself and your students in the dynamic, modern, and sometimes dangerous world of New York City in the early twentieth century with NEH-funded Mission US: Mission 4 “City of Immigrants,” produced by WNET. Mission US is an interactive adventure game designed to improve the understanding of American history by students in Grades 5 through 8, though it is appropriate for most high school students as well.

Your students become Lena Brodsky, a fourteen year-old Jewish immigrant from Minsk, Russia who arrives in the United States in 1907. They will “play” and participate in a variety of historical realities through several days of Lena’s life over the course of two and a half years. Students will win badges signifying the characteristics, values, and skills of their unique version of this character and experience the results of the decisions they have made as they play it.

Historical Thinking

By playing the game and completing the accompanying lessons, students develop skills in analyzing turning points in history. Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3 Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.

Historical thinking involves the ability to categorize events into discrete historical periods and to identify key developments or events that shape these historical era.

There are events as well as social, economic, or technological developments that irrevocably shift our nation’s way of life (i.e., early 20th century mass urbanization and immigration). As America became more urban than rural and the population more ethnically diverse, social life changed dramatically including the nature of work, leisure time, family activities, and politics. Turning points exist on a variety of levels that can be explored, from the national to the local, and from the technological to the personal. In Mission 4, students in the role of Lena will experience many of these small turning points, as well as several larger events that created what historians often refer to as “modern America.”

The Game

The game is divided into five parts, with a prologue offering background information and an epilogue that extends the story of the main characters.


It is spring 1907. You as Lena are in the midst of a life-changing transatlantic journey on the Amerika a ship bound for New York City. You recollect events leading up to your departure and worry about whether or not you will make it past the customs officials in New York.

Part 1. Finding Home

You as Lena arrive in New York City and are placed on a ferry that takes you to Ellis Island. Inspected by immigration and customs officials, you are sent to a detention room to wait until Isaac, your brother, comes to pick you up.  With him, you begin to make your way across the city to the Battery, to get to his apartment in time for the Jewish Sabbath. You become separated in the crowds of people and have to find your own way through the teeming streets.

Part 2. Family First

It is now August, you are living with Isaac, his wife Sonya, their infant son, and two boarders in a three-room tenement apartment on Orchard Street. There is no privacy and very little time as you work sewing men’s suits in a sweatshop to contribute to the family’s survival, and save for your parents in Russia to join you in the U.S.

Part 3. A Night to Remember

After work, you go to the Henry Street Settlement for English and enrichment classes and while there you befriend Rosa Leone, an Italian girl. One pivotal evening, you learn that not all paths can be followed, and that you must decide how, and with whom, to invest your energy and precious time.

Part 4. Factory Girls

It is one year later, September 1908. You are now fluent in English and a proficient seamstress. Rosa Leone has a job uptown at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and she offers to gets you an interview. You must prove yourself to Mrs. Sherman, the forelady. Working conditions at Triangle are difficult - the factory is noisy, rushed, and the bosses exploit the young workers in a number of ways. You must work on the Sabbath. But with the money earned from the job can you enjoy a little amusement and still save enough for your parents’ passage to New York?

Part 5. The Uprising of the 20,000

It is now one year later, autumn of 1909. You are still working at the Triangle Factory. Shirtwaist workers across the city have called for a general strike led by Clara Lemlich, a girl not much older than you.

You are caught up in the excitement of the possibilities of improving work and pay, but like other potential strikers you are also terrified of the prospect of losing income, exacerbating family tensions, and the brutality of police and factory thugs. You must decide if you will join the 20,000 workers on strike and walk the picket lines. Who will you align yourself with—the more radical, socialist leaders of the movement, or the more moderate, middle-class Progressive reformers?

The Epilogue

You face new decisions as you consider what your future life in America will be:

  • Will you operate a successful family business with your brother?
  • Move away from the Lower East Side and start a family of your own?
  • Remain a garment worker?
  • Become a leading lady on Broadway?

The path you follow as Lena will be determined by your previous choices, achievements, and behavior as well as your evolving values and future ambitions.