1. Introduce the activity.
Explain to students that past migrations have helped shape the present makeup of populations. Tell students they will compare migration and ancestry patterns in the United States, your state, and your community.

2. Have students use a map to compare patterns of ancestry.
Divide students into small groups. Distribute copies of the map Past Moves, Present Patterns, which shows Americans' ancestry by county in the United States. Have small groups answer the following questions:

  • What is the most common ancestry in the United States? (German)
  • What is the most common ancestry in our state?
  • What is the most common ancestry in our community?

Hand out the worksheet Comparing Data on Ancestry and Migration Patterns and have groups write the answers in Part 1. Then ask: How do you think the ancestry of people in the United States has changed over time? Make sure students understand that the patterns of diversity resulting from migration change over time in an ongoing process.

3. Have students use census data to find migration patterns by ancestry for the U.S.
Have small groups go to the U.S. Census Bureau's American FactFinder web page. Then have students select the most common ancestry in the United States from the population group menu and complete the columns for the United States in Parts 2 (selected population group) and 3 (total population).

4. Have students use census data to find migration patterns by ancestry for your state and community.

Have small groups complete Parts 2 and 3 of the worksheet for your state. Then have students complete Parts 2 and 3 for your community. Make sure students choose the correct ancestry group for each location based on what they wrote in Part 1.

5. Compare and contrast national, state, and local data to draw conclusions.
As a class, compare and contrast the data in order to draw conclusions. Ask:

  • How are the ancestry patterns across the three locations similar? How are they different?
  • What conclusions can you draw about factors that might contribute to these patterns?

Informal Assessment

Use the provided Answer Key to check students’ worksheets for accuracy and completeness.

Extending the Learning

Have students use graph paper to graph the three data sets and compare them visually.

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • compare patterns of ancestry in the United States using maps and census data
  • draw conclusions about patterns by looking at national, state, and local data

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Discussions
  • Hands-on learning

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Council for Social Studies Curriculum Standards

  • Theme 3:  People, Places, and Environments

National Geography Standards

  • Standard 9:  The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth's surface

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Graph paper
  • Pencils
  • Pens

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per small group, Projector

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Large-group instruction
  • Small-group instruction

Background Information

Human migration is the movement of people from one place in the world to another. Human patterns of movement reflect the conditions of a changing world and impact the cultural landscapes of both the places people leave and the places they settle.



family (genealogical) or historical background.


program of a nation, state, or other region that counts the population and usually gives its characteristics, such as age and gender.

human migration

the movement of people from one place to another.


total number of people or organisms in a particular area.