1. Explore National Geographic’s Atlas of the Human Journey.
As a class, look at the Atlas of the Human Journey from National Geographic's Genographic Project, which shows when and where ancient humans moved around the world. Guide students through each time period on the interactive map. Examine the patterns of migration across the globe and view the text, images, and video clips presented for each time period depicted on the map. Point out that people did not move to North America until much later in history. Have students discuss their impressions of how people moved from Africa to other parts of the world. Ask:

  • When did people first migrate to North America?
  • How did ancient people move from one part of the world to another? How long did it take?
  • Why did they travel along the paths depicted on the map?
  • Why does the map show more migration to the southern part of North America?
  • Why would people have migrated to the south rather than the north?
  • How is the migration shown on the Atlas of the Human Journey maps different from the movement of a family from one city, state, or country to another? (Students should understand that the map shows the movements of large groups of people.)


2. Have a class discussion about push and pull factors.
Ask students to think about the reasons that people migrate. Introduce the terms push factors and pull factors. Explain to students that people are sometimes “pushed,” or forced, from their home to a new place. Other times, they are “pulled,” or attracted to, a new home. Have students brainstorm a list of push and pull factors and write them on the board or chart paper. Then ask students for some real-world examples of things that have pushed or pulled people away from or to North America, as well as to and from places within North America. For example:

  • the westward expansion of the United States
  • Africans brought to America for slavery
  • refugees fleeing political unrest


3. Discuss voluntary migration versus forced migration.

Discuss the difference between voluntary and forced migration. Explain to students that an example of voluntary migration includes moving to another country to look for work. An example of forced migration includes being displaced by a natural disaster. Have students brainstorm other examples of each.

4. Discuss types of human movements and patterns of migration.

  • What are some different types of human movements in the world? In the United States? (People moving from one country to another; from one town or city to another; from one state to another.)
  • What are some patterns of migration in the United States? (People moving east to west; people moving north to south.)
  • Do you think more people move from north to south or south to north? What about east to west or west to east? Why do you think so?
  • Do people move because of economy, climate, politics, or culture? Give an example.

Informal Assessment

Ask each student to give one example of a push factor and one example of a pull factor.

Extending the Learning

Ask students to explore The Genographic Project's interactive resources—Atlas of the Human Journey and Globe of Human History—on their own time, at school or at home. Then have them summarize one or more of the of the migration stories, either orally or in writing.

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • explain why and where whole groups or communities migrate
  • explain patterns of migration in the world

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Discussions
  • Multimedia instruction

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

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector, Speakers

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Large-group instruction

Background Information

It’s important to understand why people move, or the push and pull factors that cause them to move. Push factors “push” people away from their home and include things like war. Pull factors “pull” people to a new home and include things like better opportunities. The reasons people migrate are usually economic, political, cultural, or environmental.

Prior Knowledge

  • migration


forced migration

the movement of people away from their homes due to political conflict, natural disaster or environmental hazard.

human migration

the movement of people from one place to another.


to move from one place or activity to another.

pull factor

force that draws people to immigrate to a place.

push factor

force that drives people away from a place.


person who flees their home, usually due to natural disaster or political upheaval.

voluntary migration

the movement of people to another place to seek better economic or political opportunities.