Primary Resources and New York City Tenements

Contributor: Danielle Childers. Lesson ID: 10517

Imagine sharing a room with your WHOLE family! 100 years ago, families in New York City did just that. You will use primary resources to observe, interpret, and ask questions to understand that time!


United States

learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Do you have to share a room with a sibling? Even if you don’t, can you imagine what it would be like? Now think about sleeping with your whole family in one room! That was a reality for many children in New York in 1900!

When people in the late 1800s and early 1900s immigrated to the United States, they mainly lived on the east coast, New York City being the most popular city.

To learn more about the immigrants during this time period, explore the Elephango lesson found in Additional Resources in the right-hand sidebar.

Many immigrants were coming from European countries, escaping religious or political oppression. This means people living in these countries were not allowed to believe in what they wanted. Many were coming for a chance at a better life and making money.

With such a great number of immigrants coming to New York City, jobs and housing were hard to find. To learn more about the life of an immigrant family, you are going to study primary sources from a family living back in that time period. If you want to learn more about what a primary source is, check out the Elephango lesson in Additional Resources. Also, here is a Primary vs Secondary Sources video to help you review:

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If you completed the Related Lesson in the right-hand sidebar, you learned that the 3 steps historians use to investigate primary resources are:

  1. Observe — look for important details and things of significance
  2. Interpret or think about the observations — explain the meaning of your observation, which could be information, words, or actions
  3. Ask questions — this can lead to more understanding and make important connections to solve the mystery of what went on in the past

We will use those steps in this lesson as well. You will be looking at primary resources from a typical immigrant family in New York City. Here is a picture of an object from this time period. Let’s look at it together and work through the 3 steps:

Image courtesy of the Tenement Museum


First Observe the object in the above picture.

  • What colors, textures, materials, shapes, etc., do you see?
  • What do you find interesting about this object?
  • Share you answers with your teacher.
  • You can probably see the object is made mostly of wood, but there are handles and wheels made of other materials.
  • You can see that there are nails holding the object together.
  • The object is not painted, showing the natural wood.
  • There does seem to be a bit of blue at the end of the bottom piece, so possibly the paint has been worn off in other parts.
  • The shape of the object is like the letter L.
  • The object looks not too fancy, but it is in good condition.

Second Think about the observations.

  • From what you see, what do you think the object is?
  • For what do you think it was used?
  • Who do you think used the object?
  • Why do you think this object was used?
  • Share you answers with your teacher.
  • The object looks like a scooter that we see today.
  • So we can think that this is a toy, or a way of transportation.
  • The object seems small, so it must be for a child.
  • It also seems to have been homemade.

Third Think about what questions you have that could help make a connection to this object and the time period for which it was found.

  • Where could you do more research to learn more about these types of objects?
  • Share your ideas with your teacher.
  • You could research the types of toys children had back then to see if it was used for fun or if they needed it for transportation.
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