The Issue At Hand
In May 1882, Congress, responding to pressure from unions, passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. This treaty with the Chinese Government banned Chinese emigrants from entering America and called for the deportation of any who arrived after 1880. Was the Exclusion Act the best solution? What were its positive and negative outcomes?

Chinese immigrants began arriving in America in significant numbers in the 1850s, most from the southern provinces of China where war, persecution and famine caused the deaths of millions. American businessmen actively sought Chinese laborers in mines and other industries, using them to provide much of the labor for building the transcontinental railroads. While the Chinese were first praised as diligent workers, praise later turned to hostility as the railroad was completed and competition for other jobs increased. Anti-Chinese political activity and violence erupted between 1880-1900 throughout the West, resulting in scores of deaths.

This curriculum asks students to examine specific legislation and determine the stakeholders and parties involved, using the 1885 expulsion of Chinese people in Tacoma as a case study. Students are asked to define values and issues related to the events of the late 1880’s in their examination of this time period and its influence on Northwest communities. They will then examine the relevance of this subject to modern constitutional issues through classroom discourse and a position paper on a contemporary topic or a local manifestation of this Act.
Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs)
This lesson plan satisfies the following EALRs for grades 7-12: Civics 1.1.2b, 4.1.2a, 1.2.2a, History 1.1.2b, US1.2.2, and Social Studies skills 3.1.3a.
CBA Scoring Rubric and Notes
The Washington State Office of Public Instruction has created a scoring rubric for the Constitutional Issues Classroom-Based Assessment. Click here to download and print this rubric for your information.
Essential Questions for Students
  • Who was involved in the expulsion of Chinese people from Tacoma? What motivations did they have? Were they economic, political, social?
  • What kind of effect did the Chinese Exclusion Act have on the people it targeted? How has it influenced their descendents’ lives today?
  • How does this topic relate to us today? What is the role of the United States government in regard to immigration? What issues are the same as they were in the 1880’s and what issues have changed? Why is this topic important?
Essential Understandings
  • The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had an impact on Chinese communities throughout the United States that is still felt today.
  • The Exclusion Act was only one of a number of anti-Chinese legislative actions targeted at decreasing the number of Chinese immigrants allowed in the United States. Although the act was later repealed, other discriminatory laws were still in place.
  • The motivations that provoked anti-Chinese violence and political action were complex and involved a number of economic, social, and political factors.
  • The coming of the railroad played a significant role in immigration into the West, encouraging eventual settlement in Washington state.
  • Primary Sources for Student Understanding
    1. The Chinese Exclusion Act
    2. Letter from James Wickersham
    3. Statement from Lum May
    4. Image search of the WSHS Collections
    Secondary Sources for Student Understanding
    1. Chinese Immigrants Overview
    2. Exclusion in Washington Overview
    3. Chinese Immigrants in the American West
    4. Run Out on the Rails They Built
    Other Teacher Resources
    1. The Chinese Exclusion Act: a brief history*
    2. Chronology of Asian-American History*
    3. Reflections on Exclusion*
    * denotes links external to WSHS.
    Instructions for Teachers:
    Part I.
    Prepare yourself by getting familiar with the content of this lesson plan. Review all primary and secondary sources listed above. The following optional readings have also been provided for teacher use. They show a modern perspective on the effects of exclusion. They also provide a timeline of some of the events before and after the Chinese Exclusion Act.

    Part II.
    Provide students with an overview of this lesson by explaining to them that they will be studying the Chinese Exclusion Act. You may wish to share some of the details from the teacher reading about the Exclusion Act or read it out loud.

    Pass out copies of essays about Chinese and European immigrants in your classroom. You may either wish to split the group in half and have each half read a different section and compare verbally or you can have students read both essays in their entirety.

    You may wish to have a world map on hand so that students can reference different parts of the world as they are working through the assignment. Ask them to use the vocabulary organizer as they complete the readings so that they can organize their thoughts for classroom discussion throughout the lesson.

    Part III.
    After students have been given the opportunity to read these essays, project a world map. Ask them to point out geographical locations from which the groups in their readings came.

    Engage the class in discussion about the following points:
    • What factors influenced the move of these peoples?
    • Take a look at this map. What resources existed in the homeland of those immigrating to the United States? What resources existed in the lands they were entering?
    • What role did the railroad play in immigration? Why would Chinese labor on the railroad have influenced settlement patterns in the Pacific Northwest?
    Draw students into a discussion about how the railroad played a part in the movement of resources and people from one place to another. Ask how the resources available in home countries would have created similarities and differences between cultures. Do they think that this would have played a part in the roles that immigrants played in other countries? What other factors played a part?
    Part IV.
    In class or as homework, have students read Run Out on the Rails They Built. Ask them to continue using their Vocabulary Organizer to add to their concept of what immigration meant. As they complete this, ask that they do the Issue Analysis Worksheet and explain that they will be exploring what happened more in depth in the next class session.
    Part I.
    As you bring students back together for this session, debrief some of the things that they learned in their readings. Divide them into smaller groups and pass out copies of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

    Use this legislation as part of a jigsaw exercise. Give each group a different section of the Act to read and explain to them that they will be presenting to the class what they believe their section means. Using the first section, model the expectations by providing them with a brief description of the Act and its implications for the Chinese community.

    After students have been given the opportunity to discuss their sections in small groups, bring them together to explain various sections to the class. You may want to offer them the possibility of presenting this material verbally, dramatically, or artistically, depending on time constraints and the learning styles of your students.
    Part II.
    Pass out copies of the James Wickersham letter and Lum May Statement. You may have students read both letters or keep the class in their smaller groups to discuss amongst themselves.

    After they have had the opportunity to study both documents, discuss the following points:
    • What is a stereotype, and do you see any in these documents? If so, what are they?
    • Think about stereotypes that you have experienced. How did they make you feel?
    • What stereotypes did other Americans have about Chinese people? What stereotypes do you see in James Wickersham's letter?
    • How did some of the Chinese people that you read about try to counter stereotypes?
    • Was there anything in what you read that surprised you? Why do you think it did?
    • How do you challenge a stereotype? What effects can the perceptions of other people have on an individual’s life?
    Part III.
    Ask students to review their Run Out on the Rails They Built essay again. As a class, identify the issues at stake and some of the stakeholders involved. You may wish to write this on the board, creating a simple chart with space to write about each individual stakeholder. Using the Issue Analysis Worksheet as a guide, encourage students to evaluate the motives of each individual stakeholder in preparation for Session Three.

    Part IV.
    Explain to students that in the next class session, you will be conducting a Socratic seminar. Ask them to prepare by writing questions to formulate during the course of the session using the Who Questions? Worksheet. Explain to them that this seminar will require them to participate by asking and answering questions of their classmates.

    You will need to read the Socratic Seminar Handout to prepare for this session beforehand.

    Part I.
    In this session, students should be prepared to discuss the topic of Chinese expulsion - its origins and its effect on people today, the relationship between this event, and modern immigration and/or civil rights issues.

    Review the following guidelines for your class. Students should know that it’s good to:
    • Use your readings as you need to during the discussion. This is not a test. Use evidence to back up arguments.
    • It is okay to pass when asked to contribute.
    • Do not participate if you are not prepared.
    • Ask that the point be clarified for you if you become confused.
    • Keep the discussion focused on the point at hand.
    • Take turns speaking and be respectful of fellow participants. All viewpoints have equal validity - there is no "right" or "wrong" answer.
    • Talk to each other, not just to your teacher.
    Remember that the Socratic seminar is an exercise to allow students a chance to explore this topic through discourse with their peers. Your role as teacher/leader is to guide the discussion, and ensure that students remain on-topic and treat one another with respect.

    Wrap up this session by asking students to reflect on the topics discussed in the seminar. You may ask them to do a freewrite about their experience to help them process the discussion; however, it is not recommended that this freewrite be graded. It needs to be a low-stakes writing assignment.
    Part I.
    Tell students that they are now ready to begin exploring constitutional issues that affect them today. Ask them to look at what they have learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act and think about how they could incorporate that information in a topic closely related to a current issue. Among topics you might suggest for student use are civil rights and immigration.

    Remind them that they must select a debate and identify the different stakeholders involved. Using their recent work on the Chinese expulsion, review positions and values discussed earlier. Explain to students that they will need to do the same when writing their position paper. Tell them that they will need to choose a position, and outline that in the paper, presenting a solution to the problem based on historical and Constitutional analysis. Provide them with the graphic organizer from OSPI to use as they draft their position papers (located on page 3 of the document). offers a tremendous number of primary and secondary sources that can be used for these papers. Depending upon the amount of time you have, you may have your students devote only a few days to this assignment, or, alternatively, they may extend their research into many other sources, ultimately devoting more time to the writing and presentation of their papers.

    Hand out the Classroom-Based Assessment checklists and rubrics to assist them in meeting the learning outcomes. These checklists will assist students in planning and organizing their papers.

    After students have drafted their persuasive essays, pair them up and have them switch papers. Ask them: Are you persuaded by your partner's recommendation? Why or why not? What evidence have they used?
    • Suggest that students visit the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation website at to find out how Tacoma is addressing the issue of expulsion in its community. This website has a powerpoint presentation available that could be used as part of classroom discussion.

    • You may also wish to have students do further exploration of the topic by examining related events outside of Washington. You could suggest that they research the effects of exclusion in other parts of the country or even other parts of the world. Ask if they can find examples of this type of legislation or social rule in other cultures.

    • Have students search the Washington State Historical Society’s online collections for artifacts, images, and ephemera pertaining to this period of history. Print out some of the photographs and ephemeral pieces and have students examine them. Ask them to form a hypothesis about the significance of the object and then conduct research to see if they can find other evidence to prove or disprove their original assumptions.

    • Schedule a visit to the Washington State History Museum so that students can use the ideas in this lesson plan to examine other periods in Washington state history.