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Getting there: Settling the West

Lesson Plan

emigrant wagon family


Core Theme to Which Lesson Relates:

Growing A Nation

Grade Level:

Eighth Grade (Special Education Students)

Estimated duration of lesson:

Two 45 minute periods

Content Standards:

D. Describe the effects of interactions among civilizations during the 14
02. Indentured servitude and the introduction and institutionalization of slavery;
02. Reasons for colonization, including religion, desire for land and economic opportunity;
G. Analyze the causes and consequences of the American Civil War.
08. Westward movement including Manifest Destiny;
09. The different economies of the North and South;
S02. People in Societies
A.    Compare cultural practices, products and perspectives of past civilizations in order to understand commonality and diversity of cultures.
B.    Analyze examples of interactions between cultural groups and explain the factors that contribute to cooperation and conflict.
01. Trace the development of religious diversity in the colonies, and analyze how the concept of religious freedom has evolved in the United States.
02. Stereotyping and prejudice;
03. Analyze how contact between white settlers and American Indians resulted in treaties, land acquisition and Indian removal.
04. Analyze the economic, geographic, religious and political factors that contributed to:
S06. Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities
A. Show the relationship between civic participation and attainment of civic and public goals.
02. Expansion of the franchise

The Primary Source(s) used:

Period maps, drawings, and photos. 

Activity Summary:

Students will analyze period photos using attached photo analysis sheet. The goal will be for each group to investigate their photos and make predictions about the activities and lives of the people in each. Students will be challenged to figure out what life was like and the challenges facing these early pioneers based only on the information in these photos. Students will then brainstorm a list of all the things they would need (keeping in mind the limited space they would have) on a covered wagon trip to California. The class will b divided into nine groups of three and assign each group the task of creating an outline for the whole trip to California, highlighting which items they would use on each part of the journey, and explaining why.   Have them think about the trip in three parts: before they leave, on the trip, and once they arrive in California (3 groups per leg to provide different perspectives). Students must consider and investigate various reasons why many families chose to brave the dangers and travel west.

Student Learning Objectives:

Students will learn the challenges facing people and families willing to embark on this westward journey. They will also learn what was required for success and to prioritize needs. They will learn to apply information and concepts from the past to contemporary issues. Students will also gain some appreciation for the dangers the western emigrant faced.
Here is a Video on Western Expansion that introduces the topic.
Day 1--Activity #1: Photo Analysis
In pairs students will be given a period photo or painting of families on the westward journey or families that had   successfully made the trip and were working in the gold mines of California.
1)     Each group will be required to complete a photo analysis worksheet identifying key elements of their photos and challenging them to think about life at these times
2)     Using the Smart Board each group will share their photo with the class. They will have to identify the key elements of their photo (objects, photos, and activities).
3)     Each group will also have to use information gathered from the photo to explain what is going on, what the questions they have, and offer suggestions/locations where additional information could be found.
Day 2--Activity #1: Risk vs. Gain
Individually students will brainstorm a list of reasons why they would be willing to risk everything to move west.
1)     Why/what is causing your family to leave? (Activate students prior knowledge)
2)     Immigrant vs. emigrant? What do these terms mean?
3)     What are you hoping to find? 
Activity #2: Pack Your Bags
  • As a class, generate a list of plausible reasons for leaving your home. Use this time to discuss and review pressures, conditions, and situations along throughout the Eastern United States that were forcing families to embark on the westward adventure.
*show 2 photos of that detail the dimensions of a wagon used for transporting goods west. Use these graphics to show the kids the limited space available. Food for thought: Could you fit all your things in this wagon? What about your entire family’s possessions? How would you decide what to leave behind?
  • Discuss what the biggest danger, and fear, for an explorer might be. (P.D. #2 Westward Expansion Map)
  • In pairs students will create a list of supplies/materiel’s they would need for their journey.
  • Combine lists. As a class discuss what we should bring, and why then create a class list of the supplies/materiel’s we believe would be necessary for survival.

A post-assessment and scoring guideline:

Collect student photo analysis worksheet and check answers to determine if students were able to locate/identify main ideas.

List any materials needed by teachers:

PDF copies of primary documents

List any materials needed by students:

art supplies, pencil, photo analysis worksheet, and Smart Board projector
Modifications: create groups that take into consideration the needs of low functioning students. Stack groups so higher functioning students who are willing and able to help the others are together.

Possible Lesson Extension:

Students will create an advertisement of their own aimed at persuading emigrants to move to California. 


Wagon back and side diagram found through Google search (on first page of above item).
 (From lib.utexas.edu)
 obtained from the National Archives