Go West, Young People

Students will view an interactive map of the Oregon Trail. They will be reading actual accounts (through journal and diary entries) of children as they traveled on the Oregon Trail during the 1840’s, 1850’s and 1860’s. The journals will focus primarily on the hardships and struggles that children faced. Students will be creating versions of a journal entry from a child’s point of view.

Lesson Objective

Students will be able to analyze, and discuss the journals of traveler’s accounts as they explore the Oregon Trail. Students will focus on the hardships and challenges children faced while traveling on the Oregon Trail and create a diary entry.



  1. Teacher begins the lesson by handing out Xeroxed copies of The Oregon Trail (a Social Studies reader) in the Social Studies guide after page 61. I start the lesson by explaining that we are going to travel back into the 1840’s, 1850’s and 1860’s to discover the difficult trek Americans made as they traveled west in the mid-nineteenth century.
  2. WHOLE GROUP LESSON: Investigation through a read aloud. Pass out the Social Studies Reader, The Oregon Trail. Have students number the paragraphs and the teacher can call on different individuals to read each paragraph aloud. Students should underline any information that focuses on the hardships and challenges that Americans faced as they traveled on the Oregon Trail.
  3. Draw students’ attention to the heading: Traveling on the Trail, second paragraph. Ask if this is a primary source and how do we know that.
  4. Ask how do you know what travel was like on the Oregon Trail. Chart their responses. Explain that the focus today is on looking at the trail using an interactive map and reading journal entries from travelers.
  5. Using a Promethean Board, put up the interactive map: http://www.historyglobe.com
  6. Have students watch as you click on the different landmarks to show photos with the focus on the challenges travelers faced.
  7. SMALL GROUPS: Children will need to go the Computer Lab or use Netbooks and be divided up into groups of two or three. They should be instructed to go to the website: http://www.gov.or/oregontrail/education-kids-trail.php.
  8. Explain that many children traveled with their families on the 2,000 mile trip. At this website, students will read about life on the Oregon Trail and pay close attention to the writings from children that are highlighted in the article. Remind them that they will be writing a diary entry as a child traveling on the Oregon Trail when they are finished.
  9. Review the focus of the lesson: to pay attention to the challenges and hardships children faced.
  10. Some historical thinking skill questions to help guide the students might include:
  11. Sourcing: Who wrote the journal or diary entries? When was it written? Why did they write the entry?
  12. Close Reading: What does the text say? What do you notice about the words? What is the overall tone or message of the entry?
  13. Contextualizing: When was the document written? Did any important events occur before or after? Why did the author write the entry? Who was the intended audience?
  14. Extensions/Follow up: Students could continue writing more journal or diary entries until they arrived at their intended destination. For students who need additional help, they can work in small groups to write a diary entry with a timeline.


Teacher will circulate in the class to determine where students to informally assess children’s understanding of the assignment.

Students will create one journal entry from a child’s point of view about traveling on The Oregon Trail.

Students will have a checklist to complete for their journal entry.

Students will complete a 3-2-1 Exit Card: 3 New Facts, 2 Interesting Ideas (or surprises) and 1 Question you might have.


“History Globe: The Oregon Trail” http://www.historyglobe.com/ot/map1.htm

“National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.” U.S. Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management. http://www.blm.gov/or/oregontrail/education-kids-trail.php