On the Oregon Trail

Social Studies and Language Arts Activity

Students apply the experience of traveling the Oregon Trail to a subject-area lesson.



  1. Ask students to share experiences of times they taught a younger child how to do something or helped one understand a school lesson. Then ask students to think of the families with young children who crossed the continent on the Oregon Trail or used other routes. Have them consider and discuss what kind of learning might have gone on during the time those school-age youngsters were migrating westward. Encourage a variety of ideas.

  2. Point out that without schools and probably texts, boards, or other materials, any learning that went on may have been difficult. Explain that though this was true, there was much going on in terms of real-life experiences. Adults and older children could have used those circumstances to teach the youngest some of their school skills. Have students suggest possibilities. Use the following examples to stimulate discussion.

  3. Tell students to think of themselves as pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Divide the class into teams. Have each team think of something from their experience crossing the continent that they could use to teach younger children a lesson in one of the content areas. Have them draw up a lesson plan. Share with students the format you use for a lesson plan. Have students follow that format. Or, after presenting it, ask students to adapt it for their "students."


Before students write their lesson plans, encourage half of them to generate as long a list as they can of possibilities. For comparison's sake, have other students generate a similar list based on a modern-day trip across the country. Encourage students to compare the lists.

Instead of having every team use the Oregon Trail as a source of study material, have some groups use the experience of other trails. Encourage students to compare the experiences they were able to apply to their lessons.

Have students create a dramatized version of the activity, in which they act out the lessons as they might have occurred on the trail.

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