Teaching About The Oregon Trail

Hey everyone!

I'm getting ready to wrap up my favorite social studies unit in 4th grade, the Oregon Trail and Oregon history.

Last year I wrote a few blog posts about what I did to start the unit , how I  used realia , and how we had a few fun days of making butter and playing pioneer games.

I'm going to fill in the rest of the gaps right now and give you a basic outline of what I do with my class.

The first thing I did was send out a KWL in my Google Classroom for my students to fill out. Then I show them some posters about heading to Oregon, the land of milk and honey. The land where pigs are roasted and running around with forks in them. I tell them this is the propaganda told to pioneers to get them out west.

 The next day is when I hook them in to my unit by setting up shop and at each table,  they work as a "wagon" to choose supplies with a weight and money constraint. I feel that this day sets the whole mood for the unit, so I go all out. There is fiddle music, I wear a bonnet and apron, I've got a table with realia and supplies. They also decide who is on the wagon train council and who is the wagon master. They vote and everything!

Our next day, they set up a journal and pick out a pioneer name. I put up a list of pioneer names I found and they put it on the front of their journal.

 I do a quick slideshow about Independence, Missouri and why people are leaving.

I have a map of our journey.

We only have social studies four days a week, so a typical week will have us at a landmark 1-2 times, fate day, and then some sort of research or activity.

Landmarks include: Ft. Laramie, Chimney Rock, Independence Rock, Ft. Bridger, Ft. Hall, Soda Springs,  and the Whitman Mission. There are some others I could definitely include. Right after the landmark slideshow and/or video, they write in their pioneer journals. They write about what they saw, how they felt, and what they did at that landmark. At Independence Rock, they "carved" their names into the rock. At one of the forts, they get new supplies to finish the trail.

The second to last day of the unit, they decide whether to go on the Columbia River or go over Barlow Pass. Students research the pros and cons of each decision and decide as a wagon, not as a wagon train, how they will travel. Then it's fate time and they roll a dice to see what happens. The last day, for those that made it, there is a celebration in Oregon City.

Activities done: Compare and contrast with pioneer children typical day, pioneer game day, Oregon Trail game day (I found it on a DOS website and also there is a card game!), butter making day, wagon making, pioneer quilt day (they make quilts out of construction paper). We also do this unit during December, so I have them make snowflakes right before winter break and talk about other things pioneer kids did to decorate their homes.

I thoroughly enjoy this unit and I think it comes through to my students because they get so excited at social studies time. My vice principal seems to visit me during this time a lot too, so I think he enjoys it as well.

Let me know if there is anything else you want to know specifically or more details on a certain part of my unit. I hope this helps those of you teaching or gives you an idea to include in your classroom!

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