Library of Congress

Teachers

The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Lesson Plans > Journeys West

Back to Lesson Plans

 A family of emigrants entering the South Loup Valley

[Detail] Emigrants crossing the plains

Lesson Procedure

Journeys West engages students in inquiry into the theme of journeys through the exploration of topics such as the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the California Gold Rush, the Oregon Trail, Fur Traders and Native Americans.

Students learn about diverse groups of people who left their homes to start a new life as well as the native people they encountered along the way. Students understand that personal experiences of ordinary people help create our nation's history. These journeys were vastly different depending upon ethnic heritage, economic conditions or the motivation to travel. Understanding the viewpoints and personal experiences presented in primary sources is essential for understanding this time in American history.

This unit integrates student interpretation and analysis. It culminates by inviting students to synthesize and apply their new understandings for an authentic purpose.

  • What were the motivations of the people who traveled west?
  • What conditions did they encounter as they journeyed west?
  • How did the conditions encountered influence their decisions?
  • What were the conflicts between the settlers and the native people they encountered?
  • How did policies of the U.S. government influence westward migration?

The student's exhibit may include a journal, broadside and artifact.

Lessons one and two may each require one class period. They are conducted through direct instruction and establish the background information and direction for subsequent learning.

The remaining lessons can be completed in 10 – 12 class periods of 45 minute duration. Students begin constructing an “exhibition” after choosing a role in lesson three. Lessons four, five and six can be implemented concurrently through learning centers, or they can be teacher directed in three class periods.

  • Lesson 1: Students are introduced to the theme of journeys and primary sources as the first step in understanding the viewpoints and personal experiences for this time in American history.
  • Lesson 2: Students analyze five photographs and read five narratives to better understand viewpoint and personal experience for this time in history.
  • Lesson 3: Students choose a role (gold miner, pioneer family, Native American, explorer or fur trader) for conducting an in-depth study using the Library of Congress online collections.
  • Lesson 4: Students explore maps in guided small groups to focus on how the topography of the land impacted migratory decisions as well as created obstacles for travelers.
  • Lesson 5: Students, working in guided small groups, engage in careful analysis and deeper inquiry of photographs and broadside images to help gain a sense of the people.
  • Lesson 6: Students meet in role groups to engage in careful reading and interpretation of first person narratives from the Library's collections.

Lesson One

Introduce students to the strengths and limitations of the historical record. Optional: Read definitions of primary and secondary sources in Using Primary Sources and discuss with students as necessary.

  1. Assign students to work individually or in small groups. Alert students that they will share their activity responses with the class.
  2. Ask students to think about all the activities they were involved in during the past 24 hours, and list as many of these activities as they can remember.
  3. Have students write down what evidence, if any, each activity might have left behind.
  4. Direct students to review their lists, and then answer these questions:
    • Which of the daily activities were most likely to leave trace evidence behind?
    • What, if any, of that evidence might be preserved for the future? Why?
    • What might be left out of a historical record of these activities? Why?
    • What would a future historian be able to tell about your life and your society based on evidence of your daily activities that might be preserved for the future?
  5. Now think about a more public event currently happening (a court case, election, public controversy, law being debated), and answer these questions:
    • What kinds of evidence might this event leave behind?
    • Who records information about this event?
    • For what purpose are different records of this event made?

Homework options:
Personalize the theme of journeys and primary sources by having students chronicle a journey, collecting their own primary sources over an extended weekend.

Assign background reading as necessary to prepare students to study the student roles. pages: fur trader, pioneer family, Native American, explorer, and gold miner.

Lesson Two

Students analyze the photographs, and record their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.

Lesson Three

Based on the study of the five photographs, students choose one role (gold miner, pioneer family, Native American, explorer and fur trader) for conducting an in-depth study using the Library of Congress online collections. Students work in small groups and then jigsaw with the entire class in the final project. For the final project, students will create a museum exhibition on the expansion of the United States. The exhibition might include a journal, map, timeline, broadside and one additional artifact. Exhibitions should represent varied viewpoints, particularly the motivations to travel, the struggles along the trail and encounters with Native Americans. In order to represent multiple perspectives, it might be necessary to guide student choice of the role of a gold miner, pioneer family, Native American, explorer or fur trader.

Student inquiry is guided by the following essential questions:

  • What were the motivations of the people who traveled west?
  • What conditions did they encounter as they journeyed west?
  • How did the conditions encountered influence their decisions?
  • What were the conflicts between the settlers and the native people they encountered?
  • How did policies of the U.S. government influence westward migration?

This research encourages students to challenge their assumptions, clarify their ideas and develop their own understandings. Guide students and help them maintain a focus. As they read and research, students might add other names, places and unique vocabulary to the key word list. If needed, remind them to read the bibliographic record for additional information.

Project Guidelines

Journal Entries

  • The information in the journal should be as realistic as possible. Maintain the perspective of an imaginary person in the time and place of Westward Expansion.
  • The purpose of the journal is to reveal information about typical daily life. Use examples that will teach museum visitors about life along the Oregon Trail as well as the settlements.
  • Include realistic elements such as a name, clothing, food and shelter.
  • A minimum of three entries is required to show distinct information about the daily life of a person in a particular social class.
  • The journal should also include information about how geography (location) affected daily life.

Broadside

  • The information on a broadside should include a mixture of written description and pictures.
  • The broadside should include an image that connects to and shows your understanding of the viewpoint of Westward Expansion that you know about. It should be clear what you want people to know about the topic.
  • Choose 3-5 main points to teach visitors to the museum about through the broadside.
  • The written description should expand on the picture on the broadside. Use actual broadsides in the Library’s collections as models to get ideas about layout.
  • The broadside should be easy to read and follow. Please use large art paper so that your broadside is easily viewed.

Artifact

  • A model or artifact is a 3-dimensional object designed to represent an important people, place or object from the time period of Westward Expansion.
  • Models and artifacts should be handmade. They could be made from any combination of materials (paper, clay, wood, paper maché).
  • The models and artifacts should be carefully constructed, visually appealing and as authentic as possible.
  • The artifact must be accompanied by a written explanation of the object and its significance or importance from a journey west.
  • The models or artifacts must be able to stand alone to represent your research.

Lesson Four

Students meet in role groups to engage in careful reading and exploration with maps from the Map Collections. Focus students on how the topography of the land affected migratory decisions as well as created obstacles for travelers. Students analyze the map, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Maps to focus the group work, and select additional questions to focus and prompt a whole class discussion of their analysis. Other students are working in their specific role groups conducting online and offline research.

Lesson Five

Students meet in role groups with either classroom teacher, Library Media Specialist or Instructional Technology Specialist to engage in careful analysis and deeper inquiry of photographs in order to gain a sense of the people. Broadsides from an American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera help students develop a sense of place and the motivations for travel. These artifacts bring the journey to life. Students analyze the broadside, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus the group work, and select additional questions to focus and prompt a whole class discussion of their analysis.

Lesson Six

Students meet in their role groups with either classroom teacher, Library Media Specialist or Instructional Technology Specialist to engage in careful reading and interpretation of first person narratives selected from the Library's collections. Students analyze the narrative, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus the group work, and select additional questions to focus and prompt a whole class discussion of their analysis. Students gain a point of view, develop empathy for the people and search for evidence to support their conclusions drawn from the artifacts.

Top