If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon (Ellen Levine)

Teacher's Guide Author: Jessica Alvarez, 3rd grade teacher, Clyde C. Cox Elementary School, Clark County School District


This teacher's guide is for the book If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon by Ellen Levine. Additional teacher's Guides are available for Patty Reed's Doll, Sallie Fox, Sarah, Plain and Tall, and other exploration children's books.


Book Overview: If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon by Ellen Levine is a great resource for students who are learning about life traveling West in a covered wagon. There is a large amount of information on how, and why a family would travel with all their belongings to a land far away. The book gives a vivid description of the life of the pioneers from clothing, food, etc. The book gives an inside look into why the pioneers would move west and preparing for the trip. There is also a large amount of background on the Oregon territory and what the pioneers were trying to accomplish in this new area.

Book Themes: American Adventure, Teamwork, Difficult Journeys, Survival

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Vocabulary Activity
      • Choose words from the story that may difficult for students to understand. Give groups of students a word to discuss. Groups will find a definition of the word, draw a picture to represent the word, and act out the word for the class.
      • Students will take vocabulary words fold a paper the current vocabulary word written in the middle. The four corners of the paper will be folded over. On each folded piece students will write a piece of information (homophone, synonyms, antonyms, part of speech, etc.)
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.1.3 Decode words in text using phonics and structural analysis: short/long vowels, r-controlled vowels, base words, prefixes, suffixes, digraphs, dipthongs, compound words, and syllables.
        • 3.3.4 Comprehend, build, and extend vocabulary using homphones, homographs, synonyms, antonyms, context clues, and structural analysis..
    • Writing
      • The whole class will discuss current modes of transportation. (car,plane, bus, train). Students will then use thinking maps (circle) to describe current modes of transportation and travel in a covered wagon. Then class can create a double bubble map to compare and contrast the different forms of transportation. Students will then write about which type of transportation would be best and why?
      • Students will write letters home about life on the trail. Students will use all they have learned about travelling in a covered wagon and write a letter.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.6.6 write an opinion statement
        • 3.6.7 Write freindly letters following an established format.
    • Make Predictions
      • Students will work in their groups to make predictions about each chapter/section. Students will record their predictions on one side of a folded paper. After the section has been read students will write the outcome on the other side of the folded paper.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.8.4 contribute to conversations and discussions about a given topic. (e.g., share ideas and opinions.)
        • 3.4.6 A. Make and revise predictions based on evidence
        • 3.4.6 D. Confirm/negate preidictions
    • Reenact a scene
      • Students will reenact a situation read about in the book . Students will choose situation out of the book they will meet together and discuss how to act that situation out.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 1.3.1 Standard read text aloud with fluency and accuracy appropriate intonation and expression.
        • 5.9.2 Use appropriate public speaking techniques such as volume control and eye contact.
  • Mathematics
    • Area activity.
      • The teacher will mark with tape on the carpet the actual size of a covered wagon. Students will measure the area of the wagon. Students will be given measurements for examples of things that pioneers might have taken with tehm. Students must pack things in the wagon according to the area and measurements of each item. Leaving room for the family.
    • Standards Addressed
        • 5.5.1 pose questions that can be used to guide the collection of categorical and numerical data
        • 3.3.2 Select and use appropriate units of measure.
        • 3.3.2 B. Measure to a required degree of accuracy (to the neares 1/2 unit)
        • 3.3.1 Compare, order, and describe objects by various measureable attributes for area and volume/capacity.
    • Periods of Time
      • Students will convert periods of time spent on the trail. They will convert months to weeks, weeks to days, days to hours, hours to minutes, and minutes to seconds.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.5.6 recognize the number of weeks in a month, days in a month, and hours in a day.
        • 3.5.6 determine equivalent periods of time, including relationships between and among seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years.
    • Reconstruct a covered wagon
      • Students will use construction paper, rulers and ¼ inch toilet paper rolls to reconstruct a covered wagon.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.3.2 select and use appropriate units of measurement to measure and record a required degree of accuarcy to the nearest 1/2 unit.
        • 3.3.2 Estimate and use measuring devices with standard and non-standard units to measure length.
    • Social Studies
      • Create a Model
      • Students will create a model of the clothing worn by the pioneers or the Native Americans using Play-Do.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.4.7 describe Native North American life prior to European contact (e.g. clothing, communication, family, food, shelter, transportation, tools)
    • Make your own map
      • Students will make their own map or chart of the Oregon Trail using play doh.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.3.1 use maps, map features, and map symbols to identify and locate major geographical features in the U.S.
        • 3.3.3 read and derive geographic information from maps; construct maps.
    • Diorama
    • students will create a diorama of a Native American Village.
      • Standards Addresse
        • 3.3.9 identify traditions and customs that families practice
        • 3.4.5 Identify Native North American life prior to European contact
  • Science
    • Buffalo Project
      • Students will research the different uses of the buffalo.
      • Standards Addressed
        • L.5.b students understand that living things have specialized structures that perform a variety of life functions
        • L.2.b Students understand that living things have identifiable characteristics.
      • students understand that living things live in different places.
    • Making Butter
      • Students will attempt to make butter by putting milk in a small bucket and shaking it vigorously.
      • Standards Addressed
        • P2A students understand that matter has observable properties
        • P8A students understand the properties and changes of properties in matter

Historical Overview of Book Themes

The overall theme of this book was the bravery of the pioneers and their families. They were leaving everything behind to move to a place where they had never been. They loaded their whole life into a covered wagon and moved across the county. The book tells the students what the pioneers had to overcome to reach their goals in their new homes. Oregon was full of promise and hope for the pioneers. The pioneers would plan and time the trip according to weather. The pioneer families would put their whole life in a covered wagon in order to find their new life in the new land that promised big things for all.

Additional Resources

  • Children of the West by Russell Freedman
  • The Oregon Trail by Elizabeth D. Jaffe
  • Pioneers by Dennis B. Fradin


Note: This teacher's guide was developed as part of one of the Clark County School District's Teaching American History grants. In this grant module, teachers focused on using children's historical literature to teach cross-curricular concepts relating to 19th century westward movement. For more information about this blog, related teacher's guides, or the grant module, please contact Dr. Christy Keeler.


Dana Matthews said...

I really like your ideas. They are innovative and interesting. My favorite is the beef jerky on a heat lamp. The students would have buy-in with that activity. The switch vocabulary activity was neat, too. I might also give students the choice to draw a picture because they may not be able to write in words what the word means. I think I will definitely use these activities in my classroom!

D.C.T. said...

I really thought you did a nice job with your teacher's guide. The Vocabulary Activity for the students to practice using context to confirm meaning is very creative. I Only thought maybe you should have the students make the clothing models out of quick dry clay or construction paper so it would last longer and give more options for realistic colors. Overall, great job!!

AngieWeigel said...

I think you both did a wonderful job with this unit by having students do several hands-on projects. I love the vocabulary activity. It focuses on using context clues while adding a competitive atmosphere where students are moving around the room. For the vocabulary, I might have students go through and identify the words that are challenging to them since I know so many times in the classroom, I’ll assume they know this word or that and I’ll find out that the words I picked aren’t necessarily the one students would pick. The compare and contrast activity is good too because it requires students to take what they learned from the book and apply it. I think it’s also important for students to do because it helps them to see that travelers didn’t have the modern day conveniences back then that we are fortunate enough to have now. I also love the reenacting a scene. You could even pair up with another class to do an If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon play as a culminating activity and invite the parents in. Your other activity where you make the clothing could be extended from Playdoh to butcher’s paper costumes or fabric clothing for the play itself. I also enjoyed reading about your constructing a wagon activity. Would you give students measurements they need to follow for each item? What a great way to assess whether or not they can measure to the nearest ¼ of an inch while they are engaged! Thank you for sharing your ideas! I am excited to implement them next year when we are studying westward expansionism!

Christy G. Keeler, Ph.D. said...

I agree with Mrs. Weigel about your inclusion of hands-on projects. In addition to the motivation this will ensure for students, you also add fun elements (like with the "Switch" vocabulary activity).

Could you provide a little more detail about the book? What types of topics (specifically) does it address? Are there themes from the era that the book fails to address?

julia beavers said...

Thank you so much for all of the hands on activities. My school (and our Sister school) are doing gender specific classes next year campus wide and lessons like this will be a great help to all those boy only teachers out there who needs to keep the guys busy. It was great to see graphing included into the lesson as well. After taking a graphing class last year during my new teacher training, I had such a fun time bringing it back to my students to use. We graphed everything from what ate what type of cereal for breakfast to how do you get to school in the morning. What type of bubble gum do you like the best to who prefers coke vs. pepsi. And the science lessons were a much welcomed bit as well. Thank you for sharing all of your information with us.

lvblondy said...

I love your activity of reenacting the chapter! It allows students who are even reading at below grade level to participate. I think it also promotes having to work together and creativity on everyone's part.

I really liked the creativity in your vocabulary activity. I think the kids would like going around and giving their own definitions of the words- it gives them something to look forward to. Something I might add after finding out the meaning of the word is to have them draw a picture or write a new sentence with the word-reflecting the right definition. In doing these activities, the "real" definition might stick with them more. Hopefully, it becomes meaningful to them!

I love the idea of making biscuits! The kids always love cooking too. However, it might be helpful to include a simple recipe for others to follow. Did you want the kids to make them by scratch? By a box mix? Does it matter? Also, is there a particular reason that you would like the kids to make biscuits, rather than another food?

Great job!