America in the Time of Lewis and Clark (Sally Senzel Isaacs)—"Life on a Wagon Train" through "Historic Sites to Visit"

Teacher's Guide Author: Charles Bellavia, 5th grade teacher, Fong Elementary School, Clark County School District


Teachers' guides exist for America in the Time of Lewis and Clark: 1801 To 1850 separated by book section:

Additional teacher's Guides are available for Patty Reed's Doll, Sallie Fox, Sarah, Plain and Tall, and other exploration children's books.


Section Overview: It was called Oregon Fever. Between the years 1840 and 1860 some 300,000 families made the harsh journey from Oregon to California. These families risked much in search of land which would make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. This long 4 to 6 month journey began in May, to ensure safe passage through the Rocky Mountains before the rough winter started. However, not all the pioneers made it all the way. Many pioneers settled in the Great Plains. This prairie land was great for growing wheat, corn, and potatoes. It was conducive for raising sheep, cattle, and pigs which were instrumental for survival. When gold nuggets were discovered at John Sutter’s sawmill everyone wanted to get rich quick. People moved in record numbers. California’s population jumped from 15,000 to 100,000 in two short years. This gold rush caused an influx of people from Mexico, China, Australia, and Europe. However, most people never found much gold and were forced to leave the goldfields and find jobs in California. Ironically most miners did not get rich instead store, and saloon owners did. This influx of immigrants looking for gold enriched America in many ways. They helped in factories, farming, and introduced music, language, and foods to our culture.

Section Themes: Opportunity, food, riches, culture, immigrants, and environment.

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Individual Writing Journal
      • Students will be asked to relate to the pioneers. They must write about an important opportunity that has or may occur in there own life. What challenges must you meet. Are these risks worth the reward. Why or why not?
      • Standards Addressed

        • 5.5.1 write informative papers that develop a clear topic with supporting details.
          5.5.6 Write short essays: speculate on cause/effect and offer persuasive evidence.

    • Storytelling
      • Students will be asked to create a list of similarities between their own life experiences and those of the pioneers. Using a large bubble map students will share these experiences with the class.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 10.5.1 participate in discussions as a contributor and leader.
        • 2.5.4 use summarizing, note-taking, and outlining to comprehend information
  • Mathematics
    • Spread Sheet
      • Students are given a cost of living sheet. This sheet will have the cost of every day items which were needed for gold miners to survive. The expenses were hammers" pickaxe, shovels, water barrels, bags for carrying gold, wide metal pans used for sorting gravel from gold. Other expenses included provisions for food, water, and shelter. Students are given a spread sheet with five separate miners beginning incomes. Students must calculate how much gold must be found daily, and weekly in order for the miner to sustain himself economically. How much disposable income is there, if at all.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 6.5.5 Verify, interpret, and elevate results, determining an efficient strategy for a given situation.
        • 6.5.7 Apply multi-step, integrated, mathematical problem solving strategies.
    • Advisor
      • Students using their spread sheets try to explain to the class (Miner) why or why not they should either continue mining or find a new occupation. They must prove their case using concrete numbers as solid proof.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 9.5.8 Identify, explain, and use mathematics in everyday life.
        • 8.5.4 Use patterns and relationships to analyze problems: draw conclusions about problems.
  • Social Studies
    • Double Bubble Map
      • Using a double bubble map students will compare and contrast life in America before the large influx of immigrants due to the gold rush. How have the immigrants changed life in this country? Students will use this bubble map to point out changes in everything from music to food. Students work in groups of four to create one large bubble map.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.4.10 Describe the lives of pioneers from diverse groups
        • 4.4.11 Discuss how and why people from various cultures immigrated and migrated to the American West
    • Debate
      • Students will debate the importance of immigrants in America. Using the double bubble maps they created together, they will debate the pros and cons from cultural to increased population in America. The debates will not last more than 5 minutes. Each side presents its position using information obtained from their bubble maps. All positions must be supported with facts and details.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.4.4 Organize historical information from a variety of sources. 3.4.7 identify the purpose of historical documents
  • Science
    • Environmental Art
      • Students are to draw pictures on what they perceive California looked like in the 1850's, from plants, trees, grass, sand, and vegetation. Using these pictures they write a quick summary on why and how these environmental factors are difficult or easy in which to survive. Students are then permitted to use text books and technology to prove or disprove these beliefs.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 4.4.13 identify appropriate resources for historical information
        • 5.4.3 ask a historical question and identify resources to be used in research.
    • Surviving in the Desert
      • Using all the information obtained in researching the external environmental factors earlier, they are to work in small groups creating a list of at least ten environmental factors such as lack of water and how they would remedy the problem. Students will share their concerns and solutions with the whole class.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 4.4.4 describe experiences of pioneers moving west
        • 3.4.4 ask history related questions

Historical Overview of Section Themes

This is a story to which everyone can relate. Life on a Wagon Trail was very difficult; however, students who have moved from a different state, or changed schools can understand why people uproot. Families were forced to work together in order to survive the elements. Families moved out west for the same reason that people move out west today. They move to
California for better jobs, more opportunity, land, and a chance for a better life. Immigrants also moved to California in record numbers during the gold rush and changed America in many ways. Music, art, culture, food, entertainment, were all enriched. America is still a land where people travel to in hopes of becoming rich and creating a better life for their loved ones. Even though most miners did not find gold in large quantities, the increase in population was instrumental in developing this country from simply rural to an industrial power.

Additional Resources


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.


Janelle Adesko said...

I enjoyed reading your guide. I especially liked your writing prompt idea of having students write about the pros and cons of an opportunity they've experienced. I think this could definitely help my third-graders better relate to the pioneers and their decisions to move west.

George said...

I like the idea of having your students work with the cost of living. Students these days (children, in general) don't have a concept of money and the true cost and value of things. I think that it would be great to compare prices then and prices now for the similar items.

Your use of thinking maps is beneficial for students because it helps refine thinking and allows them to organize thoughts and ideas. Also my region is big on them! :)

Your links to related websites only worked for one. Can you create hyperlinks for the other three?

Great work!

Janelle Adesko said...

Adding to my previous comment...I would like more info on the mining incomes activity. Where can I find out how much $$ miners actually made and the cost of their supplies? Also, have you considered doing one of the Nevada mining field trips as a culminating activity?

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

Your spreadsheet activity is fantastic! It is extremely realistic - helping children see the importance of income versus expenditures and could lead to a wonderful unit on personal financial planning. Of course, I also like that you appreciated that we're living in the 21st century by adding the technology component!

Regarding the changes immigrants made to the land, what resources will you provide students so they will have enough material to answer the question? Also, I think it's interesting you used the word "immigrants" instead of pioneers. They were really remaining in their own country so I would not consider them immigrants. Nonetheless, their lives were very much like traditional immigrants -- leaving one place to find a better life in another.

I really enjoyed reading each of the activities you outlined in your teacher's guide, but felt that the second activity for each subject area was an extension to the previous activity (as opposed to a separate activity). I would love to hear more of your ideas for a greater variety of cross-curricular activities.

Jamie A. said...

What great Social Studies and Science activities! The S.S. debate is excellent. I wish more teachers would incorporate this idea and that I would have thought of it! Kids love to argue and make a point (just like anyone, I suppose) and this activity might just have them calling eachother at home to prepare for the next debate. It makes them take a stand!

The Science activity for the environment connects them with how they perceive environmental surroundings in the 1800's. An extension of this would be to compare what the environment was like then to how it is today. They would be able to make the connection of how expansion has impacted the environment.

Great job. Definately some ideas I will steal!