Daily Life in a Covered Wagon (Paul Erickson) — "Going West" through "Rolling the Train"

Teacher's Guide Author: Mitchell Kalin, 5th grade teacher, May Elementary School, Clark County School District


Teachers' guides exist for Daily Life in a Covered Wagon separated by book section:

  1. "Going West" through "Rolling the Train"
  2. "On the Trail" through "Crossing a River"
  3. "Disaster" through "Glossary"
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: These chapters deal with the beginning of a family's trip out West in a covered wagon. The book starts with a chapter using maps to show how the travelers made their journey across the country in the 1840s. Three main trails are shown. The political situation in the United States is also discussed, with President Polk being mentioned as a major booster of the Westward Expansion. Next, the book introduces the readers to a family, whose travels, we will follow throughout the book. The next chapter concentrates on the wagon itself. Using drawings, actual pictures and text, this chapter goes into what was necessary to make a good wagon that would lead to a successful journey. Next, the book goes into what was needed to be packed into the wagon for the travelers and what was needed for the trip. There are details as to the necessities required for the long journey, including food, medicine, animals and means of communicating with others (pens, etc.).

After the book has shown the path of the journey, who was traveling and what was needed (the wagon and supplies), the book shifts into the actual journey itself. These chapters discuss how an actual day traveling in a covered wagon goes. It starts with waking up at daybreak, eating breakfast and then getting the wagon train (the group of wagons traveling together) ready to go and finally starting the day's journey(rolling).
Section Themes: Westward expansion, trip preparation, daily responsibilities (teamwork),

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
  • Covered Wagon Diary
    • Students will keep a written diary in their writing journal for two weeks. During this time, they will pretend that they are a 10 year old going west with their family in a covered wagon. The diary will start with an entry before they leave, telling how they feel about their journey that is ahead. Each day, they will make another entry incorporating material covered in class that day. Their last entry will be written, one year after they have arrived at their destination.
    • Standards Addressed
      • Nv 6.5.5 Write response to expository text
      • Nv 5.5.3-7 Revising and editing drafts
      • Nv 5.5.1 Using pre-writing strategies to explore a topic and organize ideas
  • Student Response to Expository Text
    • Students will read pages 2 through 12 in Kids Discover Pioneers magazine. After reading, students will pick one of the articles and write a summary to be turned in. In addition to the summary, the students will list 3 things learned from the article and two questions that have after reading that article.
    • Standards Addressed
      • Nv 6.5.5 write response to expository text
      • Nv 5.5.1 Revising and editing drafts
      • Nv 5.5.3-7 Using pre-writing strategies to explore a topic and organize ideas
  • Mathematics
    • Story Problem
      • Students will answer the following story problem: A wagoner who traveled across country would sometimes stay overnight at an inn. If it cost the wagoner $1.75 for a meal and an overnight stay, how much would the total cost for a wagoner be if he had to spend a total of 13 nights at an inn during his journey?
      • Standards Addressed
        • Nv 1.5.7 add and subtract decimals
        • Nv 1.5.8 generate and solve problems using whole numbers and decimals in practical situations
    • Food Weight
      • Students will be provided with a list of supplies needed for the trip:
      • 100 pounds of flour for each adult (50 pounds for each child),70 pounds of bacon, 30 pounds of hardtack and 10 pounds each of beans, rice, coffee, sugar, dried fruits, baking soda and vinegar. Students will then need to figure out how much all of these supplies would weigh if their family had to pack a wagon train. Students will be told that their family would include all people living in their household. Students will be paired up for this in heterogeneous groups pairing low and high students.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Nv 1.5.8 generate and solve problems using whole numbers and decimals in practical situations
        • Nv C.3-5 identify and translate key words and phrases that imply mathematical operations
  • Social Studies
    • Map Skills
      • Students will use a scale on a map to determine approximately how far it is to travel from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City in Oregon. Students will use a compass rose to tell the direction that they would be traveling.
      • Standards Addressed
        • NS 1.5.2 use map and map features
        • NS 1.5.3 read and derive geographic information from maps
    • Timeline skills
      • Students will prepare a timeline which will give important information relating to their wagon train's journey west. For this activity, when they are done with the unit on wagon trains, the students will construct a timeline detailing important events that happened on a wagon train going west. The timeline will include when they pass notable geographic locations as well as fictionalized accounts of a trip using knowledge gained from the unit. The timeline should be for a 4 month period of time (about how long it would take to make the trip)
      • Standards Addressed
        • NS 1.5.2 record and interpret events on a graphic organizer, such as a calendar or time line
        • NS 2.5.2 organize historical data from a variety of sources
  • Science
    • Biomes Identification
      • Students will be told that the journey from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City will be a long journey. In addition to being long, the trip will be go through many different biomes. The students assignment will be to identify the different biomes that the travelers pass through. They will also tell approximately where each biome is located and finally identify the characteristics of each biome. Students will be able to use the magazine that comes with the Foss Environments kit to help them with this assignment.
      • Standards Addressed
        • E5 C2 compare and contrast various kinds of landforms
        • E5C3 compare and contrast various kinds of landforms
    • Biotic or Abiotic
      • Students will list everything that is brought on the journey out West. Students will list all of the supplies,the animals, and the people. Students will then label each item as biotic or abiotic.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5)1.5 create and use labeled illustrations, graphs..to convey ideas
        • (5) 4.6 investigate and describe the interrelationships between living and non living parts of a habitat

Historical Overview of Section Themes

Without the westward expansion of the United States, there would have been no need for the covered wagons. Covered wagons were necessary so the pioneers would be able to navigate the long and arduous journey that would take them out west. The covered wagons needed to be able to carry the supplies, and the people that were making the trip. The wagons had to act as shelter, storage, protection and transportation.

So, what was it that drew the people to get in the covered wagons and make this long trip? Turner, an early historian, said that space was the appeal. Out west, there was much more space for people than there was in the increasingly crowded cities back East. Limerick said it was the opportunity to shape a new area to suit ourselves. People could go out west and make a new start for themselves.

This draw to go west was not just manifest destiny, as some have suggested, but instead, this expansion was led by politicians in an effort to enlarge the reach and power of the United States. Thomas Jefferson was very instrumental with his procurement of the Louisiana territory with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and just as importantly his decision in 1804 to send Lewis and Clark on the expedition to go West. The Louisiana Purchase greatly increased the size of the United States, and Lewis and Clark's findings opened the door for others to follow their path to Oregon. In the 1820's, the first major treks to Oregon followed, and the floodgates to Westward expansion were well under way. The pioneers needed covered wagons to make the long trip out West, and wagons became the first major mode of transportation for going great distances with many people and their possessions. Horses alone, could not do what covered wagons could.

Politics continued to play a major role in the westward expansion. By 1841, "Oregon Fever" was spreading throughout the northern states and more and more people were hitching up their wagons and heading west. Westward expansion was a major issue in the 1844 presidential election and both candidates, Polk and Clay, favored expansion. A couple of reasons that the politicians favored the expansion were the opportunities for trade with the nations of the Pacific that were present out west and the desire to limit the British presence out there. Due to these and other reasons, politicians pushed the expansion west and also southwest. Therefore, with their government pushing the expansion, stories coming back out the great opportunities (the stories of failure and hardship were probably not as widely disseminated) and with the opportunity for a new start and adventure, it is no wonder that pioneers loaded their wagons to make the journeys out west.

Additional Resources

  • Conestoga Wagon by Richard Ammon; Illustrated by Bill Farnsworth: picture book
  • If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon by Ellen Levine; Illustrated by Elroy Freem: soft cover book with illustration
  • Kids Discover Pioneers by Editor Stella Sands: magazine
  • American Expansionism 1783-1860 by Joy: soft cover book dealing with factors involved in the westward expansion of the United States


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.


Luis Bachelier said...

I liked your Social Studies activity- Time Line. I believe many students can identify and relate to what it takes to move from one place to another.

Food Weight activity suggestion- Have them determine which type of wagon will be used-the types of wagons in this time period were different.

Font size- many different types of font sizes used throughout the guide.

Kat DeBeer said...

I liked all your lessons! I especially liked your extension on the section you read!

I felt all grades 3-5 could adapt these lessons to match their particular standards!

Jill Killian said...

Mitch- Well done. Your Science lessons were both excellent, I'm sure that students will enjoy these activities. Your font sizes were a little strange. Over all great job!

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

I like that your Covered Wagon Diary requires students put themselves in the place of other children their age - over a century ago. This will help them personalize, and therefore, better retain the content they learn. Also, I like that the activity requires they add to their diary each day of the unit. So often, we focus on the results of history instead of letting children see the process of history... how it played out in time and how choices had real consequences that were not "20/20."

I do not see the connection between your book and the "Student Response to Expository Text" activity. Could you make the link more explicit?

After having the students answer the math story problem, have them each write 2 problems of their own. Then, have them work in teams to answer each others' story problems. This will give them more practice with calculations while assisting in their understanding of the real world/math connection.

For the timeline activity, perhaps you could bring in some primary sources. Have students do research on diaries of pioneers, identifying letters/memoirs/journals about the given geographic locations. Students could print out the actual documents and then write summaries of what they learned about the given locations from the primary sources.

Your science activities are terrific for building science vocabulary and I love that you merged the FOSS kits with social studies learning. What a great example of interdisciplinary teaching!

Please add links to your additional resources so we can all access them.