Oregon Trail and Alamo Lesson for Kids
This is the 20th lesson in a series of 27 hands-on lessons covering U.S. American History through 1865. This lesson focuses on the Oregon Trail and Texas Independence. I used this plan while teaching a 45 minute history class for children in Kindergarten, 1st, & 2nd grades. Each lesson includes a biography report, history notebook page, history song, our favorite children's books, YouTube video, a history joke, & a variety of hands-on activities to make each lesson engaging & memorable. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, homeschool, after-school program, or co-op!
Do you think you would have been able to make it on the Oregon Trail?
Student Biography Presentation: Narcissa Whitman
1. Student biography presentation on Narcissa Whitman
Review & Presidents Song
2. Review: Where do we find the directions for the 3 branches of government? (The Constitution) Name the 3 branches. (legislative, executive, judicial) What year did Thomas Jefferson purchase the Louisiana Territory? (1803) Which 3 explorers should you remember when you think of the Louisiana Purchase? (Lewis & Clark and Sacajawea) James Madison was America's President when we went to war again with England. Which war was that? (War of 1812) President Monroe told Europe to stay out of America & to mind their own business. What is that called (Monroe Doctrine) Which group of people did President Andrew Jackson force to leave their homes on a walk now called the Trail of Tears? (Cherokee Indians) Which artist painted different types of birds since he was concerned they would disappear as people moved West? (John James Audubon)
3. Now let's go through all the Presidents. Sing through the entire song 2 times while either showing the video or flipping through pictures of the Presidents. (Be sure to add in "Donald Trump" at the end.)
You will need:
- Screen to show the below video or a book showing Presidents or point to their pictures on a President place mat
4. Read the main parts of You Wouldn't Want to Be an American Pioneer!: A Wilderness You'd Rather Not Tame by Jacqueline Morley.
You will need:
- You Wouldn't Want to Be an American Pioneer!: A Wilderness You'd Rather Not Tame by Jacqueline Morley or other book on the Oregon Trail
My children love this series with the silly illustrations and engaging text. It provides a great overview of what life was like as settlers headed West along the Oregon Trail. We only read the main parts & the handy hint.
Hauling water to the campsite
5. This week we're going to pretend to be pioneers heading West. After saving up money all year, we're finally able to buy our supplies and head to St. Louis, Missouri to meet up with a wagon trail of other families heading West. Everyone needs to pack up their belongings. [Lead the children outdoors.]
6. Every night we need to circle our wagons as protection from Native Americans who don't want us crossing their land and also from wild animals. We'll camp here for the night. The mamas are going to cook dinner.
- You children will need to get the water. Do you know where the water would come from? They didn't have faucets. They had to get them from the nearest river.
- Some of you will get to stay here and protect our supplies to make sure they don't get stolen by thieves. The rest of you will help haul water from the river.
- Lead the children to the nearest sink or hose to fill up some sand pails. [Our sand pails had some dirt in them, which was perfect as I reminded them river water would probably have some dirt in it too.]
- We'll use this water to make the meal and then to clean the dishes afterward. [We didn't actually do either of those. We just quickly pretended & then dumped the water in the grass so that the kids wouldn't play in it.]
You will need:
- sand pails or other buckets
- water source (sink or hose)
Collecting Buffalo Chips
7. Another job children their age would have had while on the trail would have been to collect buffalo chips.
- They crossed many plains without trees. How do you think they would be able to start a fire to make dinner? They used buffalo chips, which is dried buffalo poop.
- [I tossed out pot holder & trivet “buffalo chips” across the field.]
- The children raced to collect them.
- We then quickly pretended to pile them up & "warm our hands" using the nice "fire."
You will need:
- items to represent buffalo chips (We used trivets & pot holders but many other items, such as crumpled brown construction paper, would work)
Landmarks Scavenger Hunt
8. [Prep: Before class started, I’d hidden a bag of treats outdoors & had a map drawn of some of the "landmarks" (trees, sidewalk,basketball goal, etc.) outside.] Pioneers didn’t have phones or navigation systems to get them across the 2,000 miles they had to travel to get out West. They had to follow the trails blazed by earlier pioneers. Sometimes it was obvious where to go when they could see wagon wheel tracks in the tall prairie grass. Other times in places with packed dirt and sand and lots of wind to blow away any tracks, they had to rely on landmarks such as Courthouse Rock, Jailhouse Rock, Chimney Rock, Independence Rock, Soda Springs, etc. to stay on the trail and get where they were going.
- Since we have trees out here rather than rocks, we're going to use these trees as our landmarks. These sidewalks will be like the wagon wheel ruts we can follow.
- Allow children to try to follow the map, though provide direction when needed. [If you have a class larger than 15, divide then into groups.]
- After they find their treat, ask them how easy it was to follow the landmarks. How easy would it be if each landmark was hundreds of miles away from each other?
You will need:
- a map with drawn pictures of some of the landmarks the children can follow [It should be quick & easy to follow to keep it fun rather than frustrating.]
- hidden treats for the children [I used plastic Easter eggs with candy, but cooked bacon would have been better as that was something pioneers ate frequently while on the trail.]
Coloring Westwood Ho
9. Have children color some of the Westward Ho Coloring Page. Have them notice the mountain ranges (and imagine having to climb them), wagon floating (and imagine riding in that while praying it wouldn't flip over or float too quickly downstream), & prairie (and imagine only seeing the flat, changeless prairie day after day). This can go in their history binder.
You will need:
- Westward Ho Coloring Page (found close to the bottom of the page), punched with 3 hole punch
- Student supplies: crayons
10. As they color, read Psalm 37:3: "Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture."
- Some of the pioneers were killed by Native Americans. Some died from disease, starvation, and foolish decisions.Those who survived on the frontier are models of resourcefulness. What do you think it means to be resourceful?
- Being resourceful means taking the lead in order to solve a problem and/or to make progress. What does being resourceful mean?
- The Bible verse we just read talks about being resourceful and being a leader in righteousness, which is what the pioneers had to do to survive. They had to trust in the Lord and do good.
- Because they could only carry very little with them, they had to live off the land and cultivate it. We should learn from their resourcefulness.
Battle of Alamo
11. [Show a map of the US & point to Oregon.] While a number of pioneers were heading to the Oregon territory, others were heading further south to Texas, which was owned by Mexico. [Point to Texas on the map.] So many Americans settled in Texas, that Mexico grew worried. Some of those living in Texas decided they wanted to be independent from Mexico, so Mexico sent in soldiers. The most famous battle from this time period was the Battle of the Alamo. Summarize the Alamo battle as you quickly flip through The Battle of the Alamo (Graphic History) by Matt Doeden.
You will need:
- map of the United States
- The Battle of the Alamo (Graphic History) by Matt Doeden or other book on the Battle of the Alamo
This provided the best overall summary of the events that occurred at the Battle of Alamo & how it inspired the soldiers at additional battles. It has graphic (comic book style) illustrations, so they might be too small if you have a larger class. My children love all the books from this series! I love that they are historically accurate and engaging.
Battle of Alamo Dramatization
12. Dramatize the Battle of the Alamo.
- The girls are the Mexican Army under General Santa Anna. Hand them each a toy weapon (or sticks to pretend are weapons). They also had "cannons" (paper balls) to toss over into the fort.
- The boys are the Texans. They are surrounded by chairs (Fort Alamo). I passed out a coon skin cap for Davy Crockett, a big toy knife for Jim Bowie, & a hat for Travis.
- Jim Bowie got to lie down sick. They stepped over the line. They pretended to fight. They all pretended to die.
You will need:
- toy weapons (or you can pretend with sticks), crumpled up paper balls, & optional costume pieces (such as a coon skin hat - ordered from amazon .com)
Battle of the Alamo Notebook Page & Review
13. Pass out the Alamo fort lapbook page & allow children to cut it out.
- They can fold the front & the glue it to the back of the Oregon Trail Westward Ho page they colored earlier.
- They can color the picture of the fort fold up the bottom fort. Pass out the people for them to paperclip inside the fort. They can color these figures later if they'd like.
You will need:
- 1836 Remember the Alamo Book (found close toward the middle of the page) 2 pages: the fort (uncut) & the people (pre-cut out & paper-clipped together)
- Student supplies: scissors, glue sticks, & crayons
13. Review as children are cutting out & coloring the Alamo. When people were heading out West, what trail did they frequently follow? (Oregon Trail) What's something a child you age might have done to help? (Haul water & collect buffalo chips) How did they figure out what direction to go? (Landmarks) The Battle of the Alamo was fought in what current state? (Texas) Which 2 groups were fighting? (Mexicans & Texans) Who won? (Mexicans) Name someone famous who died at the Alamo. (Davy Crockett & Jim Bowie) Why was the Battle of the Alamo important? (It inspired others to fight harder for Texas Independence from Mexico)
14. Assign next week's student biography report on Levi Strauss.
A Book to Read Each Day
Plus 2 Audio CDs
We read through a huge stack of books. In addition to the 2 books used in this lesson, these were our top 7 favorites:
- Roughing It on the Oregon Trail (The Time-Traveling Twins) by Diane Stanley
- Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains by Deborah Hopkinson
- Journey of a Pioneer (DK Readers L2) by Patricia J. Murphy
- Susanna of the Alamo: A True Story by John Jakes
- Davy Crockett: A Life on the Frontier (Stories of Famous Americans Ready-to-read) by Stephen Krensky
- The Way West: Journal of a Pioneer Woman by Amelia Stewart Knight
- Exciting Events Volume 3: Your Story Hour Audible Audiobook (CD)
- The Alamo: A Radio Dramatization Audible Audiobook – Jerry Robbins (Author, Narrator), The Colonial Radio Players (Narrator), The Colonial Radio Theatre on Brilliance Audio (Publisher) (CD)
Oregon Trail - Story of Us
Looking for all of my American History Lessons?
(Links to my middle school level
American History lessons can be found at https://hubpages.com/education/ColonialismWeeks3-8 .)
Native Americans & Columbus Lesson
Thirteen Colonies Lesson
French and Indian War Lesson
Colonial Period & Revolution Rumblings Lesson
Boston Massacre & Boston Tea Party Lesson
First Shots & Declaration of Independence Lesson
American War for Independence Battles Lesson
Valley Forge & Battle of Yorktown Lesson
American Literature Lesson & American War for Independence Review
Colonial Christmas Party
Three Branches of Government Lesson
President George Washington Lesson
Louisiana Purchase Lesson
War of 1812 Lesson
Monroe Doctrine Lesson
Trail of Tears Lesson
Oregon Trail & Battle of Alamo Lesson
California Gold Rush & Pony Express Lesson
American Industrial Revolution Lesson
Underground Railroad Lesson
Abolitionists & Women Suffragists Lesson
Civil War: The Confederate States & Abraham Lincoln Lesson
Civil War Battles Lesson
Civil War Party & End of Year Review Game
Fun, Free Hands-on Unit Studies (My Lessons in All Subjects)
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