Westward Expansion – What a journey!

I love project based learning, and I also love love love teaching about Westward Expansion.  Put the two together and I am in heaven.  When I first moved to fourth grade many years ago, I wasn’t all that excited about the prospect of teaching Idaho history.  However, when I realized that I would get to teach about the Oregon Trail, I was elated.

What is Westward Expansion all about?

This is the question my kiddos always ask when I tell them what our next unit of study will be.  Most have never heard of Westward Expansion before let alone Manifest Destiny, Oregon Trail, or wagon train.  This is why building background is so important.

To do this, my students create ABC Books of the Oregon Trail.


Groups work together to identify several important and meaningful words associated with their assigned letter from their research.   Within each group, they evenly assign themselves letters of the alphabet and use the ABC graphic organizer to track important words and phrases.  It is really important that students write down a short sentences about each word so that they can use the word correctly in context later.

Graphic Organizer

After they have three words and a short description for each letter, they will write a well-written paragraph that accurately uses their chosen words in context.  I always ask that they underline or somehow make their chosen word stand out.   Finally, each student will then draw an illustration that relates to one or more of their chosen words.  Look at these great examples:

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I now have students use this really cute final draft paper.

Letter A

In the end, students presented their completed books to the class to show their understanding of this amazing period of US history.



As a gift, I take each group’s ABC book and create a small hand held version that they can each take home and share with their families.   This is definitely a fun project that I not only love to teach but my students love as well!


Moving West – Wagons

This year, my fourth graders are taking a journey west in a fun and exciting pioneer simulation.  To help set the stage and get my students excited about this unit, my class and I turned our room into a wagon train.  I think it came out pretty well!

To create the wagons, I duct taped pvc pipe to both ends of each table.   I came in on a Saturday with my husband because I wasn’t sure how challenging it would be and wanted some additional help.  You could do it on your own but having someone there to help is really nice.

In addition to using duct tape, I also used two zip ties to fasten each pac pipe to the table leg.  I am sure that the amount of duct tape I used would be sufficient but I just wanted to make sure that everything was securely fastened.

The next day, students used white plastic table cloths from the dollar store to create the bonnets and tied them using cord.   This was so much fun to watch.  I really wanted to see how students would attach the bonnets on their own so I gave little help.  Most groups were able to problem solve and attach their end of the bonnet successfully but a few groups required a little more help.

I think they ended up looking fantastic and my students had a blast putting them together.

This is the perfect start to our moving west unit!