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:

Slide04 Slide20

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!


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