This lesson allows students to work together in groups in order to plan their trip from 19th century Midwest America to Oregon. During the journey, they will learn about obstacles the Oregon pioneers faced on their way to the promise of a new life. The lesson can be modified for a short class or extended to stretch over several days. In my experience, however, your students will absolutely love this lesson and will arrive and leave class discussing their performance in the simulation as well as the content you wish them to acquire.
Rationale for the lesson
This lesson will force students to think ahead and predict without having full knowledge of what the lesson will bring them. This uncertainty is very similar to the struggles pioneers felt as they made decisions that led to their departure for Oregon. During the lesson students will learn not only their fate but the rationale for those occurrences. Students will also receive a base level of knowledge and motivation to springboard into analysis of what life was truly like for those living not only in Oregon but also the West in general.
Prerequisite knowledge and skills
Like many lessons, you can go any direction you like. First, let’s take students who know nothing about the Oregon Trail. This lesson could serve to introduce them to the struggles the pioneers of the West experienced along the way and in the newly forming frontier states. In a more advanced style, if you have students who have some basic knowledge of the Western settlements, they might be able to better predict the trials and tribulations. Therefore, this lesson will be a challenge to their prediction skills. Lastly, you could utilize this lesson to reinforce ideas many students knew, but force them to provide rationale for what happens to them during the simulation. For any level, the lesson can be used as standalone instruction on challenges pioneers faced on their way to Oregon, or, it could provide a springboard for further research on the many aspects of the West (ex: boomtowns, Gold Rush, ghost towns)