Project Overview

Teaching Ideas

Teaching Tips

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Teacher Preparation
  1. Locate and post a large U.S. map, illustrated with the historical Oregon Trail in your classroom... the General Store provides suggested resources for finding authentic maps with landmarks. Such maps provide an opportunity for students to locate and discuss their simulated Travels.
  2. You can design and post a display of "wagons" with pioneer family names to post along with the classroom map on your bulletin board.
  3. Prepare a place on your bulletin board for the Travel and FATE cards. As daily fates and mileage are read, locate each point of interest on the classroom map. Teachers, be sure to pre-read all materials. The Travel and FATE cards are copyrighted. Considerable research into actual diaries, events, and places are the basis for the events in the simulation. The Travel and FATE cards are original materials prepared by a teacher/writer team for use in this project only.
  4. Prepare students by conducting research activities about this period in history, using classroom resources and school library materials. Your local public library may be a great additional resource. There are also excellent Internet links (the General Store can be of great help, here). Students are interested in real life diaries (primary sources) and handed down, family stories (oral history).

Student Preparation

  1. Assign identities to students. We suggest that you divide students into groups of four or five students per family/wagon.
  2. Allow students to create their supply lists.
  3. Help students prepare a budget ledger and discuss its purpose.
  4. Tell students that they may wish (or you require that they) keep a diary of the daily events from the Travel and Fates.
  5. Set the stage for an enjoyable experience! Sing pioneer songs, tell campfire stories, draw, paint, build, cook, quilt, play old-time games, learn to play the harmonica, read picture books and tall tales, watch some of the excellent video resources...enjoy watching your engaged learners AND roll up your sleeves and participate with them!


Pacing of the Project

Week #1
Concentrate on initial activities to prepare your students for the journey. Help students gain background knowledge about the period. Use period pictures, diaries, and other primary source materials you can find. Get the facts.

Week #2
Daily Travel and FATES will drive the curriculum. Some FATES will ask students to make small decisions or choices that will effect Travel time. Teachers can use the cards to locate landmarks, introduce geography concepts, or discuss pertinent science topics. Topics introduced by the cards can be augmented to provide in-depth learning experiences. Read journals and short stories of the era. Students write about their adventures and experiences on the trail as a "family."

Weeks #3 & #4
Same format as week #2, as the Wagontrain travels the virtual Oregon Trail. Remind your students that all participating students (from all over the nation) are experiencing the same set of Travel & Fates in their own classrooms. By using teacher e-mail, the Pioneer Trading Post and Bulletin Board, and the weekly Trail Meeting Chat, we can all share our pioneering experience. To achieve this aspect of the project, consider teaming with another school in your district.
Week #5
Student projects are completed, journals are finalized, classroom culminating activities are conducted as the project is completed. We have arrived in Oregon and are ready for our Trail Meeting Reunion.

Using the Travel and FATES
In weeks 2-4, participants will use a set of Travel and Fate cards. These were specifically written to be used for this online simulation. WARNING! There are far too many fates to be read in a week, so pick and choose the ones that will be used in your classroom. Some take longer than others.
  • Read and discuss each Travel & Fate with the whole class.
  • Ask pioneer families to make their decision collaboratively, THEN read their fate.
  • Ask students to prepare a journal of their Travel and Fate events.
  • Ask students to locate their Travel position on a map.

Optional: Make an overhead transparency or post computer printouts on your classroom bulletin board.

Teachers are encouraged to share classroom stories with other classes if you are traveling in a group.

Weekly online Trail Meetings and Trail Decisions
Each week the Travel and Fates will feature an important Trail Decision for classes to discuss in their classrooms.

  • Read and discuss each trail decision so they will thoroughly understand their choices.
  • Following the discussion:
    Ask students to write about the trail decision in their journals.

Additional Learning Opportunities:
  • Some teachers may wish to use this opportunity to have students research and report on topics of interest. This may result in an individual or cooperative research paper, or could be used to create a classroom historical newspaper with reports of important issues in history!
  • Students can write and publish their own pioneer journals. Be sure to allow artistic options to be exercised (yes, singed and dirtied papers DO look old!).
  • Journals can contain poetry, landscape drawings, maps, lost dog posters etc. Take a look at Side Trips for additional project ideas.
  • Be sure to share your ideas (or have your students do so) so we can all benefit!

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Travel & Fates

Map of Oregon Territory Classroom Teacher, The Wagonmaster
© 1991 - 2013Leni Donlan and Katheleen Ferenz
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Last Updated: 12/24/12


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