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Teachers' Notes

I like teachers...

...but I was never sure they liked me. When we studied history in school, I was fascinated, but I could never remember all those dates. Poor Mr. Krause put up with my cartoon doodling in the margins of my notebook, because that's the only way I could remember that Peter the Great was a tall guy.

Anyway, you're busy, so I want to keep this short. I know you are always looking for fresh material out there to stimulate your kids to learn something new. That's why I have a deal for you.

I want to encourage you to use this website for the purpose of teaching your kids about the Oregon Trail. But, here's the deal:

With the exception of any item marked "courtesy of ...", you may use printouts of the information provided here for your personal classroom use. Please encourage your students to use the site for their class projects. You may provide text hyperlinks to my site in your online curriculum guides, and may I say "thank you" if you do. However, you may not redistribute the photos, text, audio, midi files, programs, etc. contained on this website beyond the scope of your own class activities, either by, but not limited to, inclusion in published works or electronic transmission of any kind, without express written permission from me. In other words, use the material for teaching your own kids, but please don't infringe on my right to control the publishing of this material. I reserve my right to modify or revoke this permission at any time without notice.

Thank you for your interest. Do I get a gold star now?

Best regards,

-J.R. Tompkins
Southwind Productions
26893 Bouquet Canyon Road
Suite C, Box 180
Saugus, CA 91350

Teaching a unit on the Oregon Trail? Here are some suggestions from other teachers:
  • Get the kids actively involved in creating a pioneer story, using role-playing simulations, play-acting skits, songs and dances.
  • Create an exercise where students have to make interactive group decisions that affect the outcome of their "journey."
  • After they've learned the goals and stresses of the emigrants, encourage students to think like pioneers by giving them tasks to solve and obstacles to overcome. Divide responsibilities among participant groups just as an emigrant company would.
  • Utilize visual aids: pictures, slides and videos. Feel free to utilize this website as noted above, as well as the links to other sites, books and other materials referenced here. Also, look up Hudson River School artists and their paintings of the early west. Look up William Henry Jackson, his paintings and early photographs, or have your students do it.
  • It's an opportunity to teach history, geography, geology, science and its evolution, cultural interaction, as well as art and music. Even math can be used to total purchases and weights, calculate supplies needed for a period of time, or figure speed, distances traveled, etc. One teacher suggests teaching "conflict management" by studying conflicts which arose along the way and how they might have been solved differently. Have older students research and report the story of the Whitman Mission tragedies.
  • Have students research and role-play characters and how they might have lived and interacted; mountain men, traders, natives, guides, as well as pioneer men, women and children.
  • Dress up like pioneers--teachers and students. Invite parents to get involved.
  • Pack an imaginary wagon. What would you take? What would you leave behind? Have students bring in things the pioneers might have taken (excluding weapons, of course). Suggestions might include: a frying pan, a sack of grain (flour), an ox shoe (horseshoe), a can of beans, a doll, a guitar or fiddle, tools, seeds, etc. Or have students draw them, or objects too big, like animals, etc.
  • Go outside; drag a wagon full of supplies, trek up a hill, rest under a tree. One Washington State school (in an extra-curricular event) even sprayed willing participants with a garden hose to simulate a surprise prairie downpour! Costumed students had to try and complete an obstacle course pulling small wagons through mud holes, over hills, through sudden "rainstorms," stopping at "forts" to trade food with "indians" and tall tales with "mountain men." Sounds like fun to me--I always liked playing in mud puddles.
  • Have students create and write trail diaries and journals, showing distances "traveled" in their lessons, items purchased or traded and problems encountered. Include drawings and impressions of obstacles, landmarks and people they've learned about.
  • Dim the lights and sit around a construction-paper-and-flashlight campfire; sing period folk songs (most any Stephen Foster ballad will do) and tell stories. A Michigan teacher suggests a menu of Platte River water (pop/soda), or Sweetwater River water (lemonade) and hard tack (graham crackers). Note: In reality though, Sweetwater River water probably tastes more like Maalox than lemonade, and the Platte River was once described as "too thick to drink and too thin to plow." Hmmm, chocolate milk sounds like a good substitute....
  • Print this page for future reference, and above all,....
  • Have fun learning.

Many thanks to the creative teachers whose suggestions appear here.