Who Wants to be a Pioneer?

Who Wants to be a Pioneer?
Caroline Harrison: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: One week


Caroline Harrison, First Lady to President Benjamin Harrison, was a witness to the late 19th century mass movement of pioneers to the West using. among other routes, the Oregon Trail.  The image of a wagon train reminds people of these brave souls, and of their journeys, which were filled with danger as they participated in a quest for a better future.


Students will imagine that they are a member of a wagon train traveling along the Oregon Trail.  After engaging in research about the Oregon Trail, students will write a story about their fictitious experience.

Materials Required:

Computer Internet access Word processor (or paper and writing utensil) Research tools (books, videos, photos, and magazines) Printer Computer programs (PowerPoint) to create a presentation (optional)


1.  Ask students if they have ever taken an “adventure?”  Have a discussion about adventures and trips students have taken in the past. 

2.  Provide students with an introduction to the Oregon Trail using available resources. 

3.  Provide the students with a senario in which their families have decided to take the Oregon Trail to the West.

4.  Instruct students to draw (younger students) or write (older students) a story about their ‘experience’ on their journey on the Oregon Trail.  (Students could use the computer to design a powerpoint presentation storyline about their journey.)

Extending the Lesson:

  •  Using an already-developed WebQuest (see resources, below), student teams, known as wagon trains, might explore the move West in greater detail.  Wagon trains may be composed of different kinds of people: African Americans, people on their way to the gold rush, fur traders and mountain men, Great Plains settlers, and those on their way along the Oregon Trail. When questions are constructed and refined, wagon trains will participate in a trial run of their game show.  With this experience behind them, wagon trains will refine their questions further, and provide a review experience for all similar grades on the topic of the American westward expansion. 


Sources & Resources:



   Library of Congress information about the Oregon Trail:

   Background information on pioneers:

This lesson was developed by Dr. Averil McClelland and adapted by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University, based on a WebQuest by Rob Dent and Paula White, in collaboration with the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.