Recently my students studied about westward expansion as part of our 4th grade social studies curriculum. It’s a big concept to unpack, but we focused specifically on three objectives:
- the motivations of pioneers to move west
- Missouri’s role as a “jumping-off place” on the trails going west
- the hardships endured on the journey
With our learning goals now well-defined, we were able to narrow our focus and study the importance of this historic American event.
The Power of Humor
One of the ways I love helping kids learn content-rich information is through fun activities. Humor really helps to cement ideas into our long-term memory. Not only that, but it also seems to make an activity seem less like “work” and more like “fun.” Of course, humor there is a subjective element to it, but for the most part anything at school that doesn’t involve yet another printable can usually be considered “fun.” Not that I don’t use printables – I do. It’s just that their use needs to be balanced with other types of activities.
Game Time Fun
In order for my students to learn about all the difficulties pioneers faced on the journey west, I created a simple board game for them to play in groups of 2-4 students. I chose a game so it would simulate the experience of actually being on the Oregon Trail. The game involved a set of game cards with each card describing a realistic event that pioneers would have faced back in the 1800’s. Not all of the events were negative, so that gave the game another dimension of realism. A simple board game using graphics I had purchased from some favorite sellers on TpT was easy enough to make in PowerPoint, too. I also made a spinner for the game. However, I keep a small plastic Ziploc bag of foam dice and game pieces in my classroom – very handy for a variety of games. Here are some photos of my students experiencing life on the Oregon Trail!