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Thematic Curriculum: Social Studies


  • Grade Level: Grade 4
  • Theme: The Oregon Trail
  • Student-Friendly Title for Theme: Brave People Who Used the Oregon Trail

Rationale Statement: Students will learn about such peculiarities of the Oregon Trail as reasons for using it, people who used it, the travelers’ hardships, their hopes, and achievements. Students will discuss the information they learn and will imagine their trips using the trail. A lot of attention will be paid to the experiences of children during the trips. This will help students learn the history and understand American society better.

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Unit Title: The Major Goal

Lesson Titles and Topics

  • What made people leave their homes?
  • People Who Used the Trail

Culminating Activity Ideas

  • The teacher shows a video concerning reasons that made people travel westward.
  • The teacher shows pictures of people of different occupations and lifestyles, and students try to guess their occupations and the reasons for using the trail.

Field Trips

A field trip to a local museum with a focus on the westward expansion.

Guest Speakers

A person who travels a lot (one of the parents, a history teacher, and so on).

Other Resources

  • Pictures of people who lived in the 19thcentury.
  • Maps. Videos from YouTube.


  • Textbooks.
  • Oregon Trail.

Unit Title: Travelers’ Hardships

Lesson Titles and Topics

  • Geographic peculiarities.
  • Indians.
  • Daily routines and roles.

Culminating Activity Ideas

The teacher has a map with the trail on the board. While listening to the teacher reading experts from diaries of people who used the trail (Brophy, Alleman, & Halvorsen, 2012), students are encouraged to place some pictures (using magnets) including the transport, wildlife, geographic features, Indians, food, weapons, and so on.

Field Trips

Going to a local park where students are encouraged to go (a significant distance) to discuss the hardships of the traveler. The trip ends with a picnic.

Guest Speakers

A guest speaker can be a traveler who will share some hardships associated with traveling.

Other Resources

  • Maps.
  • Pictures.
  • Some artifacts (kitchenware, clothes, letters, tools, and so on). These can be taken from museums or libraries.


  • Textbooks.
  • Oregon Trail. (n.d.).

Authentic Assessments

Writing a diary: Students will write seven diary entries. They will be encouraged to add some artifacts. This task will help students revise the material, explore the topic, and understand the people who used the trial (as well as the history of the USA).

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Task: You will create a diary with seven entries. The diary will cover your life for a week. You can imagine that you are a soldier accompanying people to certain points. You can be a farmer or a mother of a big family. You can be a child traveling with the family. You can choose any point of a trip. For example, you can start your diary with a description of your last day in Independence. Be creative! You can add your drawings, or some important things (a leaf, a piece of a card, and so on). Remember all those things you learned and pictures you saw. Imagine that you are traveling westward. Some questions to answer are:

  • Why did you start your trip?
  • Who is traveling with you?
  • What can you see around you?
  • What do you feel?
  • Is it a dangerous/relaxing/interesting/boring trip?

Formative Assessment(s)

Maps: Students will create maps of the Oregon Trail. They will be able to revise the material, organize their ideas using visuals, and explore their creativity.

Task: You will create a map of the Oregon Trail. You will have a map of some states of the United States with a single line (which is the Oregon Trail). Think of the most important things about the trail. Draw any people or objects on the map to tell a story of the Oregon Trail. You can draw people, animals, transport, things, or even the weather. You can also add the names of some of the milestones of the trail, some dates, or some names of the most famous people. Imagine that we speak different languages, so you cannot tell me about the Oregon Trail, but you can only draw about it. Try to add as many details as possible, but start with the most important things.

Summative Assessment(s)

A Final Project: Students will revise the material, carry out their research, and develop a newspaper article.

Task: You have learned a lot about the Oregon Trail, but there are so many things to read about! The final project will help you feel like a popular journalist. Imagine that it is the 19th century now, and you want to write a newspaper article about people who use the Oregon Trail. Imagine that only a few people know about it. You decide to make the trial known to the whole nation. You should collect information and write a good newspaper article. As usual, you should be creative. Try to make it an interesting story. Do not forget to add some pictures. You will submit your articles, and we will create our Oregon Trail newspaper. You can read some newspaper articles to understand what they are all about. Some things to write about are people using the trail, reasons for their travel, dangers, and joys. Of course, these are only some ideas that can help you start your research.


Brophy, J., Alleman, J., & Halvorsen, A. (2012). Powerful social studies for elementary students. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.

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