Westward Movement

3, 4, 5

Students will create a web that incorporates the values that were discussed in the reading of Our Journey West.

Lesson Rating 
PrintTwo to Five Thirty-Minute Class Periods
The learner will:
  • create a web about the different philanthropic values that were portrayed in a short novel.
  • construct a timeline that will record at least fifteen events from the novel that spans the journey.
  • cite and explain two examples of settlers working together for the common good.
  • use scale to measure distance on a map.
  • American history text that covers westward movement
  • Our Journey West by Gare Thompson (see Bibliographic References)
  • Unit Assessment Essay Rubric (see Assessment)
  • Thompson, Gare. Our Journey West.  National Geographic Society, 2003.  ISBN: 0792251789


  1. Anticipatory Set:Ask students to imagine that when they go home from school today they will be told that the whole family is going to move to a different state far away where they have no relatives. What advantages and disadvantages (opportunity cost) would there be in making this change? What fears or concerns might they have? Let students brainstorm for a few minutes on their reactions to the news. Explain that, in the settling of this country, such moves often were taken by families.Explain to the class that westward movement in the mid-eighteen hundreds (nineteenth century) was a huge undertaking for a single family to accomplish. The westward movement represented the need for many people to work together. The settlers often met at a specific point and all proceeded together most of the way. Ask students to explain the reasons for traveling together, for sharing the workload, and for working together for the common good.

  2. Explain that the goal of the settlers was to reach their new homes in the West together. Without cooperation and hard work, this goal would not have been successful. Safety was an important issue that also took cooperation among many people. Ask students to suggest a few examples of what kinds of safety concerns the travelers might have. Stress the importance of the settlers working together for everyone's common good. Another point to emphasize is that all these efforts were without any compensation.
  3. Using your social studies text, create a semantic map or web about philanthropic behavior of the pioneers that the students noticed while reading. Some examples that should be discussed during class are the reasons for a circle at night with the wagons, the disassembly of the wagon to cross a river, and the reason for support along the long journey. The whole group should participate in this activity.
  4. Using a map of the United States, notice how far it is from Iowa to Oregon. Calculate the distance using the map key. Discuss the possible route that would be taken (Oregon Trail) and notice what rivers, mountains and other geographic features settlers would encounter on the route.
  5. As a group read the bookOurJourneyWest by Gare Thompson. Remind students that during the westward movement, a tremendous amount of philanthropic contributions were made by the settlers. Discuss those contributions, using the following questions:
    • What is the need?
    • Who has the need?
    • Who is in the community?
    • Who fills the need?
    • What talent or treasure was given or shared? What did it cost to fill the need?
    • What goodness does the community experience from that giving or sharing?
    • What is the reward for the one who shared?
    • What would have happened if the need was not met?
  6. To develop the skill of putting events in chronological order, have students build a timeline of major events that occurred in the book. Make sure that when building the skeleton of the timeline, before any events are placed on it, students should keep the intervals on the timeline of equal length (daily, weekly or monthly) but the events should be recorded in their appropriate place on the timeline whenever they occurred.
Timelines from the last activity should be checked for accuracy. After reading the book Our Journey West by Gare Thompson, have students write a diary entry as if they were also on the Oregon Trail. Have them describe a mishap that occurred, and explain how others helped fill the need. As a unit assessment, students should respond to the statement, "The history of this country is filled with examples of people coming together for the common good." Students should explain what is meant by the "common good." They should then give four examples, taken from lessons in this unit, which show philanthropic behavior. See Unit Assessment Essay Rubric below. Unit Assessment Essay Rubric Points Description In order to receive a 4-point score, the response must define "common good." provide four examples of supporting information from history which show philanthropic behavior in the United States. In order to receive a 3-point score, the response must define "common good." provide three examples of supporting information from history which show philanthropic behavior in the United States. In order to receive a 2-point score, the response must define "common good." provide two examples of supporting information from history which show philanthropic behavior in the United States. In order to receive a 1-point score, the response must give an incomplete or unclear definition of "common good." provide one example of supporting information from history which shows philanthropic behavior in the United States. In order to receive a 0-point score, the response will show no evidence of any of the elements.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe a benefit of group cooperation.