Who Wants To Be A Pioneer?
 Designed by Rob Dent and Paula White
Spring 2000
Introduction | Content Areas | Standards | Implementation | Resources | Entry Skills | Evaluation | Variations | Conclusion


This lesson was developed as part of an Albemarle County Public Schools/University of Virginia partnership for staff development. The Curry School of Education at UVA and Albemarle's Department of Technology designed a course entitled "Using Digital History Archives in the Classroom." History Education students from UVA were paired with classroom teachers to design lessons involving digitally archived primary sources on the Internet and the Virginia Standards of Learning.

Our goal in this lesson was to involve students in learning about America's frontier--and think about the meaning of the words "pioneer" and "frontier." With America's frontier in the late 18th and early 19th century, we wanted them to think about how it changed as the western part of our country was settled, and the perils and challenges those brave pioneers faced. Students begin by using primary sources on the Internet to read journal entries and examine pictures from sites selected ahead of time. They then design questions for a game show and play the game. They also need to create a commercial for the show that demonstrates their understanding of the two words.

The task is deliberately designed to be open-ended to allow differentiation for the various skill levels found in any normal classroom. The sites collected accommodate various reading levels and comprehension abilities and classroom materials found in the teacher resource section do the same.

Content Area and Grade Level

While our lesson is anchored in fourth grade social studies and language arts, it also involves all of the social and critical thinking skills involved in working with a group, creating a project and organizing and following through on a specific task. The lesson can easily be extended to additional grades that are studying the westward movement.

Curriculum Standards

 Social Studies

* Students will be able to interpret primary source documents such as memoirs, photographs, letters, diaries, newspaper articles, advertisements, and maps. Using these primary sources, students will be able to formulate questions about pioneer life and the frontier.

* Students will be able to describe in detail the experiences of one of the following groups of pioneers: mountain men, Oregon Trail migrants, forty-niners, African-Americans, and Great Plains settlers.

* Students will be able to generally describe the experiences of the other four groups of pioneers. (Note: experiences are defined as reasons for going West, what they did in the West, what their journey was like, what types of people were in this group, etc. These objectives touch on Virginia SOLs 4.5(a)--the impact of Reconstruction, 4.7(a)--analyzing primary sources, 5.6(a)--westward expansion, 5.6(b)--"how the effects of geography, climate, canals and river systems, economic incentives, and frontier spirit influenced the distribution and movement of people, goods, and services," and 5.6(d)--the impact of the steam engine.)


* Students will be able to navigate a "pre-planned" Website to explore digitized historical sources.

* Students will be able to create a word processing document and save it into the specified folder.


* Students will be able to write multiple choice questions based on the information they gain from the websites visited.

*Students will be able to describe the qualities of a good "distractor" in a multiple choice question. 

Implementation Overview

Our lesson is interdisciplinary and should take about a two-three week period with students working on the project during both language arts and social studies most days. Students are divided into groups of 4-5 and given a specific group of sites to explore as they work to become experts on the information found in those sites. As they delve into the information on the site, they create multiple choice questions that show their understanding of the material studied. They then work in groups to create a group list of fifteen questions, which will be used in the game, Who Wants To Be A Pioneer? During the first week, students learn the information, create questions that show that learning and play the game to show understanding of their group designated information. During the second week, they study the other sites and learn the material there, using the questions created by the other groups. Then, the end of the second week or during the third week, they create the commercial which shows their bigger understanding of the meaning of the words pioneer and frontier. At the end of the unit, students play the game and share their commercials with an audience. 

Resources Needed


Entry Level Skills and Knowledge





Possible Variations




At the end of this unit, students should have an understanding of what was happening in the United States as people moved from the settled lands of the east to the unknown frontiers of the western lands. They will understand the hardships, the opportunities and the creative, resourceful spirit of those pioneers who set examples for generations to come.

Teacher| Student | Wagon Trains

Last updated on 2000/05/02:15:47:40 by Paula White

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