Integrated Language Arts Proposal
March 2, 2009
I. Personal Experiences of the Westward Movement
II. This unit is intended for 5th grade students in an urban school district. The
classroom in which this unit will be implemented is a full inclusion classroom, the
identified special education students receive their services within the classroom, and
many times within groups containing identified and non-identified students. The reading
levels of the students based on the DRA 2 assessments range from beginning third grade
to end of sixth grade. Many of the students lack prior knowledge and experiences to
connect with during their reading. This unit is intended for the students to be able to
build prior knowledge and connect with the experiences of the pioneers who traveled
West on the Oregon Trail, and the choices and challenges those pioneers faced.
III. This unit is designed to integrate Social Studies into the Language Arts block
through extended reading and writing activities based on the pioneer experiences of
moving West on the Oregon Trail. The goal of the unit is to have students understand the
choices, hardships and sacrifices that all pioneers faced as they left their homes and
moved West to find new opportunities.
The Language Arts Objectives for this unit are:
Make inferences based on implicit and explicit information in the text; provide
evidence from the text to support those inferences.
Discuss and analyze how characters in text deal with conflicts of human
experience, relating to real life situations.
Include more than one form of writing in a single piece. Example: The diary of
the pioneer can include dialogue, poetry, reflective writing etc.
The Social Studies Objectives for this unit are:
Analyze data to see people and events in their historical context.
Develop a historical narrative and other presentations based on the investigation
of historical information and facts.
Identify and analyze the causes and effects of movements of groups of people
West on the Oregon Trail.
The big questions that students will contemplate research and answer during this
Once people made the decision to move west, what were the sacrifices, hardships
and challenges that they faced? For many people were these things worth the
payoff of moving West?
How are the experiences of women and children different from the experiences of
men while moving west?
IV. Many of the Social Studies units that we teach in our school are approached in an
integrated unit model with the Language Arts curriculum. Most of the novels we read
throughout the year are historical fiction novels that are tied directly to what the students
are studying in Social Studies. I have found that with the Westward Movement unit, the
students struggle to understand the permanence of what the pioneers faced as they moved
west. This struggle is where the idea for this more focused unit has come from, I feel that
if the students have a more focused goal as they learn about the Westward movement,
and the choices and sacrifices faced by the pioneers, they will better be able to connect
with what they are learning about. The fifth grade curriculum for Social Studies focuses
on the movement from 13 colonies ruled by England to a country that stretches from the
Atlantic to Pacific. We teach these topics in three major units, the Revolutionary War,
Westward Movement and the Oregon Trail, and the Civil War. Our Language Arts
curriculum focuses on reading a wide range of fiction and non-fiction texts and fostering
comprehension through open-ended questioning and discussions along all Language Arts
and CMT standards.
This unit will address standard 1 of the Language Arts framework, students will
read, comprehend and respond to different sources and ideas on a topic to form their own
ideas and opinions of the topic. The unit will then address standard 3 for communicating
their ideas with others through written, oral and visual texts to communicate their ideas.
Standard 4 applying English language conventions as they create and publish a final
project about the experiences of the pioneers involved in the Westward Movement.
This unit will address standard 1 of the Social Studies framework, which
addresses historical thinking. The students will be able to put into perspective the
thinking of the time based on historical and technological advances in order to understand
the motivations for the choices that were made by individuals and families. The unit will
also address standard 2, Local, United States, and World History. The unit will focus on
United States history, and how the movement of people west helped to form the nation
into what we know it as today. Finally, the unit addresses standard 3, Historical Themes;
in that human movement is a central theme in all historical periods, and how was the
movement in this time period shaped by prior events, and how did it shape movement in
V. In the past the students have had a hard time connecting to the choices that the
pioneers had to make when moving, they cannot comprehend what it is like to leave
everything you know behind and never come back to it. This goal of this unit is to help
students put themselves in the shoes of the pioneers and better understand what it really
meant to move west. Without this understanding I think that the students really cannot
fully comprehend what it meant to leave their homes, and possessions to find a new life
in the West. Several times I have tried to have students create journals from the
perspective of a pioneer, and they have not been successful in this assignment, because
the sources we have used do not focus on the ways that the pioneers felt and the choices
that they had to make in order to travel along the Oregon Trail and move West with their
families. The materials that my students will be given in this unit will focus on the
human experience and choices in moving, which will allow them to better understand the
whole concept of Westward Movement. This focus has been developed based on sources
I have found on both the Oregon Trail and teaching Social Studies in a move integrated
In the article “The Oldest Pioneer” the story of Ezra Meeker is retold to highlight
some of the hardships that were faced by the pioneers as they moved west. Ezra was a
young man when he first moved west; by the end of the trip his young wife was so weak
that she needed to be carried for the last part of the trip. The trip was so slow that many
of the people went just about 2 miles an hour over the 2,000 mile route. The article also
points out how many people died along the route there were places that were mass graves
of the dead. This really highlights the plight of the pioneers as they moved west, and
many times I think that these hardships are overlooked as we teach the Oregon Trail and
Westward Movement to students. Mr. Meeker spent most of his adult life brining
attention to the pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail, and he was an important part of
preserving the trail, so that people are now able to learn about and visit parts of the trail.
This is important for people to be aware of when they are studying the trail that people
really gave up a lot to follow their dreams of moving west to find a new life and new
opportunities. The story of Mr. Meeker and other pioneers are things that the students
can read and use to build knowledge of what it really was like to travel west in the
There is such a wide range of reading abilities within the classroom in which this
will be implemented that reading level really does become a consideration when choosing
appropriate materials for the students to use in order to understand the pioneer
experience. Many of the students who are struggling readers get very intimidated by
their traditional history textbook, and other source books that tend to be thicker and use a
higher level vocabulary to teach about a historical event. There are many picture books
that are available to teach about the Oregon Trail and the pioneer experience moving
west. In the article “Developing social studies concepts through picture books” the
authors Pamela Farris and Carol Fuhler really advocate for using picture books to
introduce and teach social studies concepts. The picture book allows the students to be
introduced to a concept in a way that they can understand, and it also gives students a
visual to add to their schema about the topic. Many of my students are visual learners,
and the traditional textbook has only a picture or two per every few pages, and this makes
it difficult for them to understand topics when they cannot see or experience on their
own. I cannot put my students in a covered wagon and have them travel even a few miles
to see how hard it was to move west, but I can give them a collection of well written and
well illustrated picture books that are both fiction and non-fiction that will allow them to
better understand how the pioneers felt, and what they experienced as they moved west.
One focus on the unit will be the critical literacy element of how was the experience of
women and children different from men, by using picture books of a high quality, the
students will be able to look and analyze how women and children are portrayed in not
only the stories but also in the illustrations. They will be able to take this information
from the picture book, and compare it to primary sources on the Internet, and in their
history books to see how women and children are portrayed or not portrayed during this
The ultimate goal of the unit is for students to create an account of a pioneer who
chose to move west, or in the case of a child was moved west with their family. They
will be presenting their ideas in a form that they choose, they can write a journal (that
would be a more polished version of one that all students will keep while going through
the unit), they can create a skit or dialogue to present to the class or some kind of visual
representation of the experience. This idea came from the failed attempts at this in the
previous journal writing assignments and also from the article “Stories and storytelling:
personalizing the social studies.” This article really highlights the connections between
personal stories and social studies. Most of social studies really is studying personal
stories and how they connect and impact larger social issues. Students who can connect
to a personal story are able to better connect with the topic and issues being studied.
Creating a personal story based on the information learned and gathered throughout the
unit will really allow the students to synthesize and connect what they have learned to the
larger idea of movement of people across the country. Stories and storytelling also lead
to the decision to use picture books as a major source for the unit, as picture books tend
to be the stories of one person or a group of people who are experiencing something.
These two ideas of stories/storytelling and picture books really helped to form a
unit that will be very user friendly to students. The students are comfortable with picture
books, as they are used in our language arts teaching a majority of the time, to teach a
specific strategy or skill, and also to explore and connect with topics in the world around
us. In fifth grade students love to tell stories, but they don’t always want to tell stories
about themselves as that makes them feel vulnerable, and that is something they really
don’t like at this age. Being able to tell a story from someone else’s perspective about a
topic that they have learned about will allow the students to tell a story in a way that they
are comfortable with, to take risks in their writing and the way they present it, and then to
synthesize and present new information they learned. This unit will allow students to
stretch both academically and creatively as there will be lose guidelines as to what they
need to be looking for as they read the sources, but they will be aware and have an end
goal and expectations in sight.
VI. Materials Overview
Combs, M. & Beach, J.D. (1994). Stories and storytelling: Personalizing the social
studies. The Reading Teacher, 47. 464-471.
Farris, P.J. & Fuhler, C.J. (1995). Developing social studies concepts through picture
books. The Reading Teacher, 47. 380-387.
Franzwa, G.M. (2001). The oldest pioneer. American History, 36. 20.
Cyberlesson Primary Text
Bunting, E. Dandelions
Texts to be used within integrated unit
Barnard, B. Westward Ho!: The Story of the Pioneers (Landmark Books)
Bial, R. Frontier Home
Erickson, P. Daily Life in a Covered Wagon
Freedman, R. Children of the Wild West
Freedman, R. Cowboys of the Wild West
Greenwood, B. A Pioneer Sampler: The Daily Life of a Pioneer Family in 1840
Hermes, P. Westward to Home: Joshua’s Oregon Trail Diary
Holmes, K. & Butler, A.M. Covered Wagon Women, Volume 1: Diaries and Letters from
the Western Trails, 1840-1849
Holmes, K. & Butler, A.M. Covered Wagon Women, Volume 2: Diaries and Letters from
the Western Trails, 1840-1849
Kramer, S.A. Wagon Train (All Aboard Reading)
Levine, E., Freem, E. If You Traveled West on A Covered Wagon
Moss, M. Rachel's Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl
Schlissell, L. Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey
Trinklein, M.J. Fantastic Facts about the Oregon Trail
Turner, A. Mississippi Mud
Walker, R.P. True Tales of the Wild West
Woodruff, E. & Peck, B. Dear Levi: Letters from the Overland Trail
Novels to be simultaneously with the unit (novels represent various readability levels)
Van Leeuwen, J. Bound For Oregon
Turner, A. & Meltzer, E. Grasshopper Summer
Osborne, M.P. Magic Tree House Series # 18 Buffalo Before Breakfast
Oregon Trail PBS Website that provides background knowledge and interesting facts
based on a PBS special on the Oregon Trail.
Thinkquest Oregon Trail A thinkquest website that provides information on the pioneers
and specific hardships they faced while on the trail.
Map of the Trail and Landmarks This website provides maps of the routes pioneers
could take along with information and pictures about major landmarks along the way.
Oregon Trail Explorer Site This website gives simple background knowledge about the
Oregon Trail and contains links to explore key vocabulary, and includes sites by kids for
kids about the Trail.
Other Technology Resources
Oregon Trail Computer Game 5th edition- The game allows participants to buy supplies,
and join a wagon train heading west. The players will have many obstacles to face and
decisions to make as they head west.