Westward Expansion Webquest
How do you balance opportunity with possible risks? What would it be like to be a member of a wagon
train heading west in the late 1800s? This webquest will introduce you to pioneers that risked
everything for the chance of a new life. You will learn reasons why they came and the obstacles they
faced during their journey. You will be looking at websites, maps, photographs, excerpts from diaries
and letters, and other historical resources to help you learn more about the pioneers of the west.
Time Magazine is creating a special issue highlighting periods of American history. Your sixth grade
historical news-team has been assigned to create a four-page magazine spread for the westward
expansion period. Each person in your group will assume one of the following roles to make up your
newspaper team: Reporter, Scientist, Correspondent, Historian, Photographer/Cartographer.
1. Each member of your group must decide on a role to create for the news-team.
2. The duties for each role are as follows:
Reporter: will be responsible for writing a news story that explains the westward migration movement.
The story should explain the 5 W's of this period in history.
Scientist: will report on the wildlife, natural hazards and physical hazards that the wagon train may
encounter along the journey.
Correspondent: will be responsible for keeping a diary or journal for a typical wagon train. The journal
must have a minimum of 4 entries (beginning of trip, 1-2 months into the trip, 3-4 months into trip, and
reaching destination) It should be based on fact.
Historian: will be responsible for capturing some of the unusual (funny, out of the ordinary) stories,
dispelling common myths of wagon trains, and researching two of the Native American tribes the
pioneers may encounter.
Photographer/Cartographer: will be responsible for capturing images that show life along the trail,
finding maps depicting trails that were used, writing captions for each image, and describing the many
geographic features that the pioneers needed to cross.
3. Once you have decided on your staff, research the Internet and other resources for information that
will allow you to write your article.
4. Write your articles.
5. Edit your articles. Allow teammates to read articles and offer advice for improving.
6. Layout your magazine spread.
7. Publish your magazine spread.
1. Who were the people traveling west? Where did they come from? What were they like?
2. What items would the pioneers need to take on their journey west?
3. Where were the pioneers going? What did they expect to find at their destination?
4. When did this migration west take place? How many people made this journey?
5. Why did the pioneers migrate west?
6. How did they travel? Was wagon train the only option?
Getting Ready to Leave
Routes to the West
Oxen, Horse or Mules
1. What wildlife would pioneers expect to see as they travel west?
2. How was wildlife helpful to the pioneers on their journey?
3. Explain how wildlife could be dangerous to the travelers?
4. Pioneers could expect to face many natural hazards along the trail. Research and explain several
natural hazards the pioneers may encounter. (Hint: too much water, too little water, deserts,
5. Pioneers also expected to face many physical hazards. Research and explain several of the many
physical hazards encountered. (Hint: disease, accidents, Native Americans)
Hardships Along the Trail
1. What emotions did pioneers experience as they prepared to make the long, hard, journey west?
2. Research some common experiences and emotions as people adjusted to life on the trail? Give
specific details of their day to day lives.
3. What responsibilities did the women have on the wagon train? How about the children?
4. What effect did several months of harsh, trail life have on the members of the wagon trains? Explore
several actual diaries and journals from true pioneers to better understand the effect the long hard
journey had on the pioneers.
5. Reaching their destination was often bittersweet. Explain how this could be possible. Describe their
destination and the feelings on reaching their new home.
Book about Journey West
Brief History of the Oregon Territorial Period
Julia Louisa Lovejoy- Selected Letters from Kansas (1855-1863)
1. People often get an inaccurate picture of history in traditional books and movies. Research what
wagon trains were really like. Try to dispel a few common myths.
2. History is also full of funny and unusual occurrences. Find some examples of unusual or different
events from real wagon trains.
3. At this period in history, Native American tribes inhabited most of the western lands. Research at
least two tribes whose land was crossed by the wagon trains heading west. Be sure to include accurate
information about the relationship between these tribes and the pioneers.
Native American Relations
Fun With Buffalo Dung
1. What geographical features did the pioneers need to travel through on their journey west? Be sure to
locate images and fully describe them in your writing.
2. How can a picture be worth a thousand words? Locate images that show typical pioneer life. What
was life like on the trail? Meeting Indians? Making a new home? Be sure to write captions that explain
3. Locate maps that show the many trails (land and water routes) used by pioneers traveling west.
Maps of Oregon Trail
U.S. Territorial Expansion
The West - Places Index - choose states or trails
Grading Rubric for Project
Exemplary Accomplished Beginning Not Yet
4 3 2 1
Magazine thoroughly Magazine is Magazine is slightly Magazine does not meet
meets all complete meeting incomplete, or requirements, or is very
requirements. It is all requirements. It sloppy. Overall has very
Visual Appeal Magazine is sloppy
colorful, creative, is informative, neat little visual appeal.
informative and showing little evidence of
All articles are clear, All articles are well Most articles are Many articles are poorly
concise, and very written with complete. written or missing.
well written. All accurate Articles have a lot of
information is information. Some articles are poorly inaccurate information.
written. Or some articles
accurate. Articles Articles Articles do not
Information demonstrate a demonstrate a good have inaccurate demonstrate
thorough understanding of information. understanding of the
understanding of the the information. Articles demonstrate a information
information. very basic level of
All articles All articles demonstrate Some articles Few of the articles
demonstrate good grammar, usage demonstrate good demonstrate good
Mechanics excellent grammar, and mechanics. mechanics, usage , mechanics, usage and
usage and and grammar. grammar.
All members worked All members worked All members worked Problems working
extremely well. We well. We shared ideas fairly well. We usually together. We were
shared ideas and and responsibility, We shared ideas and unable to share ideas
Group Work responsibility, We were usually on task. responsibility, We and responsibility, We
were always on task. Minimal teacher were sometimes on were rarely on task. Daily
No teacher intervention. task. Frequent teacher intervention.
intervention. teacher intervention.