Life as a Pioneer
- Students will explore historical documents and explain why early
pioneers settled on the Iowa prairie and describe methods of transportation
used by pioneers in traveling to the frontier.
- Students will review maps and describe the impact of railroading
on the emerging farm economy.
- Students will explore historical documents and explain the effect
of drought, prairie fire, and grasshopper plagues on the pioneer farm.
- Students will explore historical documents and describe life in pioneer
times and how men and women worked in partnership when establishing
their place on the frontier.
- WHY MOVE WEST?: Start by asking students to review and discuss why
pioneers decided to move West. Then have students draw a concept
map showing the push/pull factors that influenced pioneers.
- TRAVELING WEST: Next, have students skim the Journal
of William Buxton 1853 and identify different types of transportation
used by pioneers when moving from England to Iowa.
- As students explore maps depicting transportation
in frontier Iowa discuss how the development of railroads permanently
changed the state.
- BUILDING TOWNS: Students can review photos and maps showing how
towns developed in the 1800's and research panoramic photographs
of their own hometown's main street at the Library of Congress American
Memory Collection. After exploring information about pioneer towns
and model buildings at the Hoover
Library in West Branch and Living
History Farms, students can sketch a concept
map identifying the characteristics and buildings of early pioneer
towns. Students can use the information to draw a map, construct examples
of buildings found in early pioneer towns, label their structures and
develop make believe names for their towns.
- FRONTIER PROBLEMS: Students will review a letter
written by John and Sarah Kenyon, early settlers in eastern Iowa, to
their relatives in Rhode Island. The letter describes what it was like
to farm in the new state of Iowa and a frightening
prairie fire experience. Another historical document describes prairie
fires in the pioneer days.
Possible questions for a handout when reviewing the letter and historical
- List three things the author said that you think are important.
- List two things the document tells you about life on the prairie.
- What is left unanswered by the document? Write a question that
you would like to research?
- Letter Home: Have students assume the role of one of the pioneers
and write a letter to a friend describing their daily life.
- Newsroom: Write a news story for a class issue called: Today's Big
Stories on the Prairie.
- Your Say: Develop a 2-minute television broadcast of a news story
from the prairie; videotape the presentations and use QuickTime
to place the broadcast presentations on the WWW. Students may use the
Webliography to assist in developing their
- Laura Ingalls Wilder: Complete the Laura
Ingalls Wilder Timeline Activity.
- Museum Visit: Students can contact a local museum to:
Pop-Up Books: Create pop-up books about information collected during
the museum visit. Use a digital camera to photograph the pop-ups and
create animations from the still digital pictures.
- Compare early maps of your local community showing pioneer settlements
with present day maps showing the use of land space
- Review documents from pioneers in your local community and identify
country of origin including birth, death, marriage, and baptismal
certificates, records of censuses, wills, letters, and diaries
- View photographs and videos of pioneers' original homes in overseas
- Read local publications describing settlement of the local area
Tips for Teachers
- Using Primary Source Materials
- For additional illustrations and descriptions of pioneer life, check
Home in the Heartland, a virtual exhibit at the Illinois State Museum.
Plain and Tall WebQuest
A WebQuest Designed by Curt Nielsen, Instructor Malcolm Price Laboratory
Freeman School: Building Prairie Communities
Examines a one-room schoolhouse originally known as the Red-Brick School
House, in Blakely Township, Nebraska, from 1872 to 1967. When closed,
it was the oldest continuously used one-room school in Nebraska. It
served not only as a school, but also as a church, meeting hall, polling
place, social and political center of the community.
- A number of library books describe pioneer
life in the United States and provide a wealth of information for a
reading center in the classroom.
- Participate in the Westward
Ho collaborative project. Load those wagons. Kiss the kin goodbye.
Join the virtual Wagon train for an unforgettable learning adventure.
Godspeed and safe journey... Yeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaa!
- Additional lesson plans are available at EDSITEment, a project for
the National Endowment for the Humanities. Review the following plans:
on the Great Plains Lesson Plan
- For additional ideas and activities review The
- The Kelsey
Letter reading activities are designed to help students interpret 19th
century letters as primary sources of historical information.
to Read about Pioneer Life
Cabins in America
Lesson plans tell why the log cabin was popular and important in settling
the American frontier.
- Frontier House: A
Follows three families experiencing life in 1883, enduring hunger, fatigue,
blistering heat, a June blizzard, and more. Includes video