Life as a Pioneer Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan 5

Pioneer Farming

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Life as a Pioneer


  1. Students will explore historical documents and explain why early pioneers settled on the Iowa prairie and describe methods of transportation used by pioneers in traveling to the frontier.
  2. Students will review maps and describe the impact of railroading on the emerging farm economy.
  3. Students will explore historical documents and explain the effect of drought, prairie fire, and grasshopper plagues on the pioneer farm.
  4. Students will explore historical documents and describe life in pioneer times and how men and women worked in partnership when establishing their place on the frontier.

Activity Summary

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. As students explore maps depicting transportation in frontier Iowa discuss how the development of railroads permanently changed the state.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 Another historical document describes prairie fires in the pioneer days.

    Possible questions for a handout when reviewing the letter and historical document:
    1. List three things the author said that you think are important.
    2. List two things the document tells you about life on the prairie.
    3. What is left unanswered by the document? Write a question that you would like to research?

Extension Activities

  1. Letter Home: Have students assume the role of one of the pioneers and write a letter to a friend describing their daily life.
  2. Newsroom: Write a news story for a class issue called: Today's Big Stories on the Prairie.
  3. 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 presentations.
  4. Laura Ingalls Wilder: Complete the Laura Ingalls Wilder Timeline Activity.
  5. Museum Visit: Students can contact a local museum to:
    • 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 countries
    • Read local publications describing settlement of the local area
  6. 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.

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