Forgotten Stories of the Oregon Trail: Lesson Plans and Activities

Journey back in time to the Oregon Trail! This HMH series of Oregon Trail lesson plans and activities tells short stories of brave and hardy African Americans, Native Americans, and women of the mid-nineteenth century United States who risked everything to move west. Each story is accompanied by a free teaching guide and student activity sheet.

Oregon Trail Lesson Plans for Elementary, Middle, and High School

People of all backgrounds had interesting—and even dangerous—experiences along the Oregon Trail and relied on many different skills to make it to their final destinations safely. Share these stories of the Oregon Trail with your students and use the paired activities to foster skills-building in a variety of subject areas including math, science, and ELA.

Money Matters | Grades 3–6

Students will learn about Tabitha Brown, an elderly woman who left Missouri to move to Oregon in 1846 and arrived with no money other than a six-and-one-fourth cent piece—something that no longer exists. The paired resources have students identify different characteristics of U.S. coins and create a new coin of their own.

Writing History | Grades 3–12

Students will read excerpts from the diaries of two women pioneers who recorded their journeys on the Oregon Trail in great detail. A writing activity will have students create diary entries written as if they were one of those pioneers, or someone else living in the 1800s and making the long trip to the West. It will also give way to other kinds of diary entries, including ones set in the present and written about the students’ own lives.

Preserving Oral History | Grades 3–9

Students will learn about the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla Tribes, who have lived for centuries on the land that became the Oregon Trail. Students will discover the value of oral history and the importance of preserving stories for future generations. With the paired resources, students will preserve a story from their own oral history.

Capturing the Details | Grades 1–5

Students will read about woman pioneer Rebecca Ketcham, who kept a detailed diary during her journey on the Oregon Trail and once used over 200 words to describe a unique flower that she saw. A science activity will have students choose an object and then write down a list of—as well as test—all of that object's key properties, which can include color, texture, weight, and floatability.

Trailblazing Business | Grades 5–12

Students will learn about William John Livingstone, an African American pioneer who went from being a well-respected worker on horses and lumber to owning his own business. Students will embrace Livingstone’s entrepreneurial spirit and create a business plan for their own business, learning about cost, pricing, marketing, and more.