Learning Resources

Lesson Plans, Presentations & Video

These resources listed here are suitable for learners of all ages, but some are specifically designed for elementary and middle school students.

In Pursuit of a Dream

This multiple award-winning film shows modern teenagers learning firsthand what it was like to be an emigrant traveling West on a wagon train.

What would it be like to go back in time (with no cell phones, IM'ing, Twitter and Facebook or running water for that matter) and travel across the country just like the pioneers did. That's what 24 kids from across the US, (some who had never been out of their home town EVER), did for their summer vacation. Led by three amazing teachers these new age "emigrants" trekked through Wyoming and north to Oregon on a once-in-a-lifetime journey that challenged even the toughest in the group.

They traded their modern conveniences for long dresses and overalls, loaded their wagons and took off for adventure on the Oregon and California Trails. Along the way they met gold seekers, scoundrels and natives. And while they learned about what made us a great nation as we moved west, they also learned about themselves and how the decisions they made could have serious and unexpected consequences for their group. Some made it, others did not. Join these kids in this 83 minute-long drama as they are challenged to find the right direction, "In Pursuit of a Dream".

Activity Books

America's westward march has been captured in OCTA's four educational Activity Books. They are appropriate for use at the middle and high school level, and parts may be adapted for use in lower levels.

Reading, 'Riting and Riding Along the Oregon-California Trail

This 64-page activity book is focused around the experiences of early emigrants and is written for middle school students and their teachers. Activities include maps and map work, word searches, identification, making charts and graphs, crossword puzzles, classifications and reading comprehension. Answer section at back of book.

Finding the Right Place, the Story of the Mormon Trail

This book is concerned with many of the experiences of the Mormon travelers whose main route was from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska area, and then to Salt Lake City, Utah. Those experiences are based on the use of primary source materials. Activities include map work, charts and graphs, classifications, identification and word search.

Following Lewis and Clark's Track, the Story of the Corps of Discovery

This illustrated book includes maps, word searches, charts, graphs and puzzles. Excerpts from the L & C journals provide insight into one of the most important events in the history of the United States.

Here Comes the Pony, the Story of the Pony Express

Published in conjunction with the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri. Fun-filled activity book suitable for children of all ages, but especially geared toward fourth graders and up. It contains a teacher's guide at the end of the book.

      Lesson Plans & Units

      • Selecting Gear and Starting Out  
        Written by Lethene Parks - This is a Pathfinder, which by definition is a guide to a specific topic; it is not designed to be a complete reference, but rather to provide some ideas to start you thinking and to give you some resources and strategies for starting your own research. This Pathfinder was developed to be used with the film In Pursuit of a Dream, but can also be used as a stand-alone guide to researching the beginning steps of forming and equipping a wagon train for the journey west. It is divided into several sections; each section includes information, discussion questions and learning activities, and sources of further information.
      • Encounters Between Native Americans and Oregon-California Trail Pioneers  
        Written by Cathy Sato - This is an Inquiry Lesson, which poses a question and asks students to find answers through their own reading and research, and then to share what they have learned with others, such as classmates, parents, or community members. Designed to use with the film In Pursuit of a Dream as one tool to help find answers, this Inquiry Lesson asks students to determine which of many varying views of Indian-trail traveler encounters are accurate and to look at these encounters from the viewpoints of both Native Americans and trail pioneers.
      • Who Were the Buckeye Rovers?  
        Written by Cathy Sato - People from every state in the Union went across the overland trails to Oregon and California. Often, their leaving, their return, letters, and other information were reported in local newspapers or later recounted in county histories. This teacher-guided Lesson Unit examines one specific wagon train composed of men from Athens and Meigs Counties, Ohio, who went to California in 1849. At least some of them went specifically for the purpose of recouping the funds they had expended helping slaves escape north across the Ohio River, and dealing with ensuing lawsuits. Most of the Buckeye Rovers returned to Ohio within a few years.
      • West In a Wagon Train: Three Questions  
        Questions designed to provide a starting point for thinking and learning about the overland emigrant trails. These questions were developed for elementary students but are also useful with older students. They may be combined with other activities or used as stand-alone activities if time is limited.
      • America's Westward Movement  
        Designed for students in grades 3-4, this 3-week interdisciplinary unit covers Lewis and Clark, Mountain Men, and the Oregon Trail
      • Road to Oregon  
        Written by Dr. Jim Tompkins, prominent Oregon City historian and descendant of Oregon Trail emigrants, this is a good primer on the history of the Oregon Trail. The articles are suitable for grades 6 and up, though younger students may benefit from them if they are strong readers.


        PowerPoint overview presentations designed for elementary students.

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