K-12 History of the West Lesson Plans
The Charles Redd Center sponsors four K-12 Teaching Awards that enable awardees to attend the Western History Association Annual Meeting. Award Recipients are asked to present a part of their lesson at the conference to other teachers and the lessons are posted online below. Please click on the appropriate project title to view it.

2008

Lesson 1: Technology in the West by Lindsey Passenger

In this lesson, s​tudents will examine how technology and other developments changed the West and analyze the implications of these developments.  This lesson is designed to allow students to draw connections between the technology in the West and technological developments today.  While participating in the activity, students will learn about particular groups of people and particular developments that occurred in the mid-1800s-early 1900s.  The main learning event of this activity is a scavenger hunt in which students will analyze primary sources while learning about and analyzing technological developments in the West. By Lindsey Passenger, Department of History at Northern Arizona University.

Lesson 2: Native American Boarding Schools by Mathew LaMore

This lesson teaches students about the experience of Native youth in Government Boarding Schools in the 19th and 20th centuries. It combines primary documents, collaborative learning techniques, and other strategies for teaching historical subjects more effectively. This lesson may serve as a template for other subjects that can easily incorporate primary documents. The lesson can be edited to last from 50 to 110 minutes.
Supplemental Materials for Lesson 2: Native American Boarding Schools PowerPoint for Students, Native American Boarding Schools PowerPoint for Teachers, Native American Boarding Schools Primary Sources. 

Lesson 3: The First Transcontinental Railroad by Veronica Arce

This lesson uses a simulation in which students are "building" the First Transcontinental Railroad to understand what it was like to be a worker on the Union or Central Pacific Railroads.  During the activity, students use primary and secondary sources to gain information then apply the information in a variety of ways.  This activity provides for movement, collaboration, teamwork, and accomodating different skill levels and learning styles.  All together, the lesson would take about 90 minutes to complete.
Supplemental Materials for Lesson 3: The First Transcontinental Railroad PowerPoint, The First Transcontinental Railroad Visual Aids, The First Transcontinental Railroad Station Packets, The First Transcontinental Railroad Station Questions, The First Transcontinental Railroad Overnight Camp Sheet, The First Transcontinental Railroad Note Sheet, The First Transcontinental Railroad Table of Contents. 

Lesson 4: Land Grabbing by Sarah Brynaert

This lesson plan uses a variety of teaching methods to portray the idea of Land Grabbing in the American West. It intertwines a variety of genres along with crossing curriculum. The main ideas in this lesson include assimilation, stereotypes, Westward expansion, and Native Americans. To teach these concepts, a vocabulary graph is used along with a board game, student drawings, a journal entry, and a foldable review guide. This lesson plan includes primary documents and maps. A teacher may format this lesson easily for English Language Learners, younger ages, and different achievement levels. It also provides a variety of assessments throughout the lesson.
Supplemental Materials for Lesson 4: Land Grabbing PowerPoint, Land Grabbing Elaborate 1, Land Grabbing Engage 1, Land Grabbing Engage 2, Land Grabbing Engage 3, Land Grabbing Explain 1, Land Grabbing Explore 1, Land Grabbing Explore 2.

Lesson 5: The Intermountain West: An Environmental History of Its People, Places, History, and Cultures by Aaron Shapiro

The Intermountain West: An Environmental History of Its People, Places, History, and Cultures is a teaching unit plan designed to give secondary students of United States History and understanding of the shaping force the environment has on the American character and, furthermore, to help students in the Intermountain West see themselves as part of a diverse cultural and physical landscape. The unit is derived from constructivist and social learning theories.

2010

Lesson 1: Government and Business in the Progressive Era by Berta Simic

In this lesson, students will gain a greater understanding how government and big business are often intertwined - and at the expense of the everyday man. This is especially relevant to today's students in light of recent bank bailouts.
Supplemental Materials for Lesson 1:  Attachment A, Attachment B, Attachment C, Attachment D, Attachment E

Lesson 2: A Day in the Life...Japanese Internment Camps by Drew Clary

In this lesson, students will be able to contrast different peoples' perceptions and opinions of the internment camps based on their experiences with them. It forces students to approach the same issue from different perspectives. This is an essential skill in social studies, and one that is just as underdeveloped as it is unnatural for middle school students. By approaching the very same primary sources from their different assigned perspectives and then comparing their reactions with their classmates, this skill will be not only developed but better appreciated as an important aptitude to develop.

Lesson 3: Cattle Becomes Big Business by Mitchell Bradford

In this lesson, students will begin to familiarize themselves with the point and purpose of cattle trails and "Cow Towns," while also analyzing the symbols and meaning behind fictional depictions of the cowboy lifestyle in art.

Lesson 4: Native American Boarding Schools: The Education and Cultural Transformation of American Indians Under the United States Government Boarding Schools

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to identify what is meant by a Native American boarding school; who and what it is composed of and for what purposes, identify how government education changed the culture and direction of Native Americans, and compare and contrast views of Native American education between educators, the government, American Indian students and their families.
Supplemental Materials for Lesson 1:  Native American Boarding Schools PowerPoint, Primary Source Documents, Student Handbook, Student Notes PowerPoint

2011 

Lesson 1: The Salton Sea: A Case-Study of Human-Environment Interactions in the American West by Jared McBrady

This lesson was written as an extend and refine lesson to a unit on Western Expansion in a sixth grade American History course. In the lesson, we examine one particular area of California, the Salton Sink, reviewing several key themes from Western Expansion and further considering human interaction with the American land. The first day of the lesson opens with the Cahuilla Indians, who have lived in what is to become southern California for generations. But, as a result of American expansion west following the Mexican War and the discovery of Gold in California, conflict between the Cahuilla and the new settlers forces the Cahuilla onto reservations in the areas around the Salton Sink. We examine life on the reservation for the Cahuilla, and
how they adapt to the land. The second day of the lesson looks at new pressures put on the land by the burgeoning population caused by the gold rush. As boomtowns develop, settlers need more food. To grow more food, they need more water. To get water, they turn toward the Colorado River – with unintended consequences. An engineering mishap diverts the Colorado River into the Salton Sink, creating a large inland sea and flooding much of the  Cahuilla reservation. The third day looks at human adaptation to the new Salton Sea. It focuses on the idea of development in the west, as the gold pans out and the economy transitions to other endeavors (especially tourism). Finally, on the fourth day, we look at some problems caused by this development of the West. Water scarcity and pollution are problems that especially affect the Salton Sea. Through the four lessons, the Salton Sea becomes a microcosm for the larger themes and modern implications of western expansion.
Supplemental Materials for Lesson 1:  Salton Sea Brochure, Day 4 Ancillary Materials

Lesson 2: Manifest Destiny: Westward Expansion and the Mexican-American War by Bianca Wilson Cole

Upon completion of the lesson, students will understand how the overwhelming objections to the Mexican-American War prompted Thoreau to write Civil Disobedience.

Lesson 3: Angel Island: Twentieth-Century Immigration to the West

In this lesson, students will compare treatment and acceptance of immigrants coming to the United States from Angel and Ellis Island during the early 20th century.
Supplemental Materials for Lesson 3: Angel Island PowerPoint, Angel Island Appendix

2012

Lesson 1: ​Native Americans: An Integrated Elementary lesson by Meaghan Crowley

This lesson uses a variety of learning styles and techniques to integrate literacy sequencing standards and Social Studies content standards, so as to introduce early elementary
students to research and the role Native American Nations play in our country’s history. The lesson begins with two Native American stories read aloud. Students are asked to
sequence these two stories through the use of story time statues and a storyboard graphic organizer. A teacher led discussion encourages the students to learn about how sequencing is important not just in understanding history but also in fully understanding literature.

Following these stories, students reflect in their journals on a visual image and are asked to determine whether or not all Native Americans are the same. Connecting their prior
knowledge to the varying depictions of Native Americans from the two stories and the image, students are led to an understanding that Native Americans are a broad group of people made up by many different nations.

Then a carefully modeled introduction to research has students in groups researching different Native American nations of the American West. The lesson ends with group
presentations on their research and a discussion on how white settlement affected all Native Americans.


This lesson is designed to do two things. First, by using an engaging murder-mystery from 1870, students will use an inquiry-based approach to develop and use critical thinking, problem solving, and higher-order thinking skills to:
• Analyze primary and secondary sources;
• Formulate historical questions;
• Interrogate historical data;
• Develop hypotheses about the events of the past supported by historical evidence and analysis.

Second, by analyzing the broader context of the American West, students will deepen their understanding of topics including:
• American migration policies and the various factors that influence governmental policy
• The Gold Rush
• The Transcontinental Railroad
• American Foreign Policy in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century

The lessons can be separated with students only completing the inquiry-based analysis, or combining both the inquiry-based approach with the more traditional lessons to develop content understanding.

​Lesson 3: America Expands West: Development or Intrusion? by Kevin Kimberly

This lesson was designed to instill in students a better ability to critically think about the past through the lens of treatment of the Native Americans in the American West. These activities and content force students to examine the time period and happenings of the mid to late 1800s in western Indian-settled territory from different perspectives. It is within these perspectives that students are able to form their own critical opinion about our country’s actions, altogether enhancing their ability to be independent thinkers and life-long learners.


Through their study of the American Great Plains Homesteaders, students will gain an understanding of the importance of hard work, dedication, and the American dream in the development of the United States as well as the sacrifices and risks dreams often require in the pursuit of one’s own dream. They can apply these ideas to their own lives as they identify and pursue their own dreams. Students will also use the two selected literary pieces to strengthen their literary analysis skills as they practice inference skills and examine the authors’ use of tone and characterization to reveal plot development and important themes.