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 (beginning in 2008) and four K–12 Teaching Awards that enable awardees to attend the Western Literature Association Annual Meeting (beginning in 2015). Award Recipients are asked to present a part of their lesson at the conference to other teachers and the lessons are posted online. Please follow the links below to view past awardees and their lesson plans for each association.

Western History Association K–12 Teaching Awardees

Western Literature Association K–12 Teaching Awardees 

Past lesson plans not on the websites:


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 BrochureDay 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 PowerPointAngel Island Appendix


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 AAttachment BAttachment CAttachment DAttachment 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 4:  Native American Boarding Schools PowerPointPrimary Source DocumentsStudent HandbookStudent Notes PowerPoint


Lesson 1: Technology in the West by Lindsey Passenger

In this lesson, students 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 StudentsNative 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 PowerPointThe First Transcontinental Railroad Visual AidsThe First Transcontinental Railroad Station PacketsThe First Transcontinental Railroad Station QuestionsThe First Transcontinental Railroad Overnight Camp SheetThe First Transcontinental Railroad Note SheetThe 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 PowerPointLand Grabbing Elaborate 1Land Grabbing Engage 1Land Grabbing Engage 2Land Grabbing Engage 3Land Grabbing Explain 1Land Grabbing Explore 1Land Grabbing Explore 2.

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

This teaching unit plan is 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.