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 below. Please click on the appropriate project title to view it.


Katie Ward, St. John Paul II Catholic School, "Why Have the Ojibwe People Had to Change Where They Live Over Time?"

Sandra Garcia, Theodore Roosevelt Middle School, "American, Mexican, or Indigenous? A Case Study of the Yaqui People in Our Continent's Borderlands"

Alexander Hernandez, Cristo Rey High School, untitled plan regarding westward migration and Manifest Destiny

Katherine Wiedenhoft, Annunciation Catholic School, "Identity and Perceptions: 'Native but Foreign'"


Alex Barr, Connelly School of the Holy Child, "'Alcatraz is Not an Island': American Indian Activism from Alcatraz to the National Mall"

Laura Fenerty, Holy Trinity School, "Overshadowed and Underrepresented: Japanese-Hawaiian-Americans during World War II"

Sandra Garcia, Theodore Roosevelt Middle School, "Dissenting Voices: Lincoln & the Mexican American War"

Noël Ingram, DaVinci Communications High School, "Locked Up: The Hidden History of LA's Role in the Rise of Carceral State"


Joshua Dempsey, St. John the Baptist Catholic School, Milpitas, California, "'(Non-Asian) Workers of the World, Unite!': Remembering the 1916 Preparedness Bombing in San Francisco"

Jonathan Shulman, La Jolla Country Day School, La Jolla, California, "The Plots Against America"

Carol Warren, Gila River Community Public Schools, Sacaton, Arizona, "A River Through Time"

Cherry Whipple, Austin High School, Austin, Texas, "American Indian Imagery in the American Southwest Region"


WLA Lesson: My Land, Our Land: Exploring the Ethics of Energy Policy, Consumption, and Sustainability Using Aldo Leopold’s ‘The Land Ethic’ by Jennifer Kawecki and Hakan Armagan

This instructional plan contributes to our teaching goals because we wish to offer students an opportunity to think and work across disciplines. We want to help students move beyond viewing their education in terms of compartmentalized subjects toward gaining a broader, synthesized knowledge base. In addition, the collaborative annotation component allows for deep conversations about the central text using technology. We see the interactive tool, NowComment as a way to bridge students’ knowledge in a personalized way. Furthermore, by actively teaching critical thinking skills and strategies, students become better thinkers in both disciplines.

WHA Lesson 1: Nipo Strongheart and the Influence of Media by Liam Concannon

This lesson is one of five in a unit that culminates with a performance assessment. This lesson has its own learning objective, but also connects to the unit’s learning objective.  In order to give a clear perspective on both the lesson presented and the unit it is encompassed by, I will list out each of the unit’s lesson plan learning objectives, as well as the unit objective.
Unit 3 Objective: Students will be able to infer whether or not different forms of media can have an influence on political and social change in the United States.

  • LP1 Objective: Students will be able to identify what criteria makes a journalist a Muckraker.
  • LP2 Objective: Students will be able to explain a political cartoon’s commentary on immigration and citizenship.
  • LP3 Objective: Students will be able to calculate the effects of Yellow Journalism on American imperialism.
  • LP4 Objective: Students will be able to distinguish New Orleans Jazz music’s influence on society when compared to other types of music at the time.
  • LP5 Objective: Students will be able to investigate whether or not Strongheart aided in political change through his lecture circuit.

Supplemental materials for lesson 1: Colcannon WorksheetsJon Stewart video 

WHA Lesson 2: Clashing and Mingling: One City, Many Cultures by Kelly Griffith

This lesson plan aims to address the multicultural heritages present in the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. Throughout the lesson plan, students will grapple with the impact of the convergence of European, Latin American, and North American cultural overtones. Students will generate explanations for how Americo Paredes' poetry exemplifies cultures "mingling" and/or "clashing" in Brownsville. Paredes was born in Brownsville, a city on the U.S.-Mexico border between the Gulf of Mexico and the desert. Students will explore how cultural identities might fuse and conflict by examining the dynamics along the U.S.-Mexican border since 1821. They will use Americo Paredes' poetry and folklore, in addition to their own lived experiences and current events, to make an argument whether they experience cultures mingling, clashing, or both in their lives in Brownsville, USA and Matamoros, Mexico. Students will analyze Paredes' folkloric representations of border identity as they illuminate their own unique cultural experiences of living on the edge of two nations.

WHA Lesson 3: Homeboy Industries: A Path to Rehabilitation in Los Angeles by Porsia Tunzi

  • Students will gain an understanding of the complexity of the modern day urban West as well as critique this understanding.
  • Students will gain a historical overview and understanding of gang life in Los Angeles.
  • Students will be able to conduct research on contemporary community issues found within the urban, western city of Los Angeles and present their findings with the entire class as well as use social media to share their knowledge and advocacy with a wider audience.
  • Students will examine Fr. Greg Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart and engage critically in a seminar style discussion. 
  • Students will be able to analyze and create a visual and reflective representation of the themes addressed in Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart.

WHA Lesson 4: Analyzing the History of Immigration in America: Reflections of New Immigrants in American Schools by Helen M. Vassilou 

This unit promotes reflection on the value of diverse perspectives about immigrant experiences. The underlying goal is for students to understand that the United States is a nation of immigrantswith a variety of backgrounds. These immigrants have different reasons for coming to the United States and have unique stories about their journeys that need to be shared with others. Students will experience what immigration was like 100-150 years ago and explore the Immigration Act of 1917 and its implications. Students will analyze a collection of images from the past to reflect ontheir personal immigration experiences discussing what has changed in immigration today. Intalking with each other students will compare journeys to America as a means to share experiences and record their oral histories digitally.


WLA Lesson: Letters from Yellowstone: Stories of Women Scientists in Yellowstone National Park by Hali Kirby

This cross-curricular unit is designed for tenth grade students in Biology and English 10 and will require 4 weeks to complete, based upon a 4-day school week with 60 minute class periods. The oral history component may take longer, depending on the number of interviews you choose to conduct. Students will learn that to be fully engaged in the world, one must closely observe it and its inhabitants. Making connections with one’s “place” through literature is the life-blood of this process.

WHA Lesson 1: California and the Western Foundation for Educational Equality in Schools: A Side-By-Side Comparison of Legal Methods and Development of Educational Rights Through Westminster v. Mendez and Brown v. Board of Education by Brenden Bell

The development of educational opportunity—along with the broader series of economic, political, and social opportunities—for minority groups, was a process that developed over centuries in the United States, and the judicial system played a role. Mendez v. Westminster played a significant part in the development of educational rights for Californian Hispanics in particular and most immediately, but then also in many ways set a precedent for African-Americans through Brown v. Board of Education and the national civil rights debate that followed less than a decade later.

Supplemental materials for lesson 1: Bell Lesson Materials

WHA Lesson 2: Expanding Western Horizons: Looking at the Fur Trade Through Multiple Perspectives by Ruth Ferris

Students will explore how the Fur Trade made economic, environment, and cultural identity changes to life in North America. They will understand that all people are consumers.

Supplemental materials for lesson 2: Ferris Lesson Plan Rubric

WHA Lesson 3: Analyzing the History and Impact of Racial Identification by Shauna Hirota

Race is a socially constructed idea that can change over time and place, but it is also major factor in determining one’s identity and access to resources and individual rights. Analyzing the evolution of US Census data and the inclusion and exclusionof racial categories over time, shows how the United States as a country has expanded to include many different racial groups. 

WHA Lesson 4: How Did the Great Depression Define Oklahoma? By Donna Moore and Dalton Savage

The module is designed for a three-week examination of the 1930s, the Great Depression, and its lasting legacy in the State of Oklahoma. Once the topic and compelling question have beenintroduced, teachers will guide students through this examination with three supporting questions and the completion of related formative assessment tasks. This work will include thereading of a non-fiction or fiction book, document and audio-visual analysis, and the identification of evidence that will be useful in making claims. Students will need scaffolds to support their work.


WLA Lesson 1: The Forgotten Role of Native Americans in the Texas Revolution by Tom McGuire

Students will learn about the heavily underrepresented topic of Native American activity during and after the Texas Revolution through analysis of primary sources and historical fiction, and will learn to pay attention to underrepresented and marginalized stories in history and literature.

WLA Lesson 2: Identity through Place by Jamie Crosswhite

There is power in every “real” and “imagined” place. Places have the power to shape identity, understanding, and beliefs in the same way that we as human beings have the power to shape and alter our lived spaces. Literature is one avenue of art that allows us to understand, capture, and question the places we construct and deconstruct daily. Our literatures and how we read and write about them alters and strengthens our relationship to our chosen places and how we see them as well as deepening our understanding of personal identity.

WLA Lesson 3: Using Service Learning and Oral History Projects to Teach Pete Fromm's Indian Creek Chronicles by Chery Hughes

Students will identify an author's point of view and the connections between society/people/wilderness as communicated through an author’s works.


Lesson 1: Global Warming and the West by Heather Penrod and Diane Wilson

This unit's purpose is to build awareness among teenagers to understand how climate change affects all living beings in a global "butterfly effect" and to assess current green technological solutions for healing the soil and conserving and preserving clean water sources, in order to reduce world poverty through 21st century green technology; therefore engaging in a community effort to feed the world through eco-friendsly resources of shared animals. By educating students on the realities of climate change and the continued legacy of abject poverty around the globe, students will apply their knowledge of green technology to assist and transform peoples' lives.

Lesson 2: Railroads: Economic and Cultural Significance Across the Continents by Michael Kennedy

Students will be able to analyze the imact of railroads in the Industrial Revolution in Europe, America, and Russia by creating a podcast comparing the great transcontinental railroads of the late nineteenth century.

Lesson 3: The Bisbee Deportation of 1917 by Mitch Askew and Molly Golden

Students will investigate the people and events surrounding the Bisbee Deportation, an event in Southern Arizona that involved the illegal removal of nearly 1200 mine workers in 1917. This event allows students to examine border tensions, war-time paranoia, racial prejudices, and labor strices of the early 20th century. The labor conflict and deportation also makes clear that different groups understood the event and American identity differently. Six groups of students will research the deportation. Each group will examine the event from a different perspective and then propose a mural to commemorate the Bisbee Deportation. Ultimately, the class will conduct a "Cochise County Historical Society Meeting", and each group will be accountable for portraying their research through the eyes of their persona. Throughout the process, the goal is for students to understand and quesstion different perspectives on border issues of the past and present. They will seek to question who and what creates American identity. Is it location of birth? Is it amount of time on American soil? Is it allegiance to the United States? As groups and as individuals, students will synthesize the history of Cochise County's famous deportation with their own current perspectives on American identity.


Lesson 1: The Gold Rush and the Central Valley by Edel Mooney

This lesson begins with the students engaging in a guided drama experience. Students empathize with the Native Americans and Native Californian Ranch Farmers (lives) in Northern California during the Gold Rush Era. Days two and three involve students looking at the Gold Rush from an alternative perspective – the natural environment and in particular the land and Sacramento River (earth). The final day of the lesson connects the ‘big idea’ together as students think about the power of people in shaping their natural environment. Students connect the importance of embracing their land’s past and preserving its future through actions in the present. Students use the items they have been working on to create a time capsule for future fifth graders sharing with them the importance of being aware of the environment you live in.

Lesson 2: Anti-Chinese Sentiments in the US-Mexican Borderlands by Mark Johnson

The goal of this lesson is for students to understand the causes, course, and counsequences of increasing anti-Chinese sentiments in the US-Mexican borderlands from the 1850s through the 1930s, to note the changes and trends within this topic, and to account for the factors that caused these changes. Additionally, students will compare and contrast the anti-chinese movements in the US and Mexico, seeking to understand the similarities and to account for the differences.

Lesson 3: Vital Signs vs. Homelessness in the American West: Community Formation of Homeless Veterans in Greater Los Angeles in Recent US History by Dr. Heather Penrod and Diane Wilson

In order to promote classroom experiences as meaningful towards their human communities, students research and investigate a thesis with an emphasis on reflective consideration of the sociological and economic legacy of homeless Vietnam veterans in greater Los Angeles. Students will produce their own findings concerning community relationships and responsibilities through individual and group inquiry, culminating with utilizing powerful photography as a community exhibit to speak for the homeless who have no voice.

Lesson 4: The Arizona Ethnic Studies Controversy by Daniel J. Thele

Students will understand how the Arizona Constitution gives citizens of differing perspectives the opportunity affect the laws governing them through the legislative process and through ballot initiatives. Students will be able to construct strategies for engaging the political process in the state of Arizona.


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.

Lesson 2: His Death Avenged: Empowering Students as Historians to Understand the Chinese Experience in the American West by Mark Johnson

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, and 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, and American Foreign Policy in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century.

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.

Lesson 4: Women of the 19th Century Western Prairie by Karie Lynch

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.


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.