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On the Trail - Overland Migration Artifacts

Lesson Plans

Grade: 5 - 8

Time: One or two 50-minute class periods

Lesson Introduction:  This lesson, using the Overland Migration Artifact Collection, would be a part of a Westward Movement unit. Students need prior knowledge of pioneers and the westward movement to complete this lesson. Proficiency will be demonstrated by creating journal entries.

Nebraska Social Studies Standards

8.1 United States History

  • By the end of eighth grade, students will describe growth and change in the United States from 1801-1861.
  • By the end of eighth grade students will explain post Civil War changes in the United States, and the role of the United States in world affairs through World War I.

8.4 Skills

  • By the end of eighth grade, students will demonstrate skills for historical analysis.

AASL/AECT Information Literacy

  1. The student who is information literate accesses information efficiently and effectively.
  2. The student who is information literate evaluates information critically and competently.
    2.1 Determines accuracy, relevance, and comprehensiveness.
  3.  The student who is information literate uses information accurately and creatively.
    3.2. Integrates new information into one’s own knowledge.
    3.4. Produces and communicates information and ideas in appropriate formats.


  • Strengthen critical observation skills
  • Gather and analyze data from photos and form generalizations
  • Develop writing skills


  • A computer for each student or show photographs to the entire class using an LCD projector.
  • Access to Nebraska Western Trails web site.
  • Several copies of Introductory Analysis of Objects worksheet for each student.

DAY ONE - If students already have experience with analyzing artifacts, skip to Day Two.

  1. Introduce artifacts as source of historical information.
  2. Introduce and model the artifact analysis strategies of observation, inference, and research that is part of the American Memory Project Object Observation.


  1. Students will view each artifact. To locate the artifacts, go to the Nebraska Western Trails Project, Click on Collections, click on Overland Migration Artifacts.
  2. Students will then fill out an Introductory Analysis of Objectsworksheet for each artifact.
  3. Students share their worksheets with a partner, noting similarities and differences.
  4. Additional research may be necessary for objects without a description.


Final product will be a journal of a family going west through Nebraska. Requirements for the journal are:

  • a minimum of five entries spanning about two weeks
  • include a minimum of ten of the artifacts
  • be realistic for the time period
  • written in the language of the time period
To evaluate the journals use a Journals Rubric.

Extension Activities:

  1. Take photographs of items that you might use in a cross country move (clothing you would wear, containers for storing your belongings, parts of the vehicle you would use). If a student in the year 2150 viewed these items, what would they conclude from them?
  2.  Focus Activity - Use the artifacts to introduce a westward movement unit. After viewing and analyzing the photographs, small groups of students could generate a list of questions about the upcoming Westward Expansion unit.

Introductory Analysis of Objects

Observation: What do you know about this object?

Interpretations/Inferences: What do you think you know about this object?

Research Question: What would you like to know about this object?

From "Using Memory Prints, Photographs & Graphics in Teaching" by Ursula Marcum, The Lab School of Washington-Baltimore Campus, at An Adventure of the American Mind Summer Institute, Washington D.C., June 27, 2001.

Please send comments to Kay Paulsen.

For more information, contact Devra Dragos.