Pioneers of the West

Teacher Page

A WebQuest for a 4th Grade Oregon Trail Unit

 Designed by

Len Updike

Emigrant family traveling west on The Oregon Trail.

Introduction | Learners | Standards | Process | Resources | Evaluation | Conclusion | Credits | Student Page



This lesson/unit is designed for fourth and/or fifth grade students studying The Oregon Trail. This WebQuest is a great introduction to the process of conducting a research project while learning about the pioneers of the west.

The purpose of this webquest is not only to provide the history of how the west was pioneered, but also a source of guided inquiry, stimulating students to think how it must have felt to experience such an adventure.  Would you be excited? Sad? Scared? What do you bring?  What do you leave?  How do you know how to get there if you don't know exactly where it is you are going?  These are just some of the questions of those who pioneered the journey west.


This WebQuest is designed for fourth and/or fifth grade students exploring the westward expansion of American territory and/or The Oregon Trail.

It may be useful to introduce students to the process of researching information, sorting or categorizing information, and proper note taking techniques rather than copying all details.  Understanding these skills will make time spent on this WebQuest more efficient.

Curriculum Standards

This thematically integrated unit/lesson is anchored in the fourth and fifth grade social studies standards of Oregon while integrating reading, writing, math, health, history, maps, geography and creative arts.

Social Studies Standards Addressed (Oregon)

  • Understand how individuals changed or significantly influenced the course of Oregon state history.
  • Examine an event, issue or problem through inquiry and research.

As a result of this unit/lesson, students will experience communication, delegation, compromise and teamwork by working with a partner.  Students will critically analyze and compare the many choices and feelings pioneers faced by researching pre-selected website links that contain historically accurate maps, facts and diaries of the pioneers. Students will practice the process of researching and sorting information by using the resources within this WebQuest. Students will also be encouraged to use creative problem-solving skills and decision-making skills by choosing how they prefer to create their final presentation, representing what they learned from this WebQuest.


This lesson consists of 4 steps for student to follow in the Process section of the student page.  The students are asked to 1.) work with a partner 2.) Take notes researching background/overview information 3.) Research and take notes on the many details necessary to plan for their trip west, and 4.) Create a final project to present in any creative format the student chooses, with teacher approval.

This WebQuest should be considered a significant project that extends across multiple class periods/days. Students should be provided approximately 4-5 periods of computer time exploring the WebQuest resources, depending on the structure of class periods. Partners may need 2 periods to organize and analyze their notes and decide on their creative project.  Then, students should be provided 4-6 periods of class time to work on their creative presentation projects. Approximately 1-1.5 periods should be made available for students to present and explain their projects to the class. The teacher should also plan for closure time to review unit highlights and relate students' presentations. This unit is multidisciplinary and thematically integrates many subjects, which may allow for longer periods of class time.  This unit could span approximately 2.5 weeks.  

Students will be working with a partner.  The teacher should use discretion in how partners are determined, whether chosen or assigned.

The Student's Tasks:

Since you have decided to take the opportunity to head west for free land and a new beginning, you have many details to consider.  Below, you will find links to websites that will help guide you to the information you need to make decisions for your journey.  Remember to take notes on important details you find in your notebook.  Your notes will be very important for you to refer to as you create your presentation.  

Follow these steps:

  1. First, you will need to choose a partner for your journey.
  2. Next, you will need to learn about your journey so you can plan details, be prepared and make decisions.  Click on the highlighted words and you will be taken to a website about the highlighted topic.  Remember to take notes in your notebook during your WebQuest.
The Oregon Trail - 1835

   Background Information

America expanding West
American West timeline
Oregon Trail 

   3.  Now that you have a better idea about where you
        are going, you can begin to plan for your trip.  

    How do we get there?

Look at trail maps
Learn about sites along the trail
Starting out in Missouri

    What do we need?

List of supplies
Price list
Choose the right kind of wagon
Wagon pictures
Oxen, mules or horses
Toys and games


Building fires
Life and death

    Choosing where to go

The end of The Oregon Trail
The California Gold Rush
Oregon & California trails
The Mormon Trail

    Stories and Experiences

Pioneer diaries
Pioneer memoirs
Oregon Trail books

    Related information

Immigrant cultures
The Pony Express
Expanding the railroad

    4.  You and your partner will need to decide how you
         want to present your final project of what you
         learned about this WebQuest.  Remember that you
         can be as creative as you like. However, you need  
         to have your teacher approve your idea before you

Variations / Considerations

Students may not have experienced a research project or taking notes.  Students may need to be introduced to the concepts of how to gather and find data; how to take notes by paraphrasing highlights rather than copying everything; or how to delegate responsibilities when working with partners or groups on a projects.  Spending time on these skills will enhance efficiency in students exposure to research and note-taking on this WebQuest.

Teachers should be flexible in allowing and approving students' creative choices of expression through their projects. Allowing student choice and control can increase motivation and participation.

Resources Needed

Ideally, each pair of students will have access to a computer.  If there aren't enough computers for all students to work as partners simultaneously, students may need to use the computers in shifts or some alternating schedule.  This will require additional planning and class time for students to have enough time to research information. The teacher may allow students to work on the WebQuest outside of classtime, such as at home; however, not all students may have equal access to computers outside of class time.  All students shall be given equal access to class computer time for class requirements.

If possible, the teacher should demonstrate the WebQuest site as a demonstration to the class using a projector screen before excusing partners to begin work.  The teacher should ensure all students know how to use a mouse and navigate the links.  Once students are working in pairs at computers, having extra assistance from aides or parents could be beneficial to ensure questions and assistance to students are addressed timely with minimal waiting.  

Having books either from the school library or other sources related to The Oregon Trail or the Westward Expansion may be useful as additional resources.  These books may also be used if partners must wait to use computers if there aren't enough computers to use simultaneously.


Students will be graded individually based upon the three components outlined in the rubric on the student page of the WebQuest.  Encouragement of creativity in authentic presentations will almost certainly dictate that final projects will not look the same or contain the same information. The rubric will help guide in the authentic assessment.


Through this WebQuest, students will access many pre-selected online resources to gather information on The Oregon Trail.  Students will 
research and share their understanding of the choices, hardships and experiences of the pioneers traveling west.

Allowing students freedom to choose how they creatively present their project can be an important factor to enhancing motivation, and thereby, learning. Students are encouraged to be creative in developing their authentic presentation, highlighting what they learned from this WebQuest.

Credits & References

Thank-you to all the websites linked throughout this WebQuest. The information provided throughout these sites allow students to research and experience an important part of American history.

Images provided by The Oregon Trail Center
and American West.


Last updated on August 15, 1999. Based on a template from The WebQuest Page


Last updated on August 15, 1999. Based on a template from The WebQuest Page