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Westward Expansion & Roads to Freedom Lesson Plans for 8th Grade American History

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny

Need some help with your American History lessons? Take a peek at my lesson plans and ideas.

Need some help with your American History lessons? Take a peek at my lesson plans and ideas.

My first year teaching I was dying to see other teachers' plan books, but most of them were either blank or didn't seem suitable for our students ("high-risk" with poor reading skills). After teaching American history to 8th graders for a few years, I've developed this webpage in the hopes that it can help first year teachers get an idea of what to do, or help out some experienced teachers freshen up some lessons. Just to let you know, my "at-risk" students have the same passing rate on the history portion of the state standardized exam as the "advanced" students.

Included are my lessons for weeks 23-26 including Westward Expansion and the Roads to Freedom. Visit the bottom of this page to find the links for my other lesson plan pages!

Oregon Trail

Independence Rock

Independence Rock

Week 23: Day 1: Oregon Trail

Why did Americans keep moving West?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Sam Houston is the only man who served as governor of two separate states. In which states was he governor? [Answer: Texas and Tennessee]

Objective: Why did Americans keep moving West?

1. If you were going on a wilderness trip for 3 1/2 months, what 5 things would you take and why?

2. Review exam

3. Discuss "Manifest Destiny" and create unit cover page VI: Manifest Destiny and the Roads to Freedom

4. Discuss my great grandfather's experience in the Oregon territory.

5. Video: "Settling the Oregon Territory" (10 minutes). Take 10+ notes.

6. Show powerpoint slides of the Great Plains, Platte River, Fort Laramie, Independence Rock, Rocky Mountains, South Pass, Great Basin, Blue Mountains, Columbia River, & Willamette Valley. Have students follow on U.S. map on pp. 668-669. Go through quickly. Students don't write anything. When showing the slide, first walk around and make sure everyone has their finger on that location before discussing the hardships pioneers faced there. *Use some of the information from the book "Heading West: Life with the Pioneers, 21 Activities (For Kids series)" to add some interesting bits about each location.

7. Read pp. 454-456.

8. WRAP-UP: DIARY FROM THE OREGON TRAIL: You are recording a diary like my great grandfather did as you head West. Using the information you learned today, write two diary entries discussing at least three of the hardships you faced. Mention at least two of the places we located during the slide lecture.

Book I use to add interesting tidbits to my lectures

If you have a few extra minutes in class, you can show part of Crash Course American History


The Fall of the Alamo (1903) by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk

The Fall of the Alamo (1903) by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk

Week 23: Day 2: Texas

How did Texas become part of America?

Objective: How did Texas become part of America?

Homework: Get agenda signed

Scroll to Continue

1. List 5+ specific things you remember learning about in Texas history last year.

2. Answer #3-10 Reviewing the Facts on p.448

3. Powerpoint Slide lecture, 1800-1853: Conflict in the Southwest: Students create a time line down the middle of their page with each year and event. Whenever I mention a year, they must write the year and what happened. (As usual, I speak slowly and repeat myself when they're supposed to write something.)

1800- Missions symbolize Spain's influence over SW for hundreds of years

1822- Stephen F. Austin founded American colony in Texas

1836-Texans fought for their Independence. Tragedy at Alamo inspired more Texans to fight for Texas independence. Texas wins independence from Mexico at Battle of San Jacinto.

1845 - Texas becomes a state (=angers Mexico)

1846 - US declares war on Mexico

1847 - General Zachary Taylor defeats Mexico

1848 - US & Mexico sign Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo & US gains TX, NM, CA for $18 million

1853 - Mexico sold Gadison Purchase to US so America could build railroads through the area

4. WRAP-UP: Draw a relevant picture for each entry on the time line.

Graphic Library book I use for some of my ESL & IEP Students

California Gold Rush

California Gold Rush

California Gold Rush

Week 24: Day 1: California Gold Rush

How did California change America?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: In what state was the first U.S. federal prison established? [Answer: The first one opened in Auburn, New York in 1821. To regulate prisoner activity, Auburn employed what came to be known as the Auburn system. In the hopes of instilling discipline and effecting rehabilitation, the Auburn system required inmates to work silently in groups. When not working, inmates were confined in silence to individual cells to meditate on their crimes. Economical and labor efficient, the Auburn system became a popular method of imprisonment in the U.S. ]

Objective: How did California change America?

Homework: Finish worksheet

1. List at least 4 ways people in today's America try to get rich quickly. For each way, list the risks that those people take in their pursuit of quick wealth.

2. Finish Texas time line (in some classes)

3. Watch video "Gold Rush and the Settlement of California." Students take 10+ notes.

4. Discuss video and take notes on affects: Draw a piece of gold. Inside write, "California Gold Rush." Have seven arrows pointing from the gold. Next to each of the arrows, write one of the following: "Many people moved West, Built transcontinental railroad, Many immigrants came (especially from China), Mexicans and Chinese meet discrimination, Some people become rich (even black people), San Francisco became a huge city, Levi Strauss created jeans." Also, be sure to mention the football team, "The Forty-niners!"

5. Students identify Brook Farm, Dorothea Dix, Robert Owen, Horace Mann, and Thomas H. Gallaudet from their textbook. Play matching game: Each student pair has cards with the group/person and area of reform. The first pair to correctly match the reformers with their area of reform gets a prize.

6. WRAP-UP: COME GET CALIFORNIA'S GOLD! Create an advertisement like the ones we saw from the newspapers trying to draw people from the East to come to California for gold. Include 3 real reasons they should come and at least one "embellishment." Add at least one visual. (Some classes) OR Draw a relevant picture for each new entry on the timeline.

7. Worksheet: US gains Mexican territory

Graphic Library book I use for some of my ESL & IEP Students

Book I use to add interesting tidbits to my lectures

Views on Slavery

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

Week 24: Day 2: Views on Slavery

How did different people view slavery?

Objective: How did different people view slavery?

Homework: Get agenda signed

1. List 7+ reasons you can think of that slave owners might have given while defending the practice of slavery.

2. Views on Slavery activity: Identifying Multiple Perspectives on Slavery: Analyze nine viewpoints on slavery from Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Hinton Helper, Grimke Sisters, John Calhoun, James Kirke Paulding, George Fitzhugh, Harriet Tubmanm & William Lloyd Garrison. Have student pairs pass information poster to the person behind them (or next row over) every 2 minutes. Have students write 3 notes on each person's view on slavery and actions they took to support their view.

After everyone is finished, draw a line on the front board with an "I" (indifferent), "O" (opposed), or "A" (against) along it. Hold up each poster one at a time, say the person's name, and ask the class where that person belongs on the spectrum. Have one or two people explain why from what they read. Students then write an "I" (indifferent), "O" (opposed), or "A" (against) next to each person's name in their notes. *Note: Students frequently can't believe anyone could be indifferent about slavery. I ask them how many of them are against slavery. They all raise their hands. Then why aren't they doing anything about it? They insist that it no longer occurs. I tell them about the slavery going on today in Sudan as people from the North are capturing people from the South and enslaving them. This is just one of many examples of slavery going on today. Why are they not doing anything about it? Our national media simply doesn't talk about it, even though it is going on today. Many in the North didn't really need slaves. They had factories (with many underpaid immigrants) rather than cotton fields that needed lots of hands for picking. Plus, some Northern states outlawed black people living in their state altogether. Slavery simply didn't affect them. The issue never came up. It wasn't until Uncle Tom's Cabin that many Northerners were presented with the issue of slavery.

3. Show section of a video on slavery.

4. WRAP-UP: 3 VIEWS ON SLAVERY IN THE MID-1800'S: Create a chart on why people favored, were indifferent to, or opposed slavery in the mid-1800's. List at least 3 reasons under each category.

If you have a few extra minutes in class, you can show part of Crash Course American History


Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth

Week 25: Day 1: Abolitionists

Who fought against slavery and how did they fight?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: How many stars, arrows, olive leaves, and olives (the number is the same for each of them) are there in the Great Seal of the United States? [Answer: There are 13 of each -- symbolizing the original 13 colonies. The design of the seal was approved by Congress in 1782. As seen on the back of the dollar bill, the seal consists of an eagle holding olivs and arrows in its talons, with stars in a nimbus over its head. In its beak, the eagle holds a bannar with the Latin inscription "E pluribus unum" ("Out of many, one"). The number of letters in that motto is also 13.]

Objective: Who fought against slavery and how did they fight?

1. Poster: "WANTED: Dedicated individual to work for abolitionist organization. Long hours (12-14 a day) and low pay ($35 a week). Must enjoy public speaking and be dedicated to ending slavery." A) Why might someone not want to apply for this job? B) Would you apply for this job? C) Why or why not?

2. Define from textbook: abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, Nat Turner, underground railroad, fugitive slave law, Uncle Tom's Cabin

3. Powerpoint Slide lecture: As I show pictures of the above items they just defined, students highlight or underline important facts from their definitions and add in notes to definition page as I go through them.

o Analogy: Fugitive slave law: Imagine you worked really hard and finally bought your dream car: a brand new Porsche. First, how would you treat that car? Very well, right. You paid a lot of money for it and you want it to run well for a long time. The same thing went with slave owners: many of them took very good care of their slaves. They saw it as an investment. Some slaves were treated horribly, but that was more the acceptation than the norm. Anyway, a few months after buying your car, someone steals it. You want your car back, right? Someone in Oklahoma finds your stolen car. They should return it to you, shouldn't they? Let's say all your friends have nice cars, and they get stolen as well. The people who steal them don't get punished; in fact, they get to keep your stolen cars. Don't you think they'll keep stealing them? The same thing went on with slaves and slave owners. Even though it's a travesty that human beings were viewed as property, they were. When a slave escaped, the slave owner wanted the slave to be returned because s/he had been an investment. Also, if slaves kept escaping and nothing happened to the ones that left, then many more slaves might leave.

o Analogy for Uncle Tom's Cabin: If I said that all Hispanic people are violent gang-members who go around killing people recklessly, would that upset you? I could even provide you with lots of true stories. Of course that would upset you! Why? It's an overgeneralization, presenting Hispanic people in a very poor light. The reason many Southerners got so upset with Uncle Tom's Cabin is because it presented all Southerners in a very poor light. Many Southerners didn't own slaves. Like we just discussed, most slave owners did not treat their slaves poorly. Yes, some did, but that was the exception. They did not like this negative propaganda that made Northerners (many of whom were hypocritically extorting their immigrant workers) get angry with them.

4. Video on Sojourner Truth. Take 12+ notes.

Women's Rights

Women Suffrage

Women Suffrage

Week 25: Day 2: Women's Rights

How did women gain equal rights?

Objective: How did women gain equal rights?

Homework: Get agenda signed

1. The following are qualities of traditional 19th century masculine and feminine roles. Place each in the appropriate column as being either male or female: strong/weak, delicate/tough, housework/"real" work, personal success/self-sacrifice, private/public, innocent/worldly, ambition/devotion, active/passive, emotional/reasonable, inferior/superior, moral center/provider, submissive/dominant. For example, male-strong, female-weak. Finish the rest.

2. Read pp. 417-419 out loud with a quiz afterward. Tell students ahead of time what the questions will be: a) Women's rights came from what reform movement? B) Name 2 women involved. C) Name 2 rights they didn't have. D) Name the convention where they met to discuss how to solve the problem. E) Name another word for "right to vote." F) Which woman gave the speech, "Ain't I a woman?" G) Which woman was arrested for trying to vote? H) The Declaration of Sentiments was modeled after what famous document?

3. Complete "Letter to Abigail" on p. 48 from Student Activity Book that accompanies Adventure Tales of America: An Illustrated History of the United States, 1492-1877 (Signal Media Corporation). Pass out packets made from pp. 197-207 from Adventure Tales of America: An Illustrated History of the United States, 1492-1877 (Signal Media Corporation) to help students get answers.

4. WRAP-UP: CHANGES FOR WOMEN: Draw a picture of a woman before and after the woman's rights movement. Include 4+ changes that occurred. -example: BEFORE: Women weren't considered fit for higher education. AFTER: 1837 Mount Holyoke opened as the first college for women.

5. Pass out extra credit worksheet to students who want it. Sheet includes an excerpt from Dorthea Dix's Plea for Human Treatment of the Insane and an entry from Alonzo Delano's book, Life on the Plains and Among the Diggings, as he pursues wealth from gold in California.

If you have a few extra minutes in class, you can show part of Crash Course American History

Roads to Freedom

Manifest Destiny: American Progress by John Gast (1872)

Manifest Destiny: American Progress by John Gast (1872)

Week 26: Day 1: Roads to Freedom Poster Project

What have I learned about how people tried to gain freedom during this time period?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What was the first state to secede from the Union? [Answer: It was South Carolina, which seceded on December 20, 1860, in response to the November election of Abraham Lincoln as president.]

Objective: What have I learned about how people tried to gain freedom during this time period?

Homework: study for exam

1. UNIT EVALUATION A) What are 3 things you've learned during this unit on Manifest Destiny and the roads to freedom? B) What are 2 areas about which you still feel confused? C) List the one area from this unit about which you would have like to study more.

2. In groups of 3-4 create posters with 4 squares. Title the poster: "1800's: The Roads to Freedom." In the first square title the square, "Manifest Destiny." Include the definition of "Manifest Destiny," the major barriers to moving West, and a picture showing the general idea of Manifest Destiny. In the second square, title the square "Social Reform." Select one of the five social reformers we discussed (Dorthea Dix, Horace Mann, etc.). Include: the person's name, what this person thought was the problem that needed to be changed, what changes occurred as a result of this person's work, and a picture representing the changes that person made. Label the third square, "Abolitionists." Include the goal of this movement, conditions before the movement, at least 3 leaders in this movement, what actions abolitionists took, and a picture representing the abolitionist movement. Label the forth square, "Women's Rights." Include the goal of this movement, conditions before the movement, at least 3 leaders in the movement, at least 2 changes that occurred as a result of these people's work, and a picture representing the women's rights movement. This poster will be a major grade (equal to a test grade). Grading the poster is as follows (out of 250 points): Titled poster correctly (20), Square 1-4 (each worth 50 points), Neat, Creative, & Complete (30)


Oregon Trail by Albert Bierstadt, circa 1863

Oregon Trail by Albert Bierstadt, circa 1863

Week 26: Day 2: Exam

What have I learned about how people tried to gain freedom during this time period?

Objective: What have I learned about how people tried to gain freedom during this time period?

Homework: Finish worksheet

1. Cram/study for exam

2. Exam. Note: Because the state standardized exams up to this point don't have as many questions about areas relating to this unit, I did use some text questions from the textbook test for this exam.

3. Worksheet introducing next unit on the War Between the States.

Week 26 continues into the next unit on the Civil War/War Between the States/War of Northern Aggression.

Next Unit: Weeks 26-30: Civil War

Procedures and General Ideas for 8th Grade American History Page: My classroom set up, procedures, grading, use of textbook, exam ideas, etc.

Weeks 1-2: First Week of School & Geography Lesson Plans for 8th Grade American History

Weeks 3-8: Thirteen Colonies Lesson Plans

Weeks 8-13: American Revolution Lesson Plans

Weeks 13-16: Constitution Lesson Plans

Week 17: American Literature Lesson Plans

Weeks 18-19: Our New Nation Lesson Plans

Weeks 20-22: Industrial Revolution Lesson Plans

Weeks 23-26: Westward Expansion & Roads to Freedom Lesson Plans (this series of lessons)

Weeks 26-30: Civil War Lesson Plans

Standardized Test Cram Sheet

Please let me know you were here! - If you found this lens helpful or if you have questions or comments, please post here!

Shannon (author) from Florida on July 19, 2013:

@LoriBeninger: Thank you so much for visiting and for your kind comments! Yes, both slavery and women's rights definitely spilled over into the West.

LoriBeninger on July 19, 2013:

I see by the Comments how appreciative teachers (both "standard" and home-schoolers) reacted to your lens. It is well-thought and presented. I'm not a teacher (just some one who is interested in and written about the California Gold Rush), but this was exciting. Most people assume that the West had little, if any, exposure to slavery and women's rights. How wrong they can be!

Shannon (author) from Florida on April 01, 2013:

@anonymous: Great! I'm so glad the lessons have been helpful to you!

anonymous on April 01, 2013:

I just wanted to let you know that I found this extremely helpful. I'm a first-year teacher who started part-way through the year without very good curriculum. This has really helped me see how I can help my students focus on the important themes and not get bogged down in our confusing book.

River_Rose on December 16, 2011:

This is wonderful ! Your kids are blessed to have you as their teacher ! I also home schooled my son...did not have the computer then....we did a lot of outdoor things....we live out in the country in Texas....we raised and milked goats and I learned how to make goat milk soap, candles, etc. We raised all kinds of fowl...chickens, pigeons, quail,pheasants,turkeys, geese, get the idea....nature has a lot to say if we will listen....hope you will visit some of my lenses...Merry Christmas and Happy New year!

lasertek lm on May 30, 2011:

You have some great lesson plan and links for homeschooling materials. Well done!

We actually cover the same topic, hereâs mine: Homeschooling 101: Guide to Free Curriculum and Other Resources.

Shannon (author) from Florida on January 18, 2011:

@jimmielanley: Definitely! However, homeschooling has made me want to revamp some of my 8th grade history lessons by adding in some of those "fun things." Children learn so much by doing!

Jimmie Quick from Memphis, TN, USA on January 18, 2011:

I taught 8th grade language arts for years. Isn't it great how you can do so many fun things with your own children in homeschool? Things you never could do with a classroom of 30 kids?

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