New Perspectives on THE WEST
The Program People Places Events Resources Lesson Plans Quiz
1. The Railway
2. Mark Twain
3. Native
4. African-
5. Images of the
6. Writings of the West
7. Fragile Western Biome
8. Water Use
9. Infectious Disease
10. Natural Disasters

THE WEST Lesson Plans

Dear Educator,

The classroom resources gathered here are designed to help you use this Web site, other material on the Internet, and The West videos for a study of the United States' westward expansion in the Nineteenth Century. This multidisciplinary unit of lessons addresses a variety of subject areas, including history, language arts, fine arts, and science.

These materials are designed for middle and high school students (grades 6-12), although extension suggestions may help you modify them for younger students. Each lesson plan provides objectives, standards correlations, background information, Web links, procedures, extension suggestions, and assessment recommendations. Each incorporates relevant video segments from The West, though the lessons also function as stand-alone activities.

Lessons include:

  1. The Transcontinental Railroad
    by Joan Brodsky Schur
    Using maps and other documents, students investigate how and why the railroad was built; they also analyze its impact upon Chinese laborers, Native Americans, settlers, tourists, entrepreneurs, and others.

  2. Mark Twain and the American West
    by Joan Brodsky Schur
    Students learn how the author began his literary career by writing about his experiences in the American West.

  3. The Nez Perce and the Dawes Act
    by Joan Brodsky Schur
    This lesson asks students to view westward expansion from the perspective of the Nez Perce and their leader, Chief Joseph.

  4. African-Americans in the American West
    by Sari Grossman
    This lesson attempts to focus students' attention on the lives and contributions of often forgotten pioneers: African Americans who helped settle the West.

  5. Images of the West
    by Sari Grossman
    Students compare the works of artists and photographers who documented and interpreted the West's vast, uncharted landscapes and its native and emigrant inhabitants.

  6. Making Myths: The West in Public and Private Writings
    by Sari Grossman
    With this lesson, students will determine how popular novels, short stories, and other works of fiction came to typify a western mythic image, and contrast these versions of the West with the diaries and letters of the pioneers who documented their own travails.

  7. The Fragile Western Biome
    by Victoria Babcock
    Throughout this lesson, students will discover the impact of American westward expansion, in particular the mining industry, on the ecosystems of the West.

  8. Water Use: Tragedy in the Owens River Valley
    by Victoria Babcock
    Water is essential to life, and humans are no exceptions. This lesson will lead students to an understanding of the importance of well-managed water use, while focusing on an historical water use event.

  9. Infectious Disease
    by Lynn Wiegand
    White settlers were responsible for introducing several diseases, including cholera, to the Native American population. This lesson focuses on the spread of infectious diseases and compares cholera to Ebola and other infectious diseases.

  10. Natural Disasters
    by Lynn Wiegand
    This lesson focuses on the causes and consequences of natural disasters. Nature's role versus the impact of human activity in contibuting to natural disasters is examined.

Please take some time to explore the classroom resources and the rest of the content on The West Web site. And don't forget to let us know what you think! Send your feedback to

You may also be interested in other PBS Web sites that address related topics and themes. There are several from American Experience, including Donner Party, Gold Rush, Iron Road, John Brown's Holy War, and Lost in the Grand Canyon; there are also Cadillac Desert, Canyonlands: America's Wild West, The Gold Rush, Nature's Grand Canyon, Lewis and Clark, Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony , Trail of Hope: The Story of the Mormon Trail, and U.S. Mexican War.

About the Authors

  • Joan Brodsky Schur
    Joan Brodsky Schur teaches social studies and English at the Village Community School in New York City. Her work in the classroom has been described in various articles she has written over the years for Social Education. Joan and fellow-colleague Sari Grossman are the editors of In A New Land: An Anthology of Immigrant Literature. Joan is also a contributing author to the Constitution Community, a Web site of the National Archives at

  • Sari Grossman
    Sari Grossman has taught at the Village Community School in New York City since its founding in 1970. Prior to that she taught at the Bank Street School for Children, where she received her professional training in education, and served as a social studies consultant to Follow Through and Head Start programs in Boulder, Philadelphia, Cambridge, and Brooklyn, among other locations. She has co-authored an innovative fraction workbook called, "Show Me one Half," and with Joan, an anthology on immigrant experiences published by NTC. Over the years, she's also offered numerous workshops in math, literature, and social studies at teachers' conferences in various states. She is currently finding the Internet a new stimulus for creating curriculum.

  • Victoria Babcock
    Victoria Babcock has been teaching biology and physical science for the last 5 years at Hannibal High School. She has also coached the Academic Team, sponsored the Science Club, and organized a high school Stream Team. In addition, Ms. Babcock designed events for Science Olympiad on cell biology, water quality and practical data gathering and has worked under contract with NetTrekker to evaluate biology websites. Before teaching, she worked with the educational outreach department of the St. Louis Science Center.

  • Lynn Wiegand
    Lynn Wiegand is a middle school health education teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland. She has been teaching for 11 years, and often presents information on performance assessments in health education for her school system. Ms. Wiegand has a masters degree in science education and has been involved in writing the curriculum guides in MCPS for middle school health education. She has 3 children, 2 step-children and a house full of pets!

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