Teaching Geography with Children’s Literature: Roughing It On the Oregon Trail

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Set in 1843, Roughing It on the Oregon Trail, written by Diane Stanley and illustrated by Holly Berry, is based on the 5 month 2,000 mile journey on the Oregon Trail.  The story starts off with twins, Lenny & Elizabeth going back through time with their grandmother, and her magic hat that takes them back to 1843.  Once Lenny, Elizabeth & their grandmother arrive in the Louisiana Territory, they head off looking to meet the twins great-great-great-great grandmother, Elizabeth.  The children learn what it was like traveling along the Oregon Trail.  Descriptions are given about traveling in the covered wagons, the hot and dusty atmosphere, the food that was cooked, the oxen & the Indians they would meet along the journey.

Curriculum Connections
This is a wonderful book with detailed descriptions on every page.  I would recommend reading this book to students in a Virginia 5th grade classroom when learning about the Oregon Trail and the Westward Expansion.  Reasons for the westward expansion are explained (Panic of 1837 when a lot of people lost the farm that they called home/depression) along with the hopes and adventures of moving out west (SOL USI.8).  Stops made along the journey include historic sites such as: Scott’s Bluff, Chimney Rock, Independence Rock, The Great Plains, Snake River, Columbia River and many more.  The early encounters with Native Americans are explained: events such as the leader of the camp smoking the clay pipe with the Indian Chief and the leader of the camp giving up dried buffalo meat to the Native Americans (SOL USI.2 & USI.3).

Additional Resources

  • Oregon Trail map of 1843 has landmarks that can be selected for any additional readings and photos.
  • Oregon Trail Lesson Plan will help students become familiar with the geography of the land along the Oregon Trail by using teamwork and cooperation.  This will also introduce students to basic navigation. *The first 3 resources are free, after that the user will need to pay a subscription fee.
  • The Oregon Trail gives detailed information about the Oregon Trail in the following categories: historic sites along the trail with pieces of information about each location, interesting facts and games there were played, diaries that were kept along the trail & a shop where teachers can purchase items to aid in the lesson plan.

Book: Roughing It On the Oregon Trail
Author: Diane Stanley
Illustrator: Holly Berry
Publisher: HarperCollins Publisher
Publication Date: 2000
Pages: 40
Grade Range: 4-5
ISBN: 0060270659