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Lesson Plans




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Calvin College


West Michigan


National Endowment for the Humanities




William Katerberg
Calvin College


Carol Higham
North Carolina

Robert Schoone-Jongen Calvin College















NEH Summer Institute for Teachers, 2012


Lesson Plans


Myth or History: The Frontier, Manifest Destiny, Native American Identity
Tracey Anderson, Lakeside High School, DeKalb County Schools, Decatur, Georgia

This is a two or three day lesson designed for a high school English language and grammar class that uses a variety of sources that have students consider significant issues related to the American frontier experience and its ongoing legacy. The prompts lead students to formulate an informed opinion on the use of Native American symbols as school mascots.

Women on the Frontier: Enlarging the Scope of True American Womanhood, 1870-1915
Kathryn Barnhardt, Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, Lahaska, Pennsylvania

This set of five lessons for a high school social studies class leads students though a study of women's frontier experiences and the contemporary attitudes that way behind them. Students read and analyze primary and secondary sources, using a guided matrix of questions, participate in both small and large group discussions, and demonstrate their mastery through a before/after acronym exercise.

Ronald Reagan and the Cowboy Archetype
Adina Berg, The Northwest School, Seattle, Washington

Cowboy images remain a staple of American political discourse. This lesson asks students to analyze two of President Ronald Reagan framed his public image using frontier rhetoric and images to employed those archetypes in two of his most notable speeches - "The City on the Hill" speech of 1974 and his presidential Farewell Address of 1989.

Visualizing History Observation and Inference - Incorporating ELA and SS Vocabulary
David Brigham, Lansing School District-Attwood/Elmhurst, Lansing, Michigan

This upper elementary/middle school level lesson asks students to examine the contemporary echoes of the Spanish conquest of South America by examining photographs of an Andean region market town. The students use a graphic organizer to record their observations and list three things they have learned from the lesson, what two other things interested them, and a question that the lesson created in their mind.

The Sioux Uprising of 1862
Brian Busker, Southwest Minnesota Christian High School, Edgerton, Minnesota

This set of lessons for high school social studies classes focuses on the Dakota War of 1862 in Minnesota. It leads students to consider the conflicting motives that led to this violent confrontation between Native Americans and settlers during the Civil War. It can also help teachers see how including local history in American history can help students understand how their particular region's development reflects broader patterns.

And Whose Job Is It Anyway... Gender and Age Roles on the American Frontier
Bonnie Cooper, Conroe Independent School District, Caney Creek High School, Conroe, Texas
Stacy Gran, Vistation Academy of St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri

This lesson plan for a high school social studies uses a document based methodology to help students examine the role gender played in the settlement of the American frontier. Building on a previous lesson about Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis, students work in groups first to create a list of how they believed gender roles were assigned on the frontier. Next, they process a number of primary source materials that illustrate contemporary views on gender roles. Following this students compare the historical evidence to their initial impressions, and finally compare/contrast the historical realities with Turner's thesis. Participation in the activities provides the assessment for the lesson.

Lessons and Resources for the Library and Classroom
Mary D'Amour, Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School, New York, New York

This extensive collection of resources for teaching about the American frontier provides numerous links to online sources that can be readily tailored to meet the needs of students at all grade levels and ability levels. It features a wide variety of methodologies and perspectives on the history of frontiers both in North America and throughout the world, including documents, photograph collections, and video clips.

The Impact of Alcohol & Disease on Native People & Cultures
William Eckerstorfer, Lakeland Union High School, Arbor Vitae, Wisconsin

This set of high school lessons focuses on the role conflicting worldviews played in the interactions between Native Americans and European settlers and the ways in which this conflict continues to influence contemporary social issues within Native American communities. Methods include lecture/discussion, storytelling, and small group work. Student achievement is evaluated via their completion of a graphic organizer about an assigned article.

The Relationship Between "the Citizen" and the State
Stephoney Fogle, Hastings High School, Houston, Texas

This set of high school social studies lessons asks students to consider of the meaning of citizenship by analyzing nineteenth century definitions of that idea and how they serve to include and exclude various groups of people in the United States. It uses guided document analysis methods to help students see the various points of view that were present and then asks the students to show their mastery of the issues and concepts by creating original graphics that are associated with the topic.

Exploring the American Frontier through Fiction and Non-Fiction Texts from the 19th Century
Larry Jarocki, Visalia Unified School District, Visalia, California

This set of lessons is designed for Advancement Placement literature students. It uses four novels - The Virginian, My Antonia, The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn - to study three major elements of the frontier experience - the belief in Manifest Destiny, the developing mythology of the Frontier, the experiences of women and minorities. The goal is to teach students to read both critically and reflectively by carefully considering the impact these old themes and still have on contemporary attitudes and beliefs.

Understanding the Frontiers of Frederick Jackson Turner
Alexander Kalsbeek, Heritage Christian High School, South Holland, Illinois

These high school level lessons lead students through a study of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis, asking students to analyze its relevance in the specific frontier experiences of trappers, miners, ranchers, and farmers. Photographs, guided readings of primary and secondary sources, and music are among the methods employed. Students are required to participate in group discussion, produce formal written responses, and create an advertisement to demonstrate their mastery of the material.

The Frontier Spirit in Science Fiction: A Study of the West through Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Popular Culture
Anne LaGrand, East Grand Rapids High School, East Grand Rapids, Michigan

This set of lessons for a high school literature class asks students to think about the idea of a frontier from the perspective of science fiction. During their reading of works, such as Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, students are asked to compare and contrast fictional frontier's themes with the historical frontier experience, and such major themes as rugged individualism and the often indistinct boundary between "civilization‟ and "barbarism.‟

History of Atascosito Road
Donna Luther, Sheldon Intermediate School District, Crosby, Texas

This lesson for an elementary school social studies class encourages students to see how their immediate area has changed over time and how those changes reflected the history of their state and region. Students analyze a series of images related to a major thoroughfare located near their school, a road first used as a Native American trading route that over time became the highway they see today.
Note: The link in the PDF document for the Advance Preparation images and slides is broken. Instead, please use:

America as a State of Nature
Kyle McGrath, Milford High School, Huron Valley Public Schools, Waterford, Michigan

This set of lessons, designed for a high school government class, uses lectures, discussions, and individual reflections students led to consider how western ideas about "the state of nature" influenced the establishment of political and social institutions in both Europe and North America. It also asks students to consider how these ideas influenced the attitudes and actions of people as they face new situations and new places on the frontier.

The Frontier in Four Classic American Novels
Neal Nelson, Parkwood High School, Union County Public Schools, Matthews, North Carolina

This set of lesson plans for an advanced placement high school literature class focuses on how American writers, such as James Fennimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Willa Cather, and Mark Twain, have incorporated frontier themes into their works. Students are assigned to read one or more works and then prompted to analyze scholarly articles about each work. Guided questions and class discussions provide the assessment pieces.

Educating Native American Children in the Nineteenth Century
Stephanie Nelson, Mount Rainier High School, Seattle, Washington

This set of high school lessons can be used for history or humanities classes. The lessons use a document based methodology to help students study and analyze the schools that were established to educate Native American children during the latter half of the nineteenth century, particularly boarding schools, such as the Carlisle Industrial School in Pennsylvania. The activities include photograph analysis, video clips, and contemporary written documents, and require students to respond in various written forms and discusses.

Imperialism and Westward Expansion
Kristine Parsons, William "Pete" Knight High School, Palmdale, California

This set of high school level lessons, suitable for either an American history or world history class, compares frontier experiences in the United States and southern Africa. It employs an array of documents, images, and video clips to guide students to compare and contrast the interactions between Europeans and Native Americans in the post-Civil War era with contemporary developments between the Europeans and Zulus in Africa. The lessons underscore the prevalent imperial mentality of the nineteenth century. Evaluation methods include diagraming, essays, group discussion, and exit slips.

Using Primary Sources to Create Document-Based Questions: Using Photos to Supplement or Challenge the Text
James Rogers, Clear Lake High School, Lakeport Unified School District, Lakeport, California

This high school level lesson assigns students thematic topics related to the "closing" of the American frontier. Working in groups students select five photographs that relate to their topic, use a graphic organizer to analyze the photographs, and formulate captions to illustrate how their choice illustrates the topic.

Exploring Genres: Creation Myths
Rebecca Sheinberg, National Connections Academy, Houston, Texas

This hour long lesson leads students to consider the uses of myth and legend to gain an understanding of the world around us. Specifically designed for students enrolled in an online course, it is readily adaptable to any learning structure. Students analyze an Iroquois creation story, "The World on the Turtle's Back," both individually and in small group discussions. The final assessment employs an out of class assignment in which students create their own legends to demonstrate their understanding of the nature of myth and legend.

Teaching the American Frontier Using The Little House on the Prairie Series
Mitchell Timko, Elizabeth Traditional Elementary School, Charlotte, North Carolina

Here is a guide to how Little House on the Prairie can be used in an upper elementary school literature class, using the book to help students build their working vocabularies. There are lists of words from the text students are expected to know, plus a requirement that students add to the list other words with which they are unfamiliar. Students work in peer groups as they do the reading. Additionally, each day students present to the class words from prior to previous day's reading that need to be defined.

Local History and the Frontier: McBain, MI and other Area Communities
David Van Haitsma, Northern Michigan Christian School, McBain, Michigan

These lessons for a high school social studies class use local history to help tell the story of how the frontier experience in this particular community compared with national trends. Students carefully analyze photographs of own community to analyze the historical continuities and changes present in their immediate surroundings. Activities include small group discussions, a field trip, and a long term project.

American History from a South Texas and Mexican American Perspective
Julianne Wargo, Monte Alto ISD, McAllen, Texas

These high school lessons combine geographical and historical perspectives to help students consider how location influences how we view the past. Specifically designed for students who live along the border with Mexico, the lessons employ a variety of activities that require students to analyze relevant materials, formulate an informed opinion, and articulate their thoughts both individually and as a group via written responses and a debate format.

The Old Sauk Trail
Martha Wegner, Ring Lardner Middle School, Niles, Michigan

These lessons for elementary school social studies help the students explore how their particular location fits into the larger history of the frontier, particularly the enduring legacy of the Native Americans who lived in the area before the arrival of European settlers. This lesson is also an example of how local resources can be utilized to help students better understand the history of their community.

The Psychology of the Frontier
Donald Weller, Custer County School District, Westcliffe, Colorado

This lesson for a high school level psychology or general social studies class asks students to use primary sources, specifically three sets of personal letters, to delineate the character traits early settlers needed to endure the stresses and hardships of life on the frontier. A writing assignment provides the evaluation piece for the lesson.


Powerpoint Slides from Class

Buffalo Bill Cody

Theodore Roosevelt

Frederic Remington

Middle Ground

Indians as Settlers

Cherokee Female Seminary Documents

Gold Rush

Philippine War Cartoons

Land Policy Cartoons

Land Law and Frontiers


Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.