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The Western Migration
The Western Migration Lesson Plan
This lesson is designed for students to use with the narrative The Western Migration. This lesson will ask students to read a narrative about migrations into the western part of the United States. Students will make a flyer soliciting a move to a state in the West and will include some of the facts used to entice people they read about in the narrative.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 9-12
For use with:The Western Migration
Concentration Area:History: U.S. Government
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The standards for this lesson conform to those set by the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel).
Students will understand

  • How international migrations are shaped by push and pull factors (e.g., political and economic incentives, religious values, family ties)
  • Policies affecting regional and national interests during the early 19th century and how they relate to expansion-based economic policies, including northern dominance of locomotive transport to growing political and sectional differences; the cheap price for the sale of western lands
Time required
Anywhere from two traditional class periods to two weeks, depending on depth and breadth of students' research
Materials needed
  • The Western Migration
  • Internet connection for viewing of internal and external links
  • Library resources
  • Poster board
Anticipatory Set

  1. Write the words "freedom" and "opportunity" on the board or overhead. Ask students how these words relate to them. What freedoms and opportunities do they have?
  2. Have students imagine they are freed slaves living in the Nineteenth century. What would those words mean to them then? Where do you think freed slaves could go to experience both freedom and opportunity? As a freed slave, what opportunities do you think would be available to you? Have students write their responses to these questions in a journal entry.

  1. Have the map of the migration on the overhead projector or on students' computer screens. (link to map of this migration).
  2. Hand out copies of the narrative; or, if students are online, they can read it on their screens. If the reading level of the class is low, you may opt to read and stop at intervals to check for understanding.
  3. Once the students have read through the narrative, have them start filling in any information that they can based on the following series of springboard questions:

    1. What dates, from beginning to end, frame this migration? Where is the point (or where are the points) of origin of the people?
    2. What was their existing circumstance in that location? How did conditions differ from the city to country plantations and estates?
    3. Why did they leave?
    4. How many left?
    5. Where did they go?
    6. How did they choose their destination(s)? Were the destinations chosen before they embarked upon their journeys, or were they arbitrary in nature?
    7. What event or circumstance ended this migration?
    8. What is the legacy today of this migration in both the points of origin and destination?
    9. What hardships, if any, did they endure because of their migration?
    10. How does this emigration fit in with the other migrations (can only be done if studying a group of migrations)? Are there any connections between migrations?
  4. For any unanswered questions, direct students to other resources, such as the gateway, other areas of the site, and library resources.
  5. Next, have students choose one of the states that people migrated to in the West (Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, California, Texas were the major ones discussed in the narrative). Have students pretend that they are in charge of a company trying to get freed slaves to migrate to the state they chose.
  6. Then, have students go back through the narrative to find what might have enticed people to move to that particular area (e.g., free or inexpensive land, a community of their own, opportunities to make a good living, etc).
  7. Instruct students to design a flyer that could have been posted advertising for people to move to their land of opportunity. Students should include drawings or pictures and words to make their poster interesting and inviting.

Grade the students based the following rubric:

1. Poster includes interesting and inviting facts about the area 5
2. Poster includes interesting and inviting drawings or pictures of the area 5
3. Work is neat and legible 5
Total Points 15

With a total of 15 points possible, you could deduct points as you see necessary to get a letter grade on this project.

Related Works

  • The Schomburg Center has documents and information about the westward migration of African Americans, in particular the Exodusters, at:
  • The Library of Congress' American Memory Collection features over seven million online digital documents. It is a rich resource for a wide variety of documents about the African-American experience, including the online exhibit African-American Odyssey. American Memory's homepage is, and African-American Odyssey is at: The segment on "Western Migration and Homesteading" can be accessed at:
  • The PBS Series The West has an online archive of key documents and images of the American West broken down chronologically. The section "1877-1887" includes images of the Exodusters and Congressional testimony by Benjamin "Pap" Singleton, while the Oklahoma land rush appears in the 1887-1914 section at:
  • The Oklahoma Historical Society maintains an online Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History, which provides information about all-black towns at: It also has detailed information about life in territorial and statehood Oklahoma, including Senate Bill One, which institutionalized segregation in Oklahoma. The site is under construction, to be completed for the statehood centennial in 2007. Additional information about the all-black towns may be found at a commercial site at:
Interdisciplinary Links

  • Language Arts: In conjunction with creative writing activities, students will create essays, poems, letters, speeches, articles, or autobiographies written from the point of view of African Americans who migrated to the West. Background information may be found at a number of Internet sites:
  • Industrial Arts/Woodworking: Students may wish to research what the requirements were for a homestead cabin, including its dimensions. They might determine the different techniques necessary for constructing a sod house as opposed to a frame house. (The reprint of C. P. Dwyer's 1872 classic, The Homestead Builder: Practical Hints for Handy-men, is extremely useful in this activity.) With the permission of the administration, students may wish to use stakes and tape to outline the dimensions of the homestead on a field and determine how to set up the space so a family of four could function. Teachers may work with the school system, parks and recreation department, or a sod/lumber company so students either can erect a portion of a wall of a sod homestead or can frame a cabin the size of a homestead.
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