Saturday, April 5, 2014

Saturday!!! A Pioneer Edition....

Happy Saturday!

I know that I said yesterday that I had a lot to blog about this week, so I'm going to start with what we've been up to in class to motivate our students for the 4th quarter. I'm linking up with Head Over Heels for Teaching for the Spark Student Motivation Saturdays!!!  I love this linky--- I always get some great ideas from it. Please be sure to stop by.

My team and I focus a lot of 4th quarter on non-fiction reading and writing.  To get students motivated we have adapted a pioneer simulation where students are given fake identities and families, and actually imagine that they are a pioneer who is traveling West.  We spend a lot of time building background for students, and I've talked about it in a few blog posts here and here if you want to get up to speed. Today I thought I would share the ways in which we prepared for this unit and how we got ready to be pioneers on the trail.  Building background is so so so important, especially since I have a lot of ESL students.  The kids had a blast, and I have to say that this year I feel so prepared to officially leave 'Fort Independence' on Monday with them all.

The Adventures of Ma and Pa-

We brought in a great learning experience for kids called 'Adventures with Ma and Pa.'  We have done this for several years.  This great interactive experience helps kids understand how it was like to pack a wagon to leave on the trail.  Ma and Pa bring in everything from seed to plant, tools to use in the fields and items for the kitchen.  They talk to us about the importance of packing and also show what it would look like to pack in the space for a wagon.

The start off by talking about their feelings with moving West, and express all of the things that they would love to take with them (including things that they want to but cant.....)  The kids are all for Ma bringing her organ, until they realize how big the wagon really is. 

Things quickly change when they can only fit a small amount of things into the wagon.  Pa and Ma do a great job showing us all sorts of things that we could possibly bring and express the importance of some over others. This really helps our kids pack their wagons for the trip. When we pack they are allowed to pack up to 1,000 bulk weight units.  This is hard for them to understand so the visual of seeing Ma and Pa pack really helps us with this!  (I'll spare you the details on wagon packing for the pioneers in the classroom... it's a rough day! But we always seem to figure it out!)

Route Information-

We spend a lot of time going over our map and route possibilities for the trip on the Hacker Trail.   The map is so important.  There is a map that is hung up in the classroom and then they get a copy of it in their pioneer books.  We spend time talking about the different things that could happen to us along the trail based on the names of trails and landscape.  It's important for them to know all possibilities, because at some points along the trail they have to make decisions on what way to go. 

Each team is a color and they are represented by a thumb tack to match their color as we travel.


Vocab has been the hardest part with my group this year.  We're really trying to work on not skipping unknown words, and going back to figure out what something means.  They are making progress but it's been a long road.  I've been making kids really stop and work with words so much this year, so that they get used to realizing how important it is to know what something means.  Our pioneer unit has so many new words that we will be using that I thought the best way to learn them was for them to become the expert on a word or two and teach the rest of us about it.  We started small... some got words to look up and some got words that had the definition attached to it to look up and check that their meaning was in the dictionary.  The kids LOVE looking up words in their new dictionaries that were given to them by our K-Kids group.  They use any excuse they can to use them.  

After they looked up their word, we made vocabulary boxes for each word that they would end up sharing with the class.  I've talked about these before, and they are awesome for kids to use to help really understand what a word is, and what it is not.  If you're interested it's available at my TpT store.  

When we were done we did two things with our new list of words.  We made a word wall with all of them on the back board so we can go back and revisit words.  If we have a second between a transition, I call on a student and have them share a word from the word-wall and tell us about it (what it means, use it in a sentence, or how it relates to pioneers.)  I'm thinking of doing one for each quarter next year like this with a theme.  They also have a copy of the abc boxes in their pioneer books and have the words written in.  Their vocabulary pages are hanging around the room so we can refer to them. 

We also created a synonym board with the words so we can practice using them in our writing.  If we aren't sure what it means or need help, the colorful words that go along with each vocabulary word can help us do that.  I'm hoping this encourages them to use the words when they write their diary entries of what is happening along the trail. 

I'm going to stop there for now... I know it's a lot, but I am just so excited about this and also the kids are so pumped and motivated for the end of the year.  At first it seemed like so much work to get something like this going, however with it being such a big motivator for this time of year it's so worth it.  The kids love it, and I'll be sure to share our journey along the way!!!  Thanks for stopping by and have a great rest of the weekend! 


  1. I love this idea to keep students motivated as the year winds down. It inspires me to find a theme to end our year on in my class! I love the synonym paint card bulletin board :)

    Ladybugs Lounge

  2. Great post, Ana! I wonder how successful any of us would be if we had to pack everything that was important to us in the space of a wagon -- and share that space with our family! If you ask my husband, I could never do it. That's probably why I was born in this century... :)

    Mrs. Laffin's Laughings

  3. I must confess, Pioneers (or Early Settlers as we call the unit) has not been one of my favourite units to teach - but these ideas are FABULOUS. I will be stealing them for sure. My students and I thank you : )

  4. Fabulous post! What a great experience with the simulation! Such a wonderful way for them to learn more about history! Your paint strip BB looks great-I love using those paint strips (my husband works for Lowe's!!!). Thanks for sharing and linking up!
    Head Over Heels For Teaching


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