The following activities can be adapted to a range
of age levels. The objective in these activities
is to make students participants in their learning
experiences rather than just being observers.
Pioneers in your community -- Every community has its pioneers. Who were your community's pioneers? This is a great topic for research at your local library and a great way to teach students about their local heritage. Learn the names of the first settlers. Visit the local cemetery to find names and dates. Have students look for early newspaper reports. Check with your local historical society. This can be expanded into a project that can be used year after year.
Family tree -- Have your students trace their family history. Can they find any pioneers in their family tree?
Inventing your favorite things -- Ask your students to research the histories of some of their favorite things - foods, sports, games, etc. Prepare a short report of the impact this discovery has had on the world today.
The simplest things -- Pick a common object in your classroom, for example, a paper clip, a stapler, or a piece of chalk. Then ask your students to write a creative essay on their version of how the object was first created. Have one or more students research the correct history and compare the imaginative histories with the real one in an oral discussion.
Frontier space -- Have your students discuss being a pioneer in the new frontier--outer space. Discuss how they would colonize the planets. Students could research the planets and create their own pioneering plans with reports, models and drawings. Be sure to include how they would combat problems that would arise, such as disease, pollution, and lack of resources.
Home alone -- Have your students imagine a world where an important invention had never been pioneered. For example, describe a life without electricity, a life without the telephone, a life without television. The possibilities are endless--a life without sneakers, a life without cameras, a life without ball point pens, etc.
The pioneer play -- Ask the students to develop write and plan a short play based on the life of a frontier pioneer. Simple costumes, sets and props can be put together and the play could be performed in class. It can be a short skit put together in a day, or a longer project that takes several weeks.
Cameo Interview -- As a type of role playing, a student can take the part of a famous pioneer, and be interviewed by others in the class. Some preparation time for the student is typically necessary, however. The teacher can ask the student to prepare a set of questions for other students to ask. This is done as an out-of-class assignment (10-20 questions are appropriate). The class then asks the questions as a part of the interview. Try making a video recording of the interview to play back to the class.
Team interviews -- Assign partners in class and have each couple research a pioneer. One student can portray the pioneer and the other can be a TV interviewer. This can be done before the class. Try using a video camera to record the results.
Invention convention -- There are many pioneers in the field of science and technology. Have your students create their own invention. These should be real ideas and inventions to solve real problems. The teacher can hold an "invention fair" and let the students show off their new pioneering adventures for parents and other classes.
Pioneer collage -- Do a collage incorporating aspects of a pioneer's life. A collage is simply a poster with many pictures and/or blocks of text pasted in an artistic manner to convey an idea or image, in this case the image of pioneer life. Have the students expand their collage by sharing verbally with the class about the pioneer that did the activities included in the collage. Through imagination, have them develop and recreate the life of their pioneer.
Story around the circle -- Seat your class in a circle and start a story about a pioneer. Ask one student to continue the story. After he or she adds a few sentences, move to the next child in the circle until all have had a chance to add to the story. To get things started you can select students that you believe will lead in the creative exercise. Encourage everyone. The story can take any direction. If the story can be adapted to a skit, have the class act out the story with everyone participating either as characters or parts of the environment. Switch parts so that everyone gets a chance to play speaking roles.
Pioneer fashions -- Have students bring in pictures of various pioneers. Discuss the types of clothes the pioneers would wear, what kinds of transportation they used, what kinds of homes they had and what kinds of activities they participated in.
Fighting against the odds -- Many pioneers had to fight against all odds. Lead a discussion about how it feels to be told that you can't do something even though you know that you can. Ask your students why they think it is important for a person to believe in himself. Related discussions could involve giving others a chance and listening to other people's ideas and inventions.
Dress Up Day -- On an assigned day the students can be asked to dress up like pioneers. As an alternative to costumes, there can be a T-shirt day, with students making their own T-shirts with pioneer themes. Have them use old shirts that can be painted or cut.
Twenty Questions -- Twenty questions is a family game that is adaptable to many classroom activities. The teacher thinks of a pioneer, or something about pioneer life or work, but keeps it secret from the class, writing it on a piece of paper. The class has to guess what it is. The only clue given is whether the secret something is (1) a person, (2) a place, or (3) a thing. The class then is allowed 20 questions to guess what it is. Note that the questions have to be phrased to only allow yes or no answers. If the item is not guessed in the allowed 20 questions the game is over. After the students understand the game, members of a class can then be the ones who decide on the secret (in consultation with the teacher). A competition can be created by dividing the class in half. Points are scored for one side or the other by guessing or not guessing the correct answer.
Newspaper -- Have the students produce a pioneer newspaper. Just the front page of a newspaper may be enough for a small project. Allow two weeks or more of project time for development of a full paper. This can be a traditional theme of the life and times of pioneer days, or descriptions of new inventions as noted in the section on "Pioneering in the News" in this guide.
Letter Contest -- Have the students write a letter from a frontier town. The teacher may select some of the better letters for class presentation. Read the letter to the class or use a student with dramatic ability to do the reading. It can be read by more than one student with each one trying to out-perform the others.
Artifacts -- Some students in a class may have artifacts of early pioneers at home that can be brought to school as a demonstration project. Take extra caution to be sure that these materials are respected by members of the class, and that nothing is damaged. In fact, if there are particularly precious artifacts, it may be best to have them handled only by adults--parents or friends who own the materials and are willing to bring them to class. The students can also create their own artifacts, making objects of the selected historical period with a variety of artistic media. Use your library resources for books with examples of artifacts and objects.
The frontier pioneer lunch -- Prepare a pioneer meal. What did pioneers eat? All sorts of things are possible, but cornbread and bean soup would be a good place to start for frontier pioneers. For space pioneers, freeze-dried foods are appropriate. Be sure your lunch meets the health guidelines of your school system.
Oral history -- The students can interview grandparents or others who have memories of older days in America. Have an older person visit your class. Some of these may not be actual pioneer stories, but it is an opportunity for students to relate to history. It's possible to find people who have been to war. What was it like to be in war? Were they afraid? Find people who remember what it was like in your home town a generation ago. Fostering communication between the generations can be an excellent educational project and can be of benefit to both the students and those being interviewed.
Kaleidobox -- For a construction project, students can construct a three-dimensional pioneer scene in a shoe box. A peephole in the side of the box and a light source (an open panel on the top or a Christmas tree light bulb and socket) allows viewing.
Wagon stickers -- Everyone likes to read bumper stickers, but what types of stickers would the pioneers have placed on their wagons? Have students put their ideas on construction paper cut to the size of typical bumper stickers. After the exercise, display the bumper stickers around the room.
The Corner Fort -- Build a pioneer fort in the corner of your classroom. This can be an enclosed area with a crawl-through entry and enough space to hold a few students. Place books on history inside the fort along with other materials for browsing, and try to create the feeling that the fort is a special place. Students can go there before class or when their work is done. Also it can be used for rewarding students--a retreat where they can go when they have done well.