Integrated Thematic Unit - Moving Into The Country

Russell Yates


This unit of instruction was originally created as fulfillment of an assignment for a graduate class on curriculum and instruction and has since been used as the basis of a unit of study for all of the Intermediate Multiage Program classes at Chimacum Elementary School. I am including it in this portfolio as an example of a unit of study, a piece of curriculum, that I have created. This unit gives another snapshot of my curriculum development skills, it shows that I can put together a unit of study that both matches state standards and meets classroom needs while spanning a number of academic disciplines.

In addition to curriculum development for my classroom, I have been involved with the curriculum process in my school district for a number of years. I have represented Chimacum Elementary School attending a number of conferences (including NCTE, ASCD, and CISL) and was appointed chairperson of the Social Studies Subject Area Committee. A brief outline of some of these other curriculum activities can be found on my resume.

This unit, titled, Moving Into The Country - How People Arrived in the Pacific Northwest, Mid to Late 1800s, has been developed for third, fourth, and fifth grade students in an intermediate multiage class. Its duration is planned to take approximately 4 weeks. As part of the Social Studies curriculum, students in the intermediate multiage classrooms study the historical period of settlement in the Pacific Northwest during the middle part of a three-year rotational cycle. Previous curricular activities in this area of study have been unconnected and haven't had much depth. This unit is aimed to remedy that.

Although the unit will center on the discipline of History, the disciplines of Geography, Math, Reading, and Writing will also be included. Specific lessons are planned for all of the disciplines listed.


Overall Scope & Sequence of Unit Activities






Week 1

 -Read aloud/discuss, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky

-Research Native Americans

-Create poster/map of Native Americans   -Literature circles begin  

Week 2

 -Read aloud/discuss, George Washington Bush

-Read for information about pioneer motivation

  -Gather and Categorize Pioneer Data, Create Graphs

-Literature Circles continue

-Read pioneer biographies

-Write a short paper about pioneer motivation

Week 3

 -Read pioneer diaries for information about route traveled

-Create model of wagon

-Trace route of pioneers along map of Oregon Trail -Pioneer data and graphs completed and presented

-Literature circles continue

-Read pioneer biographies


Week 4
      -Literature circles complete their study -Write historically accurate story using genre of choice




Detailed Sequence of All Activities

Note: This paper is organized such that the student activities are listed both sequentially for the unit overall and sequentially by discipline. Since an elementary teacher most often keeps his or her students throughout the day for all subjects, having them listed both ways, although redundant, is very helpful in planning.

Week 1

Week 2


Week 3

Week 4


Unit Components

(including sequence of activities by discipline and one sample lesson for each component)

A note about objectives

To help make this unit as valuable to Washington State teachers as possible, the objectives listed with each component are taken directly from the Washington State Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) with relatively few modifications. EALR identification numbers are noted in parenthesis after each objective.


The discipline of history provides the theme of this unit. The other disciplines are supportive. For example, one of the student activities listed under the geography component has students researching the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest in order to create a poster/map showing the locations of the different tribes during the mid 1800s. This activity requires the student to locate specific information, read text, read maps, and create a map with drawings of typical artifacts. This one activity alone incorporates the disciplines of history, reading, geography, and art. However, the activity centers on the historical setting of the Pacific Northwest during the mid 1800s.

History Objectives

The sequence of activities for the history component follows.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

History Lesson from Week 3

Main Question

What did the wagons that the pioneers used look like?

Related Questions

How can a model wagon be made?


Intermediate multiage students will use sources of information such as historical documents, eyewitness accounts, and letters to investigate and understand historic occurrences. (H2.1) They will use this information to create a model of a covered wagon like the ones used on the Oregon Trail in the mid to late 1800s.


Pictures of actual wagons such as the ones on the following web pages

In addition a visit to a museum that has a covered wagon on display would be helpful.

Materials for constructing the wagons may include: white or beige material, wire, thin strips of wood, Popsicle sticks, and/or flat toothpicks, glue, round disks for the wheels (may be cut out of plastic can lids).

Learning Activities

a) Ask students if any of them have ever traveled a long distance in a RV. Discuss what it was like.

b) Relate a modern day RV trip to a trip on the Oregon Trail, discussing similarities and differences. Especially emphasize the vehicles used.

c) Have students view pictures of wagons (web sites listed above) or visit a museum that has a covered wagon on display.

d) Assign students the task of creating a model of a covered wagon that is made approximately to scale (decide if this is to be a homework assignment or if class time will be spent on wagon construction).

e) Guide the class through discussion in the creation of an assessment rubric for the model wagon.


Students' models will be evaluated based on the class-created assessment rubric. The teacher will evaluate student use of various sources of information through informal observation and from the incorporation of accurate details with the models.

Other Discipline Areas Drawn On

Art, Reading



The historical geography of the Pacific Northwest during this time period is especially interesting. It was a time of transition from the land being dominated by the Native Americans to it being "settled" by the pioneers traveling west on the Oregon Trail. Two geographic activities support student learning about this time period.

Geography Objectives

The sequence of activities for the geography component follows.

Week 1

Week 3

Geography Lesson from Week 3

Main Question

What was the route of the Oregon Trail?

Related Questions

What were some of the important points along the trail?

How can a map be made from descriptions in historical diaries?


Intermediate multiage students will gather and interpret geographic information from historical diaries and use that information to construct maps. (G1.1)


Two online sources of information include Pioneer Diaries and Emigrant Biographies - and Black Pioneer Bios -

Copies of blackline master maps of the Pacific Northwest and the western U.S.

Copies of maps of the Pacific Northwest and western U.S. showing important physical features (to be used as reference by students)

Learning Activities

a) Review and discuss a present day map of the Pacific Northwest. Note important landmarks such as the Columbia and Snake Rivers, the Rocky Mountains, the Cascade Mountains, etc.

b) Discuss how present day highways are marked on a map, showing important points along their route.

c) Assign students the task of creating a map showing the route of the Oregon Trail and depicting important points along the way. Tell them they will be getting the information needed from the actual diaries (noted above) of pioneers who traveled the trail.

d) Teacher leads discussion to create an assessment rubric for the completed maps.

e) Students read the diaries, locating important points along the trail and the route, drawing this information on their copy of the blackline map. They can use other maps as reference to help locate relative locations.

f) Teacher monitors and facilitates student.


Assessment for this lesson will be based on how well the individual maps meet the criteria of the class-created assessment rubric.

Other Discipline Areas Drawn On

Art, Reading, History



One math activity that will take multiple days is included in this unit in support of the theme. It is a part of the data and statistics math strand and includes categorizing of data, graphing, and communication of statistical information.

Mathematics Objectives

The sequence of activities for the math component follows.

Weeks 2 and 3

Mathematics Lesson from Weeks 2 and 3

Main Question

What are some generalizations that can be made about the pioneers who traveled on the Oregon Trail?

Related Questions

What statistics can be gathered about the pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail?

How can data about these pioneers be grouped together in categories?

What ways can statistical information about pioneers be communicated effectively?


(See Mathematics Objectives 1-5 above)


Much of the data needed can be obtained from The Great Migration: 1843 Pioneer Wagon Train to Oregon web site at: Other data can be obtained from the transcripts of the pioneer diaries that are also online at the following web sites: Pioneer Diaries and Emigrant Biographies - and Black Pioneer Bios -

Other resources include: computers connected to the Internet, chart paper, graph paper, colored pens and pencils.

Learning Activities

a) Ask students if there are any generalizations we can make about the pioneers that traveled on the Oregon Trail. After students have responded, ask, "How can we know for sure?" Lead the discussion towards the use of data, statistics, and graphing specifically.

b) Students skim through The Great Migration: 1843 Pioneer Wagon Train to Oregon web site.

c) Lead class discussion on how data can be categorized. Write student ideas on chart paper.

d) Organize students into small cooperative groups based on interest in different categories of statistical information.

e) Student groups gather data from the web sites about the pioneers for the category they have chosen.

f) Discuss various ways to present statistics graphically using examples and referring to previous math lessons with data and statistics.

g) Student groups determine which ways to best represent these statistics graphically; creating graphs to present to the rest of the class.

h) Student groups present their graphs while interpreting their findings to the rest of the class.


Objectives 1, 2, and partially 4 (listed above) will be evaluated through the final drafts of the graphs created by the cooperative groups.

Objective 3 will be assessed informally through observation of students as they collect data for their graphs.

Objective 5 will be evaluated during the time of the cooperative groups' presentations. Objective 4 will also be partially evaluated at this time in addition to having been done so with the final draft of the graph.

Other Discipline Areas Drawn On

Reading, History



Reading, although not the focus of this unit, is perhaps its foundation. Much of the information gained in history studies is through reading. Reading for information is an important skill that is practiced in this unit. Text is used in this unit that is categorized as historical fiction and nonfiction. Text is read from a variety of sources including children's literature and online source documents.

Reading Objectives

The sequence of activities for the reading component follows.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Reading Lesson Weeks 1-4, Literature Circles

Main Question

What can be learned about the Pacific Northwest in the mid 1800s by reading children's historical fiction?

Related Questions

What vocabulary is used in stories about the Pacific Northwest in the mid 1800s?

What could it have been like to be a child traveling either with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce or traveling in a wagon train along the Oregon Trail?


Intermediate multiage students will build their vocabulary through reading and discussion. (R1.2)

Intermediate multiage students will expand their comprehension of text through discussion, reading, and writing by analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing information and ideas. (R2.2)


Children's literature:

Dear Levi: Letters From The Overland Trail by Elvira Woodruff

Thunder Rolling in the Mountains by Scott O'Dell and Elizabeth Hall

Learning Activities

a) Teacher gives a brief description of each book. Students sign up for literature circles (cooperative reading groups) based on choice of book.

b) Student groups meet and set up individual reading response logs. Response logs contain places for predictions, a response to the content of each chapter, vocabulary exercises, and an end of the book evaluation.

c) Student groups meet on a twice weekly basis with the teacher to discuss what has been read and how that relates to students' own lives, to share written responses, to share answers to vocabulary exercises (synonyms, antonyms, sentences created using the word, etc.), and to

get the details for the next assignment.

d) After student groups complete the reading of the book they chose and the associated exercises, each group (or could be done by individuals) creates a poster depicting one aspect of the book that they especially enjoyed. These posters are then presented to the rest of the class.


Students' work with their response logs is evaluated by comparing their work with the lesson's objectives and with previous literature circle work they have done, determining individual progress.

Students are informally assessed during literature circle discussions as to how well they are meeting the above stated objectives. This information is recorded on checklists and with anecdotal notes.

Other Discipline Areas Drawn On




Students will have studied, worked with, and practiced using the Six-trait Analytical Writing Model in a directed writers' workshop format. They will be required to use this model for two assignments in this unit, as it will support their effectiveness with communication of their learning.

Writing Objectives

The sequence of activities for the writing component follows.

Week 2

Week 4

Writing Lesson

Main Question

How can some of what was learned be shared in writing with others?

Related Questions

How can the Six-trait Analytical Writing model be used to improve early drafts?

What form or genre of writing can be used to best express meaning and author's voice when writing about some of what was learned during this unit?


(see above, writing objectives 1-4)


Examples of various genres that would lend themselves to this lesson.

Writing supplies of paper, pencil, word processor.

Learning Activities

Students will have become familiar with both the Six-trait Analytical Writing model and with the writer's workshop format including the steps of the writing process.

a) Students and teacher discuss and explore a variety of writing genres such as biography, poetry, comic, and play/screenplay. Examples of each are read and discussed, noting what types of information they best portray and what they tell readers about the authors' voice.

b) Students are given the assignment to write about what they think are the most important things they have learned during this unit. They can choose the genre based on what they believe will best portray what they want to write about.

c) Teacher reviews the Six-trait Analytical Writing Model and the writing process as it is experienced in a writer's workshop format.

d) Students draft their work. Teacher leads, facilitates, conferences, monitors, etc. student work while overseeing the writer's workshop (several days).

e) Students share their final drafts with the rest of the class. If decided by students, work can be published in a class book or on the Internet.


Individual written work is assessed based on the rubric for the Six-trait Analytical Writing Model.

Other Discipline Areas Drawn On

History, Reading, Geography


Evaluation Plan

Products from the student activities will be assessed to determine ongoing student progress* and effectiveness of the unit of study. Rubrics for many of the activities will be created with student help and discussion as part of the lessons. These rubrics will be used to assess appropriate assignments. Creating the assessment rubrics by leading students through discussion can be done at an early age and is very motivational. Students who participate in their own assessment and who have targets to aim for, push themselves to greater achievement. This is an especially useful technique in multiage learning environments and is relatively easy to manage. Record keeping will be in the form of checklists, anecdotal notes, and traditional grading strategies.

The final student written activity will be considered a capstone assessment for this thematic unit.


*Note about objectives and assessment. Students participating in a multiage educational environment are assessed based on their personal growth or progress along continuums rather than on grade-level norms. The multiage philosophy also recognizes that children grow intellectually at different paces and frequently experience intellectual growth spurts just as they do physical ones. This is why multiage programs are frequently referred to as continuous progress programs. Thus the degree portion of a behavioral objective is different for each child. Due to this I have not included that portion with the objectives for this unit. In addition, performance standards vary between each child depending on the point in each discipline at which they start from. Because of this the student assessment portion of the evaluation plan for this unit could be seen as a bit vague. Accomplishing this successfully requires that the teacher keeps an organized set of records and that he or she is well acquainted with the students' academic abilities and previous growth. This is possible due to the three-year duration of the classroom program for each child.

Sources and Resources:

Center for the Improvement of Student Learning, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of Washington, (1999) Essential Academic Learning Requirements. Retrieved July 7, 1999 from the World Wide Web:

Jeffers, Susan (1991). Brother Eagle, Sister Sky: A Message from Chief Seattle. New York: Scholastic Inc.

Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, (1999). NWREL's Six + 1 Writing Traits. Retrieved July 7, 1999 from the World Wide Web:

Pelz, Ruth (1990) Black Heroes of the Wild West. Seattle: Open Hand Publishing Inc.

O'Dell, Scott and Hall, Elizabeth (1992). Thunder Rolling in the Mountains. New York: Yearling Books.

Reed, Carolyn, Kent School District. (1999). Six-Trait Writing. Retrieved July 7, 1999 from the World Wide Web:

Woodruff, Elvira (1994). Dear Levi: Letters From The Overland Trail. New York: Scholastic Inc.

Other Online Resources:

Unit Analysis

Grade Level and Theme

This unit is designed for intermediate multiage students, grades 3, 4, and 5. The theme is stated in the unit's title, Moving Into The Country - How People Arrived in the Pacific Northwest, Mid to Late 1800s. It is centered on the historical period of the mid to late 1800s in the Pacific Northwest with a sub-focus on the Oregon Trail.

Time Estimate for Unit

This unit's duration is scheduled for four weeks. It is likely that students will be completing some of the final activities into week 5.

Examples of Unit's Theme, Specific Activities, Resources, & Assessment Procedures

Every lesson uses the theme of the movement of people into and around the Pacific Northwest in the 1800s. For instance, the impact of the influx of people descended from mostly European and African ancestry on the Native Americans is dealt with in the reading lessons associated with the Thunder Rolling in the Mountains literature circle. In the discipline of mathematics, statistics of pioneers that traveled on the Oregon Trail is studied. The geography of this time period is focused on in lessons dealing with the original tribal lands of the Native Americans of the area and with the creation of a map showing the route of the Oregon Trail. In the history component (but also reading and math components) students read primary source documents to gather information about the pioneers. And in writing, students use their writing skills in a structured format to communicate various aspects of their learning about the theme.

The resources listed are quite comprehensive, identifying nearly all needed resources (exceptions being references to the specific resources for the examples of writing genres listed for final writing project, and some common student school supplies such as pencils). Additional online resources listed should help with possible extensions for students who complete their work early.

Assessment is somewhat unique in that it is designed to combine the state standards (EALRs) with the multiage classroom structure. In many assessments, the students are key to the development of rubrics, of defining what constitutes quality work for specific assignments. This is evident in the sample lesson for geography. It is interesting to note that the degree portion of the objectives has been left out and that this affects assessment. Instead the teacher relies on class-defined rubrics and on knowledge of individual student progress. What makes this combination work is that the teacher becomes quite familiar with each individual student's progress over time due to the three-year nature of the multiage program. This allows for a meaningful individualized program for students along with meaningful assessment that supports continuous Academic progress.


It would be interesting to see all of this unit's lessons developed fully, not just the sample lessons. However, due to the nature of the diverse student population to which this unit is targeted, it is nice to have flexibility built in along with having many of the specifics left up to the teacher. It is also possible that the time frame is a bit too optimistic for students of this age group to complete all of the tasks in a four week time period. However, that can only be determined by individual teachers after they have taught it.

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copyright © 2000 by Russell Yates