Lesson Plan

Homestead Shelters

J. C. Cram sod house, Loup County, Nebraska
Solomon D. Butcher (Library of Congress; LC-DIG-ppmsca-08379)
Grade Level:
Sixth Grade-Eighth Grade
Agriculture, Architecture (Building Styles and Methods), Education, History, Immigration, Pioneer America, Social Studies, Westward Expansion
90-120 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36
computer lab
National/State Standards:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 through 6-8.10


In "Homestead Shelters" students will look at various structures people live in or have lived in.

The Homesteaders, Immigrants, and American Indians unit is broken up into six lesson plans, taking 45-120 minutes to complete, targeting sixth through eighth grade students.  A class does not have to complete every lesson in the unit - each lesson comes with its own set of objectives and resources.  This is lesson 5 of the unit.


Guiding Question
Why do people build different types of dwellings?

Critical Content
Students will discuss the relationship between land, climate and shelter.

Student Objectives
Students will be able to

  • list types of shelters homesteaders lived in
  • create visual mock-ups of these structures


For homesteaders, life on the Plains was rough and hard. Everyone had to pitch in to help the family survive. The men plowed, planted, and harvested the crops.

They took the grain to the nearest mill, which could take several days of traveling. The women took care of the house and the garden. They often sold butter and eggs to supplement the family income. This money paid for the extras the family could not otherwise afford. Children helped out wherever they were needed. They might gather buffalo or cow chips for fuel, herd the animals, help in the fields, or any other task that needed to be done.

Helping out one's neighbor was common place on the plains. Settlers held gatherings or bees. Neighbors might help plow a field, build a barn or house, or husk the corn. These bees were opportunities for homesteaders to help each other and socialize at the same time.

Hardships abounded on the prairie. Homesteaders faced many difficulties while living on the Great Plains. Isolation and loneliness created some of the most difficult moments especially for women who seldom left their homesteads.

The climate of the plains was harsh to homesteaders. One year a homesteader might face a drought while the next year a flood might ruin every hope of an abundant crop. Prairie fires and grasshopper invasions were also constant threats.

Many homesteaders could not handle the overwhelming obstacles in their path. Those who came to homestead with the lure of cheap lands left, "busted and disgusted" at the hard life on the prairie. In several areas almost half the homesteaders left. Others stayed to "tough it out."

At one time or another many homesteaders had to face making the decision to stay on their homestead or head back east. There is no doubt that life was hard. For many the cost of staying was too high.


Ask students to describe various structures that people from around the world live or lived in. This should lead to a discussion that includes shelters such as tents, teepees, igloos, etc.

Why do people build different types of dwellings?
As a class discuss the relationship between land, climate and shelter.
What information did students gather during their visit on this topic?


Make a list of at least 3 different types of structures that homesteaders utilized.
Describe each in detail.

Historic Palmer-Epard Cabin:

Sod Houses:http://bit.ly/a3P5k5 

Prairie Settlement: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters, 1862-1912

In groups, discuss the different types of structures built by homesteaders and why they chose those structures. Have each student select one of those types of shelters and create an accurate 3-D visual of it using Google Sketchup. The scale, building materials, and surrounding landscape should all be historically accurate, considering the time and location.


Each student will compose a 1-2 page explanation of how their visual is accurate and represents the building materials available to the homesteaders of that area, as well as the limited time frame available to homesteaders to build that shelter.

Additional Resources

This lesson plan is part of a larger curriculum unit on Homesteaders, Immigrants, and American Indians for grades sixth through eighth. To view the entire curriculum or other individual lesson plans, please click the links below.

Homesteaders, Immigrants and American Indians (entire unit)

Lesson 1: Agriculture and Inventions
Lesson 2: Territorial Ranges
Lesson 3: Land Use
Lesson 4: American Indian Reservations
Lesson 5: Homestead Shelters
Lesson 6: Dawes Act