Lesson Plan

Freeing the Elwha (To Go or Not to Go)

An 1895 map of Washington.
Grade Level:
Sixth Grade-Eighth Grade
Community, Economics, Geography, Government, History, Immigration, Social Studies
One Class Period
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
Washington State Standards:
Social Studies:
EALR 2: ECONOMICS,Component 2.1:


What hardships and rewards were involved in maintaining a sustainable homestead?


  • Identify the purpose of the Homestead Act;
  • Decide what was needed to move west during the 1800s;
  • Describe the day-to-day life of homesteaders;
  • Explore who moved onto the Olympic peninsula;
  • Develop a time line for events and developments along the Elwha River and Port Angeles, WA.


To introduce the Homestead Era of United States history, students will read a summary of the Homestead Act of 1862. Through classroom discussion the conditions required to "prove up" a homestead will be listed. Students will be given a scenario and an 1870 catalogue to complete a graphic organizer to decide if they would make the move west. They will write a short essay of their decision.


  • Summary of the Homestead Act of 1862
  • 1870 Catalogue
  • Graphic Organizer:
  • "What to Take"
  • "What to Take" teacher master
  • Pencil and paper to create a journal


Using classroom discussion and brainstorming introduce the concepts of westward expansion and decision making.

Have each student read the summary of the Homestead Act of 1862. Make a list of what was needed to "prove up" a homestead. File an application. Improve the land (12 x 14 dwelling and grow crops). File for the deed.
Could not bare arms against the United States.
Had to live on the land for five years.

Present the scenario found on the graphic organizer "What to Take".
Year: 1880, Method of travel: Wagon pulled by livestock, Status: Married, Funds: $1,000.00 Home state: any east of the Mississippi River, Background information: Oxen are preferred over horses or mules because they are hardier for the harsh conditions. If the weather is dry, expect to travel 20 miles per day, if wet, 10 miles or less per day.

Have students use the 1870 Catalogue to complete the graphic organizer.
Have students create a journal or notebook for use during entire unit. Students will write a one to two paragraph essay in their journal on their decision of whether or not to attempt the trip to Washington State. Have them include what they think might happen on the trip, how far they could travel per day, and how long it might take them. They should also include their decision and their reasons for going or not going.

If the student decided not to go, the essay should include their reasons why they are not going and what they will do with their money. They should make up an occupation and where they live.


Completion of the graphic organizer and the essay from journal. The essay should clearly state if the student has decided to go or not to go to Washington state and why or why not. If going, the essay should include how much money they have decided to spend to get ready to go, how much they will spend while on the trip and how much they think they will need once they get to Washington. They should also include how far they expect to travel in one day (20 miles, if dry, 10 miles, if raining). Typically, the trip required four months to complete. If the student decided not to go, the essay should include their reasons why they are not going and what they will do with their money.


Westward expansion