Union Pacific Railroad Signs

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
State Standards:
State:    New Mexico      Subject:   History        Grade Level: 6-8th 

Check off State Standards: 5-8 Benchmark 1-A. New Mexico: Explore and explain how people and events have influenced the development of New Mexico.
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations.


During this lesson, students will discuss the changes that were involved with the introduction of the railroad in the Southwest. They will be able to answer how those changes impacted and altered the lives of people in Albuquerque. By the end of the lesson, students will understand the significant changes in daily life of people living in New Mexico due to westward expansion and the railroad.
How did different groups of individuals get to the Albuquerque area throughout time?


Make individual or partner class sets of all readings 1, 2, and 3, as well as handout #1.

Make individual copies for each student of “Early Railroads in New Mexico” graphic organizer and the “Then and Now Photo Album” assessment.

Make sure you have crayons, colored pencils, and other art supplies.


Download Reading #1

Download Reading #2

Download Reading #3

Download Handout #1

Graphic organizer to accompany readings and handouts

Download “Early Railroads in New Mexico” Graphic Organizer

Lesson Hook/Preview

Write on the board the following groups in a scrambled order: Native Americans, First Europeans, Spanish Conquistadors, American Settlers

Ask students to place those groups in the order that they arrived in New Mexico.

Then, ask students to predict the date that each group became established in New Mexico.

Announce the official dates: Native Americans 1250 AD, Spanish Conquistadors 1600 AD, First Europeans 1750 AD, American Settlers 1850


1. Explain to students that today they will be learning about three stories of expansion: the transcontinental railroad, New Mexico’s first railroad, and Albuquerque’s “new town.” Ask students to hypothesize why the railroad would be connected with expansion and change in New Mexico. Write these hypotheses on the board.

2. Explain to students that the first story of expansion will focus on the First Transcontinental Railroad. Ask students to complete reading #1.

3. Ask the students to look back at the groups in New Mexico at the time of the First Transcontinental railroad. Which groups would have been affected?

4. Ask students to complete the first part of the “Early Railroads in New Mexico” Graphic Organizer.

5. Explain to students that now they will focus on the second story of expansion - The First Railroads in New Mexico.

6. Give students reading #2 and Handout #1. Students should read the materials and then complete part two of the graphic organizer.

7. Explain to students that they will now focus on the third story of expansion: Albuquerque's "New Town.”

8. Students should complete reading number 3 and then answer the questions on part three of the graphic organizer.

9. Give each student a copy of “Then and Now Photo Album.”

10. Students should get into groups of 2 or 3. In those groups, the students should brainstorm answers to the question: What changes did the railroads bring to New Mexico and Albuquerque?

11. Ask students to share what changes they think the different groups in New Mexico might have gone through. Put student answers to the focus question on the board. (Possible answers: population and economic growth, statehood)

12. Within the same groups, students will create a photo album page with “Then and Now” photos that show the changes due to the early railroad. These photos will be illustrations with captions below that describe the change.


Transcontinental Railroad: A transcontinental railroad is a contiguous network of railroad with tracks that cross a continental landmass with terminals at different oceans or continental borders.

A.T.&S.F. Railroad: The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway was one of the larger railroads in the United States. Chartered in February 1859, the railroad reached the Kansas-Colorado border in 1873 and Pueblo, Colorado, in 1876. To create a demand for its services, the railroad set up real estate offices and sold farmland from the land grants that it was awarded by Congress. Despite the name, its main line never served Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the terrain was too difficult.

Westward Expansion: The movement westward in America that started in the late 1700’s and continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Assessment Materials

“Then and Now” Photo Album

Students will complete this assessment with a group to demonstrate understanding of the changes experienced in New Mexico due to early expansion of the railroads.

Then and now

Download Assessment

Supports for Struggling Learners

Teachers can have students work together in mixed-ability groups

Highlighted copies of the reading

Read all text out loud

Enrichment Activities

Draw a map of Albuquerque in the 1880's. Show major streets, buildings, parks, schools, fairgrouds and rail yards.

Write a five paragraph illustrated essay comparing the Albuquerque of 1880's with today.

Create an illustrated timeline of railroad history in New Mexico.

Draw a collage of the future of railroads in New Mexico.

Additional Resources

Bryan Howard. Albuquerque Remembered. University of New Mexico. 2006

Editor, Sheck, Ree. (1982) Railroads and Railroad towns in New Mexico. New Mexico Magazine, page. 3 & 4.

Fye, Sandra. Historic Photos of Albuquerque. Nashville, TN: Turner Pub., 2007.

Palmer, Mo. Albuquerque Then and Now. San Diego, California: Thunder Bay Press., 2006.

Williams, John Hoyt. A Great and Shining Road. New York: Times Books, 1988.

Contact Information

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Last updated: May 21, 2015