American Frontiers

A lesson plan that has students comparing and contrasting American frontier life in fiction and nonfiction texts and other media. Interesting lesson that shows how the same time period can be portrayed by fiction and nonfiction writers and even documentary film makers.


Standards & Objectives

Learning objectives: 

Students will understand the following:

  • In the 19th century, the American frontier brought both solutions and problems.
  • Fiction writers as well as documentarians have portrayed the American frontier.
Essential and guiding questions: 
  • After viewing this program, you may have the impression that the frontier consisted only of wide-open spaces and beautiful land, but what other meanings did the frontier have for 19th-century Americans? What were some of the negative aspects of life on the frontier? What are some of the positive and negative aspects of the legacy of the frontier apparent in American society today?
  • How did European Americans' and Native Americans' views of the land differ? How did these opposing points of view affect the growth and development of the United States?
  • How did the concept of manifest destiny affect both Americans and their neighbors during the 19th century? Are there other historical periods where thoughts of manifest destiny may have influenced the ways in which events developed?
  • What role did the railroads play in the westward movement of the 19th century? What impact did they play on the settlement of the frontier?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 

Modern Pioneers

  • In the concluding segment of Rediscovering America: The Frontier, the narrator ties the concept of the frontier to the concept of land, reinforcing the point made at the beginning of the program. However, there are other frontiers as well—a state of mind, a yearning for something that goes beyond the mere issue of land. Many people would consider new worlds of any kind as frontiers and would equate those conquering them with 19th-century frontiersmen and frontierswomen. Ask students to suggest women and men who have assumed those roles in more modern times—space scientists, entrepreneurs of the computer revolution, genetic researchers, and so on. Have students identify a particular person who has been or is on the cutting edge, research that person, and give a brief oral presentation on why the person qualifies as a frontiersman or frontierswoman.

Women on the American Frontier

  • Ask students to investigate the roles that women played on the 19th-century frontier. Suggest that students focus on women of one ethnic group—say, immigrants from China, immigrants from various eastern European countries, Irish Americans, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans. Specify that students should determine by means of research whether women in these groups were victims of prejudice and discrimination. Then, with that answer in mind, have students write first-person narratives of the frontier experience as a woman.

Helpful Hints

For this lesson, you will need:

  • Short stories and novels mentioned in the lesson plan