Striking It Rich!
by Becky Jones
University of Idaho
Time Allotment: 5
Subject Matter: History;
Language Arts; Science;
Fine Arts; Technology;
this lesson, students will learn about the California Gold Rush. They
will explore the lure of gold and the Wild West, how pioneers traveled
to the West, and the hardships and people they encountered along the way.
Activities will be authentic, hands-on, and inquiry-based. There will
be a variety of activities that will make the Gold Rush come alive for
James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill in northern California.
John Sutter was one of only a few hundred people living in California
at the time, and had big plans to become wealthy off of his mill. He had
thousands of cattle and a lot of employees. James Marshall was sent by
Sutter to a place about fifty miles northeast of Sutter's fort to build
a mill on the American River. This was where Marshall first saw the glitter
of what he thought might be gold. Not wanting to disrupt the building
of his sawmill, Marshall continued working, but kept stumbling upon more
and more gold. Finally, he took it back to Sutter's Mill to be tested
and they found that it was, indeed, gold. The Gold Rush did not immediately
follow, though. Neither Sutter, nor Marshall wanted news to get out-Sutter
did not want competition for the wealth of the area, and Marshall had
plans of his own. Soon, though, Sam Brannan, a San Francisco merchant,
found out about the gold discovery and spread the word and the hype. In
1849, thousands of people headed out west to strike it rich, changing
Students will be able to:
- list and describe various reasons the discovery
of gold and moving out west was alluring to Americans.
- describe different forms of transportation
in getting out west.
- describe several different routes the pioneers
took to reach the west.
- describe some Native groups encountered by
- describe various hardships of traveling during
and participating in the Gold Rush.
- describe various effects the Gold Rush had
on the future of the United States.
National Standards (found in Expectations of Excellence:
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, printed by the National Council
for the Social Studies)
- Strand II:
Time, Continuity, and Change: Social studies programs should include
experiences that provide for the study of the ways human beings view
themselves in and over time.
c. Identify and describe selected historical periods and patterns of
change within and across cultures, such as the rise of civilizations,
the development of transportation systems, the growth and breakdown
of colonial systems, and others.
e. Develop critical sensitivities such as empathy and skepticism regarding
attitudes, values, and behaviors of people in different historical contexts.
- Strand III: People, Places, and Environment:
Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for
the study of people, places, and environments.
h. Examine, interpret, and analyze physical and cultural patterns and
their interactions, such as land use, settlement patterns, cultural
transmission of customs and ideas, and ecosystem changes.
i. Describe ways that historical events have been influenced by, and
have influenced, physical and human geographic factors in local, regional,
national, and global settings.
Idaho State Standards for fifth grade social
studies (found on the State Board of Education website: http://www.idahoachieves.com/standards.html
- 448-01-e: Students will know the factors
that contributed to westward expansion in the United States in the early
- 449-01-d: Students will be able to explain
the motives of the major groups who participated in the Westward expansion
by leaving the east and heading west.
- 449-01-e: Students will be able to
identify the significant Native American groups that were encountered
with the Westward movement.
The Course of Empire Takes Its Way (The Way West) Episode 1, Directed
by Ric Burns. Videocassette Dist. By PBS Home Video, 1995
- The OCTA Trail Map website
This website is an excellent place for students to go to in order to
view the many different routes taken by pioneers, miners, and explorers
during the gold rush. Shown on the map are many of the important sites
located along the different trails. This map is also interactive, allowing
students to click on the sites along the trails and learn about their
- The PBS website
This website is a great place to learn the facts about the California
Gold Rush. There are many historical photographs, quotes from journals
and old newspapers, and even a special place for kids to learn fun and
crazy facts about the Gold Rush.
- The California's Gold Rush Country website
At this website, students can explore more information about the Gold
Rush. Facts, quotes, pictures, and even a virtual tour are available
and easily accessible.
- The Oakland Museum of California website
This website provides many facts about the Gold Rush. Students can experience
artwork done during the period of the Gold Rush, read tales from the
mines, and take a virtual tour.
- Travelocity website
At this website, students can enter in a city from which they are starting,
and the city to which they are going, and find the exact mileage and
directions to the specified destination. This is a great place for students
to go during the introductory activity.
- computers (1/student if possible, otherwise
students can get into pairs)
- internet access
- television and VCR
- video cameras (4-5)
- blank video cassette tapes (4-5)
- brown paper bags (2/student)
- dried leaves, berries, etc.
- parchment paper (5 pieces/student
- overhead (available for student use during
- poster board (available for student use
- fake gold nuggets/coins, etc.
- children's wading pool
- assorted pans (4-5)
- sand/gravel (enough to fill wading pool
- advertisements previously created by
teacher (announcing discovery of gold in California
Prep For Teachers
Prior to the lesson teacher must:
- Bookmark websites listed above (to bookmark
a website, type in the URL, then go to "Favorites", then select "Add
- Cue The Way West to 18:32 on
- Create advertisement posters to hang around
the room for Introductory Activity. These advertisements should have
basic information about the discovery of gold and should entice people
to "head out west".
- Fill wading pool with sand/gravel, fake gold,
- Put blank tapes in each video camera, make
sure batteries on each video camera are charged, make sure each video
camera works properly.
- Prepare background notes on the Gold Rush
(background information on front of lesson plan), make copies of this
background for students (1/student)
- Organize journal materials (i.e. parchment
paper, rope, dried leaves/berries, glue, markers, brown paper bags)
- Prepare note cards with role playing information
on them (each student receives a card with his/her character's occupation,
or character's husband/father's occupation, home town, and family information.
Each card will also have 1-3 sentences describing the views of that
family on traveling out west).
- Posters should be hung around the room advertising
the discovery of gold and enticing pioneers to head out west and strike
- Pass out character note cards to each student.
- Give students time to look over their character
- Explain to students that they are about to
take on the role of the characters on their cards.
- Write Travelocity website on the board where
all students can easily see it. Direct students to computers.
- Explain to students that they are going to
enter the city listed on their note card into the "origin" space on
the screen, and Sacramento, CA into the "destination" space on the screen.
- They will then receive a number representing
the mileage from their hometown to California.
- Direct students back to their seats and ask
them to take into consideration that mileage, the information on their
note cards, and their own thoughts, and make a decision as to whether
or not they are going to travel west in search of gold. They must weight
the pros and cons and make a careful decision.
- Have a short sharing time, in which students
share their characters, situations, decisions, and reasoning behind
those decisions. Whether students choose to go to California, or remain
where they are, they must defend their decisions and give reasoning
- Give a brief history of the California Gold
Rush. Begin by asking students if they know anything about the California
Gold Rush. Allow students to reply, and discuss any information they
might have, whether correct or incorrect. Then, using the paragraph
in the overview, tell students who first discovered gold in California,
how it was discovered, when it was discovered, and the events that followed.
- Give students a focus for watching the video.
Say the following: "While watching this video, be aware of how enticing
the gold in California was to these people. What was so appealing about
it? Also, was it an adventure for them? Was that part of the appeal?
Make sure you look for these things while watching this video."
- Show segments from The Way West.
Video should be cued to 18:32 on the counter. Push PLAY on the
VCR. This scene begins with rocky cliffs shown from a birds-eye view.
No one is talking, but music is playing in the background. Students
will watch video.
- Push STOP at 20:31 on the counter.
Ask the following question: "What was so enticing about the discovery
of gold in California that made so many thousands of people give up
their lives, homes, and everything they know to travel so many hard
miles?" Allow students to discuss briefly. Then ask, "How did the discovery
of gold in California change America?" Again, allow students to answer
this open-ended question and discuss briefly. Tell them the next segment
of the video will describe some of the ways the gold rush changed America.
- Push PLAY once again (20:32 on the
counter). A man is standing next to a mountain with a pick (black and
white photo) and a narrator will be just beginning to speak on the changes
of America after the Gold Rush. Push STOP at 22:08 on the counter.
- FAST FORWARD to 47:35 on the counter.
Push PLAY. There will be two kids and an adult on horses near
a small house (black and white photo) and a narrator will be speaking.
Watch video until 52:02 on the counter. Push STOP once again.
- Have students create two lists-What was enticing
about the Gold Rush? and How did the Gold Rush change America?. List
students' ideas under appropriate categories on the board.
Westward Ho! Westward Maps
- Pass out one brown paper bag to each student.
- Instruct students to retrieve their markers.
- Tell students they will be making their own
maps of a trail they will take to get "out west".
- Send students back to the computers. Write
the URL for the OCTA
Trail Map website on the board.
- Tell students to go to that website (again,
it should be book marked as well) and to look at the various routes
taken by people in search of gold. Tell them to explore the different
sites along the way, and learn about the importance of some of them.
- Have students come back to their seats. Tell
them to crinkle their brown paper bags up, to give them an old-fashioned
- Students will then create a map based on what
they learned from the OCTA
Trail Map website. Tell students they must each place 4-5 important
sites along their trails.
- In this activity, students will be given several
sheets of parchment paper, a brown paper bag, several pieces of dried
leaves and/or berries, and a scrap of rope.
- Tell the students they are to create a journal
from the viewpoint of either:
- A 49er (someone seeking gold)
- The wife of someone going out west for
- The child of someone going out west for
- A native encountered by the gold seekers
- Instruct students to crinkle the bags for
a more authentic look. They can then glue any leaves or berries to the
covers of their journals. Next, they must place several sheets of parchment
paper between the covers and tie them together with the rope.
- Inside the journals, the students must write
about hypothetical events, situations, and people they encountered and
endured from the viewpoint of the person they take on.
Panning for Gold
- Describe the process of panning for gold to
the students. Miners pan for gold to separate the rocks, sand, and gravel
from the gold nuggets and pieces. Demonstrate this process at the wading
- Allow students to pan for gold in groups of
Gold Rush Documentaries
- Divide students into 4-5 small groups.
- Explain to students that they are going to
be doing their own documentaries on the California Gold Rush. They will
then share these videos with the remainder of the class to bring all
the Gold Rush learning together. Tell them that each group will be given
one video camera, and that they must be extremely careful with and respectful
of them. Demonstrate to students how to use the video cameras (instructions
will depend on specific type of camera).
- Write the following topics on the board:
· native groups
· the start of the gold rush
- Allow each group to choose one of these categories
(or other categories of choice as long as it is approved by the teacher
and matches what they have been learning). (Each group must have a different
category, allow class to work this out.) "
- Instruct groups to do research on the designated
topics on the computers. Write a list of websites on the board (helpful
websites listed under media components). Tell students that each of
these websites is book marked. Instruct students on how to find the
- Once the students have researched their topics,
tell them to create their own video documentary on the California Gold
Rush. Tell class to be creative, having an anchor, reenacting certain
scenes, etc. Tell students (as well as writing this on the board) that
the videos must be no more than 5 minutes long. Each video must include
· At least 3 famous people
· At least 2 different scene enactments
· At least 1 map, showing location of documentation
- Bring class back together, rewind videos,
and view each group's documentary. Through this activity, students can
learn about the various aspects of the gold rush.
- For science, students could learn about geology
by studying gold, fool's gold, and exploring the difference between
the two. They could examine samples of each to see if they notice a
difference. Students could also learn about other precious metals that
people mine for.
- Math could be incorporated with activities
that make students figure the mileage of the different trails people
traveled when going west. They could compare these distances and choose
the quickest trail.
- Incorporate economics by having the students
learn about the gold standard and how it compares to what we base our
money on today.
- To integrate Language Arts, have students
choose an aspect of their choice regarding the Gold Rush. They can then
research that topic and create presentations to share with the rest
of the class. Their presentations can be PowerPoint, overheads, posters,
or any other means the students wish to use.
- Invite a gold panner into the classroom to
discuss and demonstrate the process of panning for gold.
- Invite a banker into the classroom to discuss
the gold standard in the time of the California Gold Rush. This person
could also discuss what our money value is based on today, what the
value of gold is today, and how that compares.
- Students could travel to an historical museum
to explore clothing, artifacts, tools, and other exhibits from the time
of the Gold Rush. Here students could learn about the lifestyles of
people their age during the Gold Rush (i.e. what children's roles were,
what kinds of clothes they wore, what kinds of games they played, how
early they were married, who was educated, etc.).
- Students could collect artifacts, clothes,
tools, etc. from the period of the Gold Rush (perhaps family members,
neighbors, etc. would have these).
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