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Lesson: The Cowboy Life


  • Language Arts
  • Visual Arts
  • Social Sciences/History


  • 3-8

Brief Description

Travel back in time to discover what life was like for people of the early American West.



  • learn about life in the old west; they relay that knowledge through a variety of activities/projects.
  • work with peers to assemble meaningful presentations.


West, westward expansion, cowboy, frontier, pioneer

Materials Needed

  • Computers with Internet access
  • a variety of supplies such as index cards, markers

The Lesson

This is your big chance! You have been asked to create a presentation about America's Western Frontier to a group of philanthropists who may donate funds for a Western Museum. Through a generous grant, you and your friends have been approved to travel back in America's time to the 1800s. Upon your return, you will share your knowledge at a conference that is modeled after a chuckwagon feed.

The following tasks can be included among the ones from which students will choose. Each student should choose at least four (4) activities to include in his/her presentation. The "Web Site Resources" section at the bottom of this page includes Web sites students might use as they complete their research. Students might work in pairs to complete these activities; as an alternative, students might complete two activities on their own and two others that they can do on their own or with a partner.

Use a Venn diagram or another graphic organizer to organize the pluses and minuses of a cowboy's way of life.

Research jobs available in the Old West. There are sure to be advantages and drawbacks to each. Choose one job you would like to do and describe it on an index card. Choose a western name for yourself; introduce yourself to your audience as this person and explain how you survive and what you do for work in the Old West.

Write an ad for a "position wanted" or "position to be filled"; the ad should reflect jobs and wages of the early west. These can be created on index cards. Gather your classmates' ads to create the "want-ads" section of a local newspaper.

Gather props and take photos of yourself in western garb; you might insert your image in a western setting that you find on the Internet.

Research the role of the horse in the Wild West. Explore breeds of horses and list a dozen things one must do to keep his or her horse in tiptop shape.

Research a famous cowboy or fur trader and create a collector card (similar to a baseball card) about that person. You can use index cards, or create the collector card using Appleworks Draw or MS Word.

Research a famous outlaw or gunslinger and create a collector card as explained above. (Duplicates can be made of these so the group can exchange to acquire a set.)

Create a Wanted poster of yourself or a real gunslinger or outlaw. Add a frame and details to aid in apprehension of the outlaw. What is a realistic reward for the days of the Old West?

Create a tombstone for a person you researched. Use a computer or drawing tools. Cut out the tombstone and add it to a classroom display that recreates a cemetery of the Old West.

Research a product to advertise in an early western catalog. Use MS Word or Appleworks Draw. Remember to employ good advertising tactics. Gather your ad and those of others to create a class catalog -- complete with index page -- that lists items advertised. Be sure your prices reflect the prices of that era.

Before you return to the present day, you and your friends will want to pose for a group photo. Everyone should wear western garb such as masks, hats, and kerchiefs. If you wish, create simple cardstock eye masks that can be held by a tongue depressor on one side. Cowboy hats can be created in the same way and attached to the top of the eye masks. Print the photo for your presentation.

Music and poetry was a source of entertainment in the Old West. Research some of the music and poetry of that era. Choose a couple of songs and/or poems to share.

Upon your return to the present day, host a Chuckwagon feed for the philanthropists. Be sure to serve foods reflecting Old West cuisine, such as baked beans, biscuits, jerky, dried fruit, trail mix.

Questioning your audience is a good way to get them interested and involved in your presentation. Write five questions you will use in your presentation to do that.

Web Site Resources
Students might use the following (and other similar) Web sites as they do the research necessary for their projects:


Students will be assessed on their cooperation during the lesson as well as the products they create. A group assessment will be given on the effort involved in their Chuckwagon Feed Presentation.

Submitted By

VaReane Heese, Springfield (Nebraska) Elementary School

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Last updated 01/17/2012