The Wild West is an engaging time period that kids enjoy learning about. From cowboys to bank robbers, the time period is shrouded in media portrayal that distorts actual history. In the lessons and activities below, students will reframe what they thought they knew about the "Wild West". Here are 25 Wild West Activities for High School.
1. Old West License Project
This research activity encourages students to thoroughly research the 19th-century time period. Then, they present their information on a western-themed "driver's license". Students then present their information to the class. This is a great alternative to a more formal research assignment.
Learn More: Read Write Think
2. Wild West Photo Study
In this activity, students discover the themes of the time by studying photographs. They will first review real photographs and observe cultural elements of people's lives. Then, students will write a first-person narrative on a sheet of paper using the photos.
Learn More: LOC.gov
3. From Vaquero to Cowboy
Students will love learning about vaqueros and cowboys in this lesson. Students will compare vaquero and cowboy experiences. They will also look for Spanish roots in the American cowboy experience. For example, they will compare words like "lasso" and "Lazo".
Learn More: Smithsonian Education
4. Play Bang!
This game encapsulates the survival experience in the Wild West. Students will play different Wild West rules and fight for survival in this classic card game. This is a quick-draw game that includes cowboys and outlaws that kids will love.
Learn More: Friday We're Inlove
5. Write About the Canyonlands
This writing activity encourages learners to use figures of speech, poetic devices, and imagery to write haikus. Teachers can display the students' haikus on card stock around the classroom to set the scene for a Wild West unit.
Learn More: PBS
6. Tonight Our Guest Is...
In this oral presentation, students will develop questions and answers as if they are interviewing a nocturnal animal that had to adapt to the canyonlands. Students then present their animal to the class as if interviewing it on a television show.
Learn More: PBS
7. Cowboy/Cowgirl Crafts
These craft activities are fun and creative for the cowboys and cowgirls in your class. Students can create a cowboy or cowgirl popsicle stick craft and/or they can decorate a cowboy boot. They can also decorate their own cowboy hat.
Learn More: Center Of The West
8. Take a Virtual Field Trip
Especially after COVID, there are opportunities for students to take a virtual field trip. In this virtual field trip, students can explore the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder and retrace her experiences in The Little House on the Prairie.
Learn More: Simple Homeschool
9. Covered Wagon Journaling Activity
Teachers and students will love this narrative assignment. Students will write about their experience in the Wild West as if they are riding a covered wagon. This assignment encourages students to empathize with the people of the time while practicing important writing skills.
Learn More: Laura's Prairie House
10. Make a Pioneer Meal
This is another activity that students can do at home or in the classroom. Use the recipes and have kids cook pioneer meals. They can cook at home with their families for extra credit, or they can cook in small groups if there are resources available in the school.
Learn More: Education Possible
11. Make a Pioneer Craft
There are so many wild west craft ideas that teachers can incorporate into their Wild West unit. These hands-on activities, like making a quilt or braiding a rug, will help learners understand the difficulty of people's lives during the time period.
Learn More: Education Possible
12. Paper Log Cabins
This is a great art activity for students. Students will plan, design, and create their own log cabin on construction paper using paper scraps. This Wild West craft requires minimal resources or clean-up (even better!), but students will use critical thinking skills to "build" their cabin.
Learn More: Kinder Art
13. Make Butter Like Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is a classic activity that most students will do at some time in their education. Students will learn how to make butter as they did during westward expansion. This activity, again, will help students understand and appreciate how difficult life was in the west.
Learn More: Laura's Prairie House
14. Learn About Dorthea Lange
Dorthea Lange was a great photographer that captured life on the plains, especially during the dust bowl. Her real-life images are some of the most renowned of the time. In this lesson, students will explore her photographs and write six-word stories about them.
Learn More: National Cowboy Museum
15. Learn About the Cattle Drive and Westward Expansion
Cattle driving was a key aspect during westward expansion. In this lesson, students will explore cattle drives and their effect on the wild west town. Students will use arts & music in this lesson to create Help Wanted signs.
Learn More: AG Classroom
16. Pair Your Lessons With Literature
There are so many great accounts of the Wild West experience in literature. Use literature to start the conversation about the transcontinental railroad, accounts of cowboys, and bank robbers. This website list Wild West literature.
Learn More: Teachers First
17. Pair Your Lessons With Videos
This list of Wild West videos is the perfect way to start daily lessons during a Wild West unit. This list of videos includes information about Manifest Destiny, the Mexican American War, and the California gold rush. Each video is high-interest and engages learners to think deeper about the impact of the "Wild West" on history.
Learn More: The Clever Teacher
18. Westward Expansion Unit Study
This unit study plan is literature-based and project-based. Students will work on a long-term project that focuses on inquiry. Even better, this unit plan offers choices for students to explore history, while also showing what they learned in a way that they enjoy.
Learn More: Our Journey Westward
19. Study the Battle of Little Big Horn
The Battle of Little Big Horn is misremembered in textbooks and the historical narrative. This lesson explores the misconceptions about the battle and then teaches students what the battle was really like. This lesson explores the battle from multiple perspectives, including the Native American experience.
Learn More: C-Span.org
20. Cowboy Life
Kids love cowboys and learning about cowboys because of modern portrayals of the "American cowboy" experience. This activity, however, will challenge students to question their preconceived notions of the cowboy experience, compare what they know and what they learn, and develop a presentation with a peer.
Learn More: Education World
21. The West As Legend
This lesson focuses on the legends and myths surrounding the "Wild West". There is a multitude of resources available that present information on what the west was really like and how legends and myths developed from the time period. Kids will learn eye-opening facts that help them to reorganize what they thought they knew about the Wild West.
Learn More: Teaching History
22. Wild West Towns
Students will create a visual portrayal of a Wild West town in this Wild West craft. After researching a wild west town, students will then use card stock or a piece of paper to bring the town to life. Students will enjoy looking at their peers' towns as well, plus teachers can put these on display around the classroom.
Learn More: The Art Of Education
23. Wild West PowerPoints
Some teachers may prefer the lecture method of presenting information but putting together effective PowerPoints takes a lot of time and research. This website, however, does the leg work and provides meaningful and interesting presentations that will interest learners.
Learn More: American History
24. Wild West Leisure Time
Students today have a difficult time understanding what people did before the internet and smartphones. This lesson encourages learners to think about life before modern technology. Students will explore what people did for fun, leisure, and entertainment during westward expansion.
Learn More: Thirteen
25. You be the Judge!
This is a unique activity that explores the codes and laws of the Wild West. Students will learn about how the west created, enacted, and enforced laws. Students will also compare these rules and laws to how laws are developed and enforced today.
Learn More: Courts.wa.gov