As a middle school teacher, sometimes you may think you are in the Wild-Wild West. But, this couldn't be further from the truth. We are in the 21st Century and are thankfully only tasked to teach our kids what this time period of the Wild West was and we can leave the gun slingin', spur-wearing, horse-riding era of Wyatt Earp and Annie Oakley in its past and wait out those middle school years safely.
Keep reading for 28 fresh ideas on how to teach the Wild West:
1. Start With a Catchy Tune
Get tween hyped up for your unit and set the tone with Will Smith's song, Wild, Wild West! Kids will absolutely LOVE starting class with this upbeat '90s tune, and there is no better way to trigger memory than with a little playful music!
Learn More: WillSmithVEVO
2. The Geography of the West
Give kids their bearings of the Western landscape along with general information and vocabulary with this helpful PowerPoint presentation. Showing them this information prior to teaching them about this historical time will help give them some background knowledge.
Learn More: Slide Serve
3. First Cowboys and Cattle Driving
When many think of cowboys, the first thing that comes to mind is people like Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill, and the like. But teaching kids about the first REAL cowboys, and their job as cattle players will help them understand where the term originally comes from.
Learn More: University of Texas
Middle schoolers will be 100% engaged during this part of your Wild West unit. Teach them about all the outlaws and bank robbers to snag their attention from the start! Who doesn't love learning about a cunning bank robbery?
Learn More: Legends of America
5. Photographic Evidence
Show teens what a Wild West town looks like with these rare photos of Western towns, cattle herds, gold mining, and more. Bringing imagery to such a far-removed concept will help kids really understand what those unruly, hard-working times were like.
Learn More: Author Stream
6. Which Way to the Wild West?
This book would be a great read-aloud or book club during your Wild West unit because it not only offers factual information but the details the book offers are portrayed in an incredibly humorous way that will connect instantly with middle school students.
Learn More: Amazon
7. You Wouldn't Want to be An American Pioneer!
This read-aloud is a light, quick read that depicts Westward expansion in its full glory without sparing the important and true details. The hardships and truth of the Gold Rush and Westward travel of the time period come to light.
Learn More: Thriftbooks
8. The Wild West in the 1800s
Most of the time people think of the Wild West and immediately visualize gunfights, crazy times, and complete unrest, but this isn't completely accurate. Westward expansion and the Transcontinental Railroad happened, but it wasn't cowboys fighting each other on the regular. Find out where the real tragedies were.
Learn More: Captivating History
9. End of the Wild West
How did the Wild West end in the United States? This historical time period technically ended as the massive migration of people slowed in the early 1900s. This slideshow explains how and the events leading up to the end of Westward expansion, Wild West towns, and gold panning.
Learn More: Study.com
10. Have a Gold Rush Day
Classroom transformations are all the rage right now. Use this theme day idea to help reinforce to your middle schoolers what panning for gold was. Find faux gold nuggets, gold pieces, mining images, and more to decorate and add some pizazz! Besides, it switches up the same old, same old!
Learn More: Ultimate Camp Resource
11. Wanted Posters
Turn history into art with this fun and interactive cowboy activity. After learning about some famous gunslingers, students do a quick biographical wanted poster to help them remember the most important information. This is a creative and fun Wild West craft!
Learn More: Eduventuring
12. Ongoing Anchor Chart
Using an anchor chart in the classroom to explain how the Europeans and their horse coaches heading across the United States affected the Native Americans is a great way to document the Wild West. It serves as a place to stop and jot ideas throughout the unit.
Learn More: Pinterest
13. Lewis and Clark
Teach middle school students about Lewis and Clark's expedition and their part in the Westward expansion with this fun map and craft. Deepen their knowledge using historical thinking concepts and questioning.
Learn More: Crayola
14. Art & Music of Native Americans
Bring in the arts & music of a variety of multiple Native American tribes to teach middle schoolers about the human side of Native Americans. It will help them really understand them as people to drive home the importance of tolerance.
Learn More: Potawatomi
15. Trail of Tears
Remind middle school students that while expanding West was incredibly beneficial to us as a country, it left a lot of heartache in its wake and displaced or even completely wiped out some Native American tribes.
Learn More: Brittanica
16. Invite Students to Dress the Part
Really getting your tweens involved and taking ownership really helps set the tone. Invite them to dress up in a cowboy version of a costume. You could even do a Wild West craft by allowing students to create their own cowboy hats and throw a western party!
Learn More: Mimi's Dollhouse
17. Notebooking Unit
Middle school students should really know how to do intensive research. This complete notebooking unit will do just that as they research some of the heavy hitters and other information about the wild west.
Learn More: Home School Giveaways
18. Wild West Craft Project
This research project gives students another opportunity to research a historical figure from the Wild West and then create a License that explains the who, what, when, where, why, and how they were important to the United States.
Learn More: Read Write Think
19. Tie it in Everywhere
When students are immersed in their topic it helps the knowledge stick a little easier. Whether it's a small group lesson, homework, or an independent assignment, a worksheet about specific aspects of the Wild West like the one linked here will really reinforce what you're teaching.
Learn More: Ed Helper
20. Eliminate Myths
Help students in grades six through eight use appropriate terminology, ideas, and concepts when learning about the Wild West. This site explains several well-known myths surrounding this topic, and the truth behind them.
Learn More: Teacher Institute, Yale
21. Wild West Field Trip
If your school is close enough, take a field trip to a place like Donley's Wild West Town to immerse your students in a Wild West town.
Learn More: Donley's Wild West Town
22. Virtual Field Trip
If your school is too far to visit, take middle school students on a virtual field trip to Buffalo Bill Center of the West and learn about Native American culture, Westward expansion, and more.
Learn More: Buffalo Bill Center of the West
23. Share Tall Tales
Converse with students about the tall tales of the Wild West and see which ones they've heard and which they haven't and discuss the myths surrounding them to finally set the story straight.
Learn More: Teaching History
24. Blueprint of a Covered Wagon
Tie in the Wild West to other subject areas by having students use a blueprint to create their very own covered wagon. This will require math and mapping skills as well as working with groups.
Learn More: Amazon
25. Make Pioneer Meals
Invite students to try some recipes to bring for a potluck all based around the Pioneers. Or, if your school is lucky enough to have home economics or a cuisine class then utilize that space to teach kids how to cook these items! Fun and delicious!
Learn More: Education Possible
26. Oregon Trail Online Game
This game has been around for decades and has always been a fun way to try your hand at survival! Let kids in on this classic by signing them in online as a free-time activity.
Learn More: The Oregon Trail Game Online
27. Oregon Trail Video
Let kids learn about the trials of the journey Westward through this video that outlines how pioneers battled the elements and sickness along the Oregon Trail.
Learn More: ozemay22
28. Host a Pioneer Day
Another classroom transformation idea could revolve around living like pioneers for a day. Make homemade butter, wash garments on a washboard, and more while giving tweens a little glimpse of what the life and times of Westward expansion were like.
Learn More: Literacy Loves Company