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“Choose Your Own Adventure”- Pioneer Version

Inspired by the Spanish Explorers version, this exciting portrayal of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” was created by a teacher from the Nebo School District. Through this simulation, students can participate in the Mormon pioneer journey across the plains by making key decisions that had to be made by real Mormon leaders along the trail.

Many thanks to Ms. Beddes for the time and effort it took to create such a fun activity.

Pioneer Simulation

Guided notes for Pioneer Simulation

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The Covered Wagon

It would take months to make the trek to Utah, so it’s no surprise that the pioneers had to adjust to life in a covered wagon! The book, Daily Life in a Covered Wagon explains in great detail the lifestyle of pioneers en route to Utah.

This book includes wonderful illustrations and photographs of items that were used on the trail, and it covers topics such as entertainment, river crossing, sickness and death, Indian country and more. This book is sure to add new insight on what the pioneers experienced on their way to their new home in Utah.

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Panguitch Quilt Walk

Sometimes when teaching Utah Studies, teachers tend to focus on the Salt Lake and Utah Valley areas. Well, what about the rest of Utah? How did cities such as Logan, Farmington, Panguitch, and St. George come about?

Brigham Young called many people to settle a new area of Utah. Once someone was called, and if they accepted the call (it was voluntary), that person asked others to accompany him to help build a new community. These people usually had certain skills that were needed in building a community, such as a blacksmith, farmers, carpenters, etc. These people would then uproot and create a new settlement elsewhere.

Panguitch, Utah is a good example of adventures and hardships faced in settling a new town. Mormon pioneers founded Panguitch in 1864, and because of the harsh climate, didn’t grow much that first year. As a result, they faced starvation unless they got some help, fast! Seven men decided to make the trip to a neighboring town to purchase flour and other supplies, but their wagons got stuck in the deep snow. They then decided to lay down quilts and walk across the snow, switching quilts as they walked. Pretty smart, if you ask me. Panguitch still has their Annual Quilt Walk every summer in commemoration of that event.

This activity is best done outside where there’s plenty of room, and if there’s snow on the ground!


  • Four quilts or blankets (Quilts would be more authentic, but could get dirty in this activity)
  • Two bags of flour (if you don’t want to use flour, you could 2 full boxes that weigh about as much)

Divide the class into two teams. Then pull the boys out of each team. Give each team of boys 2 quilts and tell them they can only stand on these quilts to and from their destination, which can be whatever distance away (you choose). These teams will race each other to see who gets food back to their team the fastest. They must use teamwork in alternating these quilts to the flour and back to the “starving” girls. It’s important that they actually lie the quilts out fully. This would have helped spread out their weight across the snow, and prevented sinking.

Every town/city has a story pertaining to its founding. Find them by looking at the city website, or by typing in “history of ____, Utah” in your search engine.

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Story Time: “Growing Up In Zion”

Growing Up in Zion: True Stories of Young Pioneers Building the Kingdom by Susan Madsen is another great book chock-full of stories from children who grew up in early Utah. Check out what life was like back then!

Like I mentioned in Story Time: “I Walked/Sailed to Zion”, gather your students around your feet and maybe even pass out a treat as you read them stories!

Do you have a favorite story from this book? Let’s hear about it and your other story-telling experiences in the comments below!

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Story Time: “I Walked/Sailed to Zion”

This is a great activity when discussing immigrants’ journey to Utah, especially the Mormons. When you think about it, with each pioneer family that came to Utah, came children. And with every child, came a story- a child’s view of the hard times in their family’s journey.

Many of you have heard of the books, “I Walked to Zion”and “I Sailed to Zion” by Susan Madsen and Fred Woods, both of which I highly recommend for a Utah Studies class. It’s full of stories from immigrant children and youth who made the long, strenuous journey to Utah. Find out what kinds of things they encountered, and the different trials experienced and lessons learned along the way.

Now for the really fun part…remember “story time” in kindergarten? Everybody would gather around the teacher in the front of the room, sit down on the “magic rug” and listen to a fun story read aloud? Sometimes she would even pass around a snack? Why not do the same thing with your Utah Studies class? Gather everyone around you on the floor, pass around a small snack (nothing that would cause a big distraction…), and start reading. Don’t forget to show pictures!

Before you become too scared to try this out, let me say that this idea actually came from my sophomore year of high school. I had a student teacher in my history class that did this activity with us, and I still remember it to this day! It was so much fun, just because it was different!

You’d be surprised at how much they’ll like this activity. It’s something new! Tell us how this went, and which stories you recommend the most from these books.

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Settlers vs. Native Americans

This land is your land…or is it my land? Now that your students have had units on both Native Americans and Utah pioneers and have grown some-what attached to these groups, what happens when there’s a conflict between them? Your students might have quite an opinion regarding this issue! This activity is a written correspondence between Native Americans and early Utah settlers which examines different points of view over the land-ownership conflict.

The activity is pretty simple. Using prior knowledge, students are to write a letter from a Native American’s point of view, to a Utah settler. They are to express their concerns about how their land is being taken over, and resources depleted, and share some ideas of how this conflict can be resolved. The length and content of the letter are your choice. Students sign the letter with an Indian name and state which tribe they are from.

After the letters are written, collect them and redistribute them at random until every student has someone else’s letter. They are to read the letter, and then turn it over and write a response as the settler. Write why you’ve come to Utah (Deseret), and why you need the land. Also include your own recommendations to solve this problem.

Let students return these letters to their original owner and allow them to read the responses. Students can share letters out-loud or with a partner. I like to ask for volunteers to read their letters so it can easily transition to a class discussion. Ask follow up questions, “What would you have done if you were the Native America/settler?” “Was this problem ever solved? If so, how? If not, why not?”

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Gender Roles

I think we can all agree that gender roles were very different over a century ago. Males and females each had their own sphere that only occasionally came together in sharing responsibilities. In a typical household, the men provided for the family through an occupation (farmer, craftsman, etc…)and managed the money he made. A woman’s role was nurturing and raising her children, cooking, cleaning, with perhaps a small trade of her own. As mentioned before, sometimes these spheres would merge together in certain areas. Sometimes women would work alongside husbands in the fields, or milk cows, have a small trade of her own, etc. But it is certain that each gender had his/her main responsibilities. This activity is a simulation that allows students to step into what would have been their gender role in Utah pioneer times.

This activity does require much preparation, but it is worth every bit of it for the education your students will gain in return.


  • Budget sheets (1 for every boy in the class)
  • Sugar snap peas (find in produce section of grocery store)
  • Can
  • Basic classroom cleaning supplies
  • Washboardand Tub(optional)
  • Basic sewing supplies and fabric (with administration approval)

For the boys… Prepare a budget sheet (much like the ones used in the Oregon Trail computer games). The boys in your class will need to divide their earnings between needs and wants. Along with obvious needs (flour, sugar, oats, etc…), also include things such as livestock, tools, clothing and fabrics that will make the student really ponder if he needs it or not. I also like to include things such as sweets, musical instruments ( i.e. banjo or fiddle), and I’ll even include “gift for wife”. They write down the quantity of the item they wish to purchase, and start deducting the prices from the total amount. It is up to the student if he would like to put any into his savings account.

For the girls… For the girls in my classroom, I will assign a few to clean the room. Pick up papers, organize backpacks under desks, spray and wash desks, counter-tops, board, etc. I found that even though students don’t like doing this on a typical day, these girls will actually get into their roles and start going to work, sometimes with a smile on their face! For the other girls, I will purchase sugar snap peas (still in the pod!) and their job is to open all the pods and empty out the peas into a can. If school policy allows, or with administration permission, you can even let some girls sew simple fabric together with a needle and thread.

After this simulation, I actually match up a boy to a girl as “husband” and “wife”.* Yes, at first there will much gagging, and comments such as, “…ew, gross!” But it’s important to show that even though each gender had its own role to fill, they also shared responsibilities as well.

Once paired up, the “wives” go back to their husbands and see what they’ve done with the budget. Seeing what “husbands” have done with their money can get some funny reactions! “What? You spent $15 on candy?” “A banjo? What do you need a banjo for?” If there are disagreements to how the money was spent, they need to compromise and make some changes.

After this simulation experience, follow up with a class discussion on what the students thought about their respective gender role. If you’re doing the Day in the Life… book, add another page describing the differences and similarities between men and women of today, compared to early Utah days.

*If there are uneven numbers, you can have there be widowers or widows. Widowers take a turn doing peas, while widows do their own budget sheet. I recommend doing it this way instead of having polygamous men…but, hey, it’s your classroom.

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A Day in the Life…

An important part of teaching any kind of history is making comparisons. What was life like for a 13 year-old pioneer, compared to a 13 year-old’s life today? What things have changed, and what have stayed the same?

To show students these comparisons, my students create books titled: “A Day in the Life of a 13 year-old Utah Pioneer”. I got this idea from a workshop given by the Jordan School District- a wonderful teacher shared it with us. As we learn about the pioneers throughout this unit, the students add a different page each day explaining differences/similarities in a particular area of life. The areas I use are school, transportation, work, chores, religion, entertainment, and etc.

To download a template, click: A Day in the Life

When I teach about what school was like, or the first school in Utah, at the end of class, I’ll give a new page to each student to add to their book. The top half of the paper is used to illustrate and write what school was like for a pioneer child. The bottom half is used to illustrate and write what school is like right now for that student.

“In pioneer times, children would go to school in a one house school building. Sometimes it was a tent! They would have different grades in the same room. They were taught the deseret alphabet…

Today, my school is huge with lots of different classrooms. We even have hallways full of lockers for each student! We aren’t taught the deseret alphabet. But thanks to computers, we have keyboarding classes!”

After a while, you’ll have a book full of comparisons. You can staple, or bind these books together when you’re done with the unit. Don’t forget to share your story with us by responding below! How did it go? What would you change?

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Pioneer Games

Like kids now-a-days, pioneer children had games they used to play to entertain themselves. You can find many pioneer games online, but here’s one of my favorites:

Hunter & Deer

  • 2 blindfolds
  • whistle (optional)
  • Choose one student to be the hunter, and another to be the deer. Blindfold both players. The rest of the class stands in a tight circle around the hunter and deer. When you give the signal (I blow a whistle), the hunter starts chasing the deer. Since they’re both blindfolded, it’s quite funny to watch. The deer, of course, is trying to stay away from the unseen hunter, and the hunter in trying to catch a deer he/she can’t see! If either player comes in contact with the student-formed boundary, that student will gently nudge the hunter/deer back into the middle of the circle. If the hunter catches the deer (and holds it for longer than 5 seconds), the hunter wins. If the deer can avoid being caught for at least 2 minutes, the deer wins.

    Of course, you can adjust this game however you’d like. I like to play this game outside and we usually play this game while making homemade butter. Students pass the jar of butter around the circle and take turns shaking it. See post titled Homemade Butter for more information.

    Here is a link with several more ideas for pioneer games:

    Have fun, and don’t forget to play it safe!

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    Homemade Butter

    Here’s a fun pioneer activity that also has taste! Most people have done something like this before, but it’s fun to do in a Utah History class. You may not have a butter churner, but making butter like this is kind of the same idea.


  • 2 half pints of whipping cream
  • 2 jars with secure lids (screw on lids work the best)
  • pinch of salt
  • bread and jam (optional)
  • Pour whipping creams into separate jars, and add a pinch of salt to each jar. Secure lids and shake!

    This does take a little while to make, but eventually the whipping cream conglomerates and turns into butter! Pass the jars around the room allowing each student to have a turn shaking a jar. I usually do this activity while we’re outside playing pioneer games, so the shaking doesn’t disrupt a lesson.

    You’ll know when the butter is ready when there’s a chunk of butter in the jar with some buttermilk surrounding it. You can discard the buttermilk if you’d like. Spread the butter on individual slices of bread for your students, and let them spread jam if desired. I promise, they’ll never forget this activity!

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