Developing the Western Frontier

U.S. History Gilded Age Developing the Western Frontier
Students learn about the Homestead Act of 1862 and how the new law affected western migration. Then they learn about the challenges that farmers faced and the alliances they established to overcome these challenges. Finally, students analyze how the Homestead Act contributed to the closing of the western frontier.

This learning experience is designed for device-enabled classrooms. The teacher guides the lesson, and students use embedded resources, social media skills, and critical thinking skills to actively participate. To get access to a free version of the complete lesson, sign up for an exploros account.

1:1 Devices
Teacher Pack

The Pack contains associated resources for the learning experience, typically in the form of articles and videos. There is a teacher Pack (with only teacher information) and a student Pack (which contains only student information). As a teacher, you can toggle between both to see everything.

Here are the teacher pack items for Developing the Western Frontier:

Preview - Scene 1
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In this experience, students ask questions about an animated map of population density over the nineteenth century. Then they examine the impact of the Homestead Act on the western frontier. Next they analyze the effect of geographic factors on the Klondike Gold Rush. Finally they read about the closing of the American frontier and write an opinion about whether this development represented a turning point in U.S. history.


  • Describe the Homestead Act's impact on the westward frontier.
  • Explain the physical and human geographic factors of the Klondike Gold Rush.


From the days of the early Republic, the United States had been growing westward. The frontier represented the opportunity for people to own land. By the end of the nineteenth century, the U.S. population stretched from sea to shining sea. In this experience, you will learn about the final development and closing of the western frontier.


  • Describe the Homestead Act's impact on the westward frontier.
  • Explain the physical and human geographic factors of the Klondike Gold Rush.

photograph of a family alongside a horse-drawn wagon

A Pioneer Family (ca. 1886)

Watch the animated map, Following the Frontier Line, 1790 to 1890. The map is based on census data over the nineteenth century.

Ask a question based on what you saw on the map.

Review student questions with the class. Sample questions:

  • What events led to the growth of cities on the west coast, and also Salt Lake City and Denver?
  • What was happening in the vast spaces where population was very sparse?
  • What happened to the American Indian population as settlement moved westward?
  • How does the map from 1890 compare to today’s population density map of the United States?

The Student Pack includes three population density maps for comparison: 1870, 1890, and 2020. Point out to students how much the scale changed in the latest map: each dot represents 7,500 people. In the 1890 map, the darkest color represented only 90 people per square mile, and dots represented cities over 8,000 inhabitants.

When everyone is ready to continue, unlock the next scene.

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