Social Studies Strand

Walk to MY Place!


Lesson Overview:

The focus on the Appalachian Trail in this unit provides an excellent springboard into learning about historic trails/routes. In this lesson, students investigate historic trails/routes as well as daily life at home after making the journey on a migration trail or route. The objective is to increase student awareness of geography, and to become familiar with geographic features and historical sites. At the same time, students will compare and contrast the lifestyles of the past to those of today, particularly within the context of physical activity and diet. If your emphasis is not U.S./state history and/or geography, you can easily adapt this lesson to better accommodate your social studies focus.


Connection to Core Lesson:

The core lesson (Steppin' into Fitness to Find an Energy Balance) uses a scenario centered on hiking the Appalachian Trail. Though it is currently a popular hiking destination, that trail is also steeped in history. Long before European settlers migrated to this country, many parts of the trail served as routes for travelers, continuing even after European settlement. This lesson builds off of that idea as a way to explore other trails/routes, as well as daily life for those who used the trails/routes historically, ultimately exploring why more people in the past may have had a better balance of calorie intake and expenditure.


Content Standards Addressed:

Common Core State Standards

National Standards 


Learning Objectives:

After completing this lesson, students should:

  • Develop a picture of daily life for people who lived in the historic period important to your study.
  • Recognize how difficult it was for settlers to move from place to place. They will be able to identify perils that existed (such as season changes, weather conditions, mountain travel and crossing rivers) that might have hindered their travel.
  • Connect the fact that modern conveniences have eliminated many daily physical activities of the past, so that physical activity should be accomplished in other ways.
  • Realize that the settlers must have been in good physical condition.

Materials Needed:

  • Atlas/maps.
  • Encyclopedias.


This may be an opportunity for you to learn more about historic trails/routes, as well as some more about the daily lives of those who traveled along the trails/routes. Regardless of your understanding, make sure you have the resources available for students to investigate historic trails/routes, as well as the daily lives of those who traveled along them. You can conduct Internet searches specific to trails and daily life in specific times and places, and/or you can use some of the sites suggested below.

Information and maps of many historic trails and routes can be found on the Bureau of Land Management website.


Suggested Lesson Steps:

1. As a class, quickly come up with a short list of ways in which people burn calories. The list is likely to include: working out (often using some type of exercise equipment), playing sports, running, swimming and so on.

2. To move the discussion to the time period and place that is important to your course of study, pose the question: How often did people living in X do any of the things on our list? Students should quickly realize few of the activities we do today to burn calories were done during that time.

3. Once students see there is little (if any) overlap, ask them whether people were generally overweight in that time and place. They may have no idea, but chances are students will speculate that people generally were not overweight. Follow by asking them why they think that is the case. If you worry the question is too speculative for your students, ask: If they didn't burn calories like we do, why do we in the U.S. today have a higher percentage of overweight people than they did in X? Students might conclude it is because of better diets and/or more daily physical activity that typically is not required of us today. Make sure students consider the fact that transportation from place to place - whether it was walking or riding horseback - required people to use more energy. 

4. Once the differences in modes of transportation are established, have students identify the ways in which people traveled. They are likely to cite most (if not all) of the modes of transportation. While talking about walking as a form of transportation, ask students what they learned when they examined the number of calories they would burn each day by hiking on the Appalachian Trail. (This is the focus of the core lesson.) This reflection should help them understand how people probably burned more calories during the course of a day than we do today.

5. And speaking of the Appalachian Trail ... ask students whether they know of any historic routes, and if they know whether the routes were more like the Appalachian Trail or were wider like today's roads. Some examples they might know include: the Trail of Tears, the Oregon Trail and the Natchez Trace.

6. Introduce what students will be doing in this lesson. That is, they will work in groups to get a sense of the daily life and a better understanding of how people traveled between places. In the end, students will determine whether daily living burned calories in the way we burn calories today through recreational and exercising activities.

7. Divide the class into four groups that represent the continental U.S.: Northeast, South, Midwest (Plains states) and West. Explain each group represents those sections within the U.S. (Or, if there is a more class-appropriate division - e.g., regions within one state or countries within a continent - divide the class that way. The steps that follow should be adaptable to this type of modification. For example, the focus might be less historic and simply a look at current geography and culture(s).)

8. Have students research their areas as they were in early American history. Subdivide each group into small groups - one responsible for trails and routes of travel for their area and the other responsible for learning about daily life in that area.

The trails/routes subgroups should try to determine:

- The trails/routes used most often, as well as the destinations along the route.

- The terrain/topography of the trails/routes.

- The mode(s) of travel along the trails/routes.

- The distance typically traveled in a day, and/or the amount of time typically required to travel between two popular destinations.

- The current status of the trails/routes - e.g., are parts still used by hikers for recreation?

The daily-life subgroups should try to determine:

- The cultural/ethnic background(s) of people who lived in the area.

- The typical types of housing in the area.

- Typical diets.

- Typical daily chores.

- Typical forms of recreation.


9. As whole groups, students should present what they discovered to the rest of the class. The presentations should be done as though someone has expressed interest in migrating to that area and wants to know more. For example, their presentations should be specific about the route(s) and typical travel time to get there. Students should paint a good picture of daily life, with particular emphasis on physical activity and diet.

10. For closure, as a class, discuss the differences in lifestyles between then and now.


Academic Extensions/Modifications:

  • As referenced in different parts of the lesson, you can modify this lesson if U.S./state history/geography are not your focus. The lesson's focus on travel routes/methods and daily life can transfer to a focus on countries and cultures outside of the U.S.
  • As whole groups, students could create a travel brochure that incorporates the information gathered in Step 8. With help of modern capabilities - e.g., photographs, desktop publishing, etc. - the brochures should be presented as if they were created during the time period that students investigated. The primary purpose of the brochures should be to convince others to migrate to the area.
  • If you are devoting class time to each region of the country separately - i.e., at different times throughout the year - have the class create brochures for each region as you study them.
  • To abridge the lesson, start with Step 4, having students identify the way in which people traveled and continuing the lesson until the end.


Assessment Criteria:

  1. Class participation.
  2. Four-Point Assessment (for oral presentation).
  3. Have students write formal responses that compare and contrast daily life today with that in the time and place for which they gave their presentations. The responses should focus especially on daily physical activity and diet. ​