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Software Reviewed By:  _______Heidi Brown_________________   Your Email Address: _albrown@together.net____________________

Title of Software:

Product name

__The Oregon Trail_______________________


___5Th Edition/2001______________________

Platform / Operating system

Win 3.x  Win95  Win98  WinNT  Win2000  MAC UNIX  Other
  Specify: ___WinXP_________________

Subject:      Social Sciences – Adventures Along the Oregon Trail

Publisher:   The Learning Company

ESL/EFL Level(s):     Basic Low Intermediate   Intermediate  High Intermediate  Advanced
(Click all that apply.)

Age group:     kindergarten   elementary grades  middle grades  high school  college age  adult interest
(Click all that apply.)

Windows System requirements:


MB Ram   

at least 32  at least 64   at least 128   more than 128

Processor speed

286  386  486  Pentium II  Pentium III

Hard disk space free

2 MB 4 MB 6 MB 8 MB 10 MB more than 10 MB

Windows Version

  Windows 3.1 Windows 95 Windows 98Windows NT

Graphics card (w/compatible monitor)

8-bit VGA 16-bit VGA SVGA

Peripherals (Click all that apply.)

CD-ROM Drive   Headphones or Speakers  Mouse
Sound Blaster (or compatible) sound card  Microphone

Macintosh System Requirements:


MB Ram

4 MB 5 MB 6 MB 7 MB 8 MB 9 MB 32 MB

Processor Speed

68030 or newer: yes no(NOT SPECIFIED)

Hard disk space free

2 MB 4 MB 6 MB100 MB

System Version

7.0 or higheryes no

Graphics card (w/ compatible monitor)

8-bit VGA 16-bit VGA SVGA


CD-ROM Drive  Headphones or Speakers  Mouse
Sound Blaster (or compatible) sound card  Microphone

Time needed to complete:

less than 30 minutes 30 minutes 60 minutes more than 60 minutes

Learner group size:

individual  pair   small group  large group  whole class

User friendliness:

not at all somewhat average good excellent

Prerequisite skills or activities
Describe any skills that learners must have BEFORE using the program.  Describe any activities that must be completed BEFORE the learner can use the program.

Students need to have been exposed to the content-rich vocabulary. Students will also need to have some scaffolding of the pioneer experience so that they may better understand the choices presented in this simulation.

Program Description
In detail, discuss the content of the program, including all options offered in pull down menus, branching capabilities and progression from one part of the program to another.  Discuss the steps that must be taken by the learner to complete the program successfully.

The first screen image of The Oregon Trail program allows the viewer to choose between six options.  You can go to the Users Guide to get an overview of the program and each of its options.  You can proceed directly to the game. You can view the Montgomery Family Journal and print a copy.  You can view a Demo. And finally, you can exit or uninstall the program. 


When you proceed to the game you will have to enter data onto a Trail Journal page.  This data changes the outcome of each adventure as the student chooses his/her occupation, wagon model, age, companions and starting finances.  Students are able to choose from three levels of difficulty at this time.  The Greenhorn level allows the students to receive lots of advice and make few decisions.  The second level, the Adventurer, lets the student become more adventurous, making more choices about the journey.  The Trail Guide is the third level.  This requires the student to make all the choices along the route.

After the student has selected from these options, they are able to buy supplies and livestock for their journey.  The student can manipulate the mouse around town to make these purchases and talk with townsfolk about the trip ahead.  When the wagon is packed and everything is ready the student is able to proceed on the journey.


The journey portion of the program has two main sections.

The first is the Trail Adventure Section.  This section is devoted to the learner as an active participant as a character on a wagon train.  They are able to gather information from four sources clearly identified by icons on the game menu. The first source of information is The Guidebook.  Players may use this much like the Pioneers did to gather information about the trail.  The guidebook functions as a historical reference.  The second resource for players is the Players Diary.  This is a record of the students’ adventures.  Students may add their own entries to this journal, much like the Pioneers did.  This personal journal can be printed. A third resource is the Glossary.  Accessed from the game menu this tool gives students descriptions of key words and names used throughout the game.  The final resource is the Overview Map.  This map provides students with an overview of the journey and marks their current location.

The second main section of The Oregon Trail is The Montgomery family section. This is a new element of the game.  It portrays a fictional family that wishes to travel from Missouri to Oregon.  As the student travels along the difficult trail, the program pauses to enable students to listen to journal entries and watch animated scenes of this fictional family’s struggle to make it to Oregon in 1848. The Montgomery Section is divided into parts.  Part one is their journal entries that provide students with tales, text, sketches and images of the Montgomery family experiences. This journal can be printed in its entirety for students to review.  The second part of this section is entitled Captain Jed’s Campfire Tales.  This part relies on stories told by a wagon guide.  Although Captain Jed is a fictional character, he is modeled after real guides of the west.  He shares many historical events that took place in the mid 1800’s.  These can be replayed at any time by clicking on the corresponding icons on the trail map. The third and final part of the Montgomery Family section is the Montgomery family movies. These are six animated movies of the Montgomery family and their adventures going west. These short animated films are also located on the trail map and marked by icons.


Once the game has started the Main Travel Screen provides details of weather, miles traveled, current location and moral level. There is a large potion of the screen devoted to the images of current location and dilemmas. To the immediate right the viewer is given a list of choices. Each time a choice is made, the screen plays out that scenario. If the choice is successful, a map appears and the learner can follow a trail marked by a red line until another challenge is presented.  If the learner’s choice is unsuccessful, another list of choices appears at the right of the screen. At the bottom right portion of the screen the learner can easily access information on supplies, the Guidebook, information on the health of the participants and details of the Montgomery family. Each has a clear colorful icon.

Along the trail, careful planning and decision-making are required.  Students must also keep track of their health, food supply and finances.  When these are low, they can click the Supplies icon.  This allows the student a choice of trading, hunting, gathering or fishing.  If the wagonload is heavy, students are allowed to dump supplies.  Students may also turn back in this section.

If the student completes the journey they are able to get a deed to land in Oregon or stake a gold claim.  Their journey has been tracked and they can print out a final score report.  This gives students points for health, cash on hand, supplies, year of travel and an end of journey bonus. A total score is available.

The pull down menu is pretty straightforward however under Edit, the student can choose to change the speed of the simulation.  This is a clever feature.


  • What does the program claim to help learners achieve? (What features does the program offer that will make learning easier--adequate "help" options, clear instructions, helpful feedback, option to correct mistakes?)
  • How does the program help instructors? (Does the software offer exercises that are supplementary to the kinds of things being taught in class already?  Does it provide information that the instructor is unable to/lacks time to provide?  Does it free up class time for new information by providing extra practice outside class hours?

The Oregon Trail simulates the arduous journey West made by the Pioneers. It offers students a chance to retrace the trail to Oregon and to witness first hand the challenges that faced the Pioneers along the way. Students are asked to guide their own wagon West and along their course are asked to make decisions about how to overcome obstacles. Additionally, students are responsible for ensuring that they have enough supplies and that participants remain healthy and rested.

This program is an excellent means of supplementing material presented in class. The content is accurate and relays information about the topic of Westward expansion in a real sense. Students will find this simulation motivating and interesting and gain an appreciation of the difficulties encountered by the Pioneers.

This program requires quite a bit of student time to complete the journey, however students can sample a portion of the journey or work in teams to attempt to complete different sections.

Type of Program:
Check all that apply.

Problem Solving  Drill and Practice  Simulation Informational   Game Student Tool  Teacher Tool ESL-Specific Non-ESL Specific  Testing  Text Reconstruction  Text Construction  Exploratory activities
Other: ______________________________

English Language Areas Covered:
Check all that apply.

Reading   Speaking  Writing  Vocabulary  Grammar  Listening   Cultural Competence  Computer
Conversational  Other: ___________________________

Pedagogical considerations--Program Operation:
Discuss, from an ESL learner's perspective,  how easy the software is to use.  Consider the following, and provide examples where/if appropriate:

  • Is there an instruction manual and/or an on-screen help option? 
  • Can the program and lessons be opened quickly and easily?
  • Are the program functions and instructions easy to follow, or do they cause frustration (what kind?)?
  • Can the learner move from lesson to lesson easily as well as go back to previous material?
  • Can the learner control the program (the options he/she chooses), or is there a set sequence that must be followed? 
  • Can the learner's work be saved?
  • Can the learner quit from any point in the program/save previous work?
  • Does the program require instructional support?  What kind?
  • Does the program make the learner's work and scores available to the instructor?
  • Does the program have an authoring function that allows the instructor to author his/her own text into the program?  Is it possible to modify lessons or add customized lessons to the syllabus?

The Oregon Trail program can be opened quickly and easily. The program functions and instructions are easy to follow with help readily available. There is a clear sequence map to mark the student’s progress and allow students to move forward or backward along the trail. Work can be saved and retrieved for future visits or in cases where the student fails to make it to their destination.

The Oregon Trail would require instructional support for ESL students to clarify content and guide student choices through frustrating challenges. Examples of these challenges include: how to best cross a river, how to get wagons up steep inclines, what to pack in the wagon, how to gather enough food for the trip and what to do in cases of injury or illness. Work and scores are available to the instructor and student alike, but no authoring or modifying functions are available.

Pedagogical considerations--Feedback:
Discuss how the software program evaluates the learner's response.  Consider the following:

  • How does the program keep track of scores?
  • Does the learner receive informative feedback for his/her response?
  • Does the software provide feedback for both correct and incorrect answers?
  • Does the program "flag" errors, such as by highlighting a particular part of a response that is incorrect?
  • How many tries does the learner get?
  • Is the correct response provided, and after how many tries?
  • Does the program allow the learner to repeat exercises (and correct mistakes) indefinitely?
  • Is the feedback encouraging?
  • Does the program record the number of attempts in addition to the number of correct/incorrect answers?
  • Does the program keep track of total time spent on an exercise?
  • Does the program calculate the learner's average scores, provide a progress chart, etc.?

Discuss several examples of feedback.

Feedback is immediate and students are able to receive advice when they make incorrect choices. Feedback given to the students is appropriate to their age level. Correct choices are marked by progression, but incorrect choices are usually marked by catastrophe. Younger learners may find this frustrating or frightening. The number of chances a student receives is dependant upon a number of variables.  Choices are not always clear-cut and again students may find this taxing.  Students are not given the correct choice at the two more difficult levels, but the student is able to go back to saved data and re-start the journey from that point. Students can check on their own progress and on a list of equipment and supplies they have accrued. Students must also keep track of weather conditions and on the health conditions of the pioneers that are on the trip.

Pedagogical Considerations--Content:
Check all that apply.  Then discuss the following:

  • Does the program integrate explanations into the exercises about the culture/literature/daily situations that may accompany the language?
  • Does the program focus on different cognitive strategies in the exercises, such as recognition, recall, comprehension, experiential learning (learning by doing), constructive understanding (using the computer as a tool to discover new information), and problem-solving (using the computer's capabilities to solve a problem)?  Which thinking skills are addressed mainly?
  • Does the program offer exercises that can be worked on by a pair or a group of students as well as an individual, and how well do the exercises lend themselves to class discussion or competition?
  • What type of input is expected from the learner (speech/text) and what kind of information does he/she receive (graphics, audio, text)?

Well organized  Well sequenced  Enjoyable
Interesting   Factually correct  Helps learning
Provides effective practice  Introduces new language understandably  Provides meaningful interaction between computer & learner  Provides communicative interaction between students  Creates challenge without anxiety
Free of excessive violence  Free of stereotypes
Takes advantage of computer's unique capability 
The content provided in the Oregon Trail program is well organized and very appealing to learners.  It accommodates varied learning styles, providing material in a number of ways.  Audio and video clips support text.  Learners “meet” real  people along the trail that provide real images of people the Pioneers themselves would have encountered.  The program is culturally appropriate, presenting many views of the varied population that moved west and presenting informative, accurate images of the Native Americans. The learner must employ a variety of cognitive strategies to complete the journey west.  Problem Solving is a main feature, as students must work collectively to make choices.  Students must recognize that some of the tasks are repeated and must recall what worked or what did not work in similar situations.  Students must also be willing to experiment and take a chance to discover new ways to overcome problems. 

This program lends itself to students working in pairs.  It would be an excellent means of getting children to discuss the rigors the Pioneers faced.  This program would also lead to excellent classroom discussion as pairs make both good and bad choices and deal with the consequences.  Progress and lack thereof may cause competition within the classroom and this would have to be addressed.

The learner is expected to provide a great deal of input by investigating different options, getting advice from people along the trail and watching the weather.  All of these are provided with graphics, video and audio.  The learner makes a choice by clicking that choice on the screen.  The results are provided immediately as the students watch their wagon successfully cross a river, make it up a hill or live through a time of illness.

Although hunting was a reality of the Pioneer experience, I feel younger students would be drawn to this feature of the program, perhaps inappropriately.   However, students are informed that they have over killed and this is a good feature that could lead to lots of rich discussion.

Pedagogical considerations--Program Output
Check all that apply.  Then describe some of the program output features.  Consider the following:

  • Are color, graphics, or sound necessary or important to the efficiency of the exercises?
  • Can the learner print out his/her work?
  • Can the learner print out information that is available on the screen?

Attractive screens
Attractive Graphics
Attractive Sounds

Print option available

The Oregon Trail program is colorful and attractive for learners.  The audio and video images are important to the presentation of a realistic wagon trip west.  The new storytelling feature provides students with background information on famous people and places of the west.  The learner can print out a copy of the Montgomery Family Journal, which would be an excellent resource for reading group material during this unit.  Students can also print out their own journal that they have added to along their journey. Each participant is given a final report of his/her journey as well as a deed to land in Oregon upon completion of the journey.  These may also be printed.

Example(s) of how this program could be used in the classroom
Discuss how an ESL/EFL instructor could incorporate this program into the curriculum/class.

This program provides a visual means of relaying content information that is presented in the classroom.  It would be an excellent resource for ESL students to use in conjunction with books and materials following the same Pioneer theme.  ESL students could pair up and try to simulate the difficult trip west.  The choices given along the trail would provide excellent opportunity for students to employ skills in decision making, problem solving, critical thinking, reasoning, map reading and handling emergencies.  The various obstacles and challenges would lead to rich discussion and provide opportunities to review vocabulary specific to the content.  Pairing students could make this a powerful experience that all students could participate in at some level, making them feel a part of the group.

Overall Opinion:

Highly recommended program  Pretty good
Useful  OK  Modifications Needed  Not Useful

Best Part of the Program
Summarize the program's strengths.

The Oregon Trail is an innovative, compelling simulation that depicts history with realistic images.  It accommodates varied learning styles presenting material in a variety of ways.  It allows students a chance to participate in making decisions about the trip and provides realistic outcomes.  This kind of active, participatory leaning is very appealing to students and teachers alike.

Worst Part of the Program
Summarize the program's weaknesses/shortcomings.

The main drawback of the program lies in its innovation.  Students may become easily frustrated and upset when their wagon overturns or members of their wagon train die. Students would have to be prepared for these outcomes, however realistic.

Another drawback for ESL students may be the complex language used.  The Pioneers speak like Pioneers with language appropriate to the 1800’s.  The vocabulary and text may be complex and frustrating for the ESL student but this could be overcome with activities and lessons scaffolding vocabulary knowledge prior to using the software.

Additional Comments:

The Oregon trail is an excellent simulation of an arduous wagon trip west.  ESL teachers and students will enjoy its realistic images.  It is a powerful program that allows students a chance to participate in history.