California Gold Rush Project Ideas

Instructor: Kristen Goode

Kristen has been an educator for 25+ years - as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, and a university instructor. She holds a doctorate in Education Leadership.

The California Gold Rush was a definitive event in American history that students should have a solid understanding of. Teaching students about the California Gold Rush is important in developing an understanding of how the country was settled.

The California Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush, which began in 1848 and lasted until the mid 1850s, was an event that brought hundreds of thousands of people to California in the hopes of finding gold. It is important for students to understand the significance of this event as a part of the full settlement of America. Encouraging students to complete various Gold Rush themed projects is one way to help students solidify their understanding of this event. These projects are designed for middle and upper elementary students but could be adapted for middle school by utilizing technology to create and present the projects and requiring students to go more in depth in their research and descriptions.


After studying the California Gold Rush, have students create a diorama depicting a scene that might have represented this time period using:

  • A shoebox (or another type of open box)
  • Crafting supplies such as construction paper, markers, glue, scissors
  • 3D objects found or created (such as figurines, models of wagons, rocks)

Once complete, have students write a paragraph explaining their diorama and what it represents. Also, allow time for students to share their work with their classmates. Be sure to display the completed dioramas somewhere in the room.

If students are computer savvy and have technology available they could design a short video diorama using PowerPoint, Prezi or other presentation software (even 3D software) and present it to the class.

Digging for Gold

Let students experience the process of actual mining for gold. (This project is for elementary students.)

  • Ahead of time:
    • Paint several small rocks with gold paint
    • Hide or bury the rocks in the schoolyard, in a sandbox, or somewhere that students might have access to.
    • Bring digging tools and shallow pans
  • Give students a set amount of time (5-10 minutes) and send them out to ''dig for gold.''
  • Bring students back in and have them share their findings.
  • As a class, talk about the experience of looking for gold (strategies used).


To encourage an understanding of what life was like during the California Gold Rush, have students create a journal.

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