Utilization Strategies

Lesson Plans

Meet the Teachers






by Alice Higgins and Trisha Evans
Idaho State University Students

GRADE: 6 to 8

TIME ALLOTMENT: Five 60 minute class periods

SUBJECT MATTER: Social Studies; History

The Corps of Discovery, the official title given the expedition led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and William Clark from 1804-1806 was one of the most significant expeditions in American history. Exploring and confronting the wilderness, which was newly acquired by President Jefferson in the Louisiana Purchase, the expedition endured physical, geographic and mental hardships. The success of the expedition is a source of great national pride and has been celebrated for generations.

Often overlooked in celebration of the Lewis and Clark expedition are the invaluable contributions of the Native Americans that were encountered along the way. Though her presence is recognized, the role of Sacagawea is often misrepresented and misunderstood in history books. This lesson specifically aims at the contributions of Sacagawea and her relatives, the Lemhi Shoshoni Indians, to the success of the Corps of Discovery. Activities in this lesson will enrich students’ historical knowledge by considering the experiences and perspectives of Sacagawea and the Lemhi Shoshoni Indians during this time period. In addition, the lesson will also demonstrate their reasons and motivations for aiding the explorers during their journey.


Students will be able to:

  • Identify the period of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the life of Sacagawea on a timeline that demonstrates the chronology of important events in American History.
  • Use maps to illustrate and correlate the course of the journey of the Corps of Discovery and trails used by the Lemhi Shoshoni Indians during this time period.
  • Enrich background knowledge and personal experience with historical fiction and journal entries from the Corps of Discovery to understand the hardships endured by the Lemhi Shoshoni and the Corps of Discovery during this time period.
  • Identify major conflicts that occurred or might have occurred that were remedied or prevented by the active role of Sacagawea and her relatives, the Lemhi Shoshoni.
  • Access prior knowledge about the expedition and demonstrate critical thinking skills in order to gain a more broad perspective about the reasons that the expedition was successful.
  • Specifically recognize the contributions of Sacagawea and the Lemhi Shoshoni Indians to the success of the expedition.
  • Articulate knowledge about the life of Sacagawea, the culture of the Lemhi Shoshoni Indians and their historical contributions to the Corps of Discovery by writing and performing a play.


From the National Standards for History, grades 5-12 www.sscnet.ucla.edu/nchs/standards

  • Students will distinguish between past, present, and future time and interpret data presented in time lines and create time lines by designating appropriate equidistant intervals of time and recording events according to the temporal order in which they occurred. (NSH 1A and 1E)
  • Students will appreciate historical perspectives-- (a) describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like; (b) considering the historical context in which the event unfolded--the values, outlook, options, and contingencies of that time and place; and (c) avoiding "present-mindedness,” judging the past solely in terms of present-day norms and values. (NSH 3F)
  • Students will draw upon data in historical maps in order to obtain or clarify information on the geographic setting in which the historical event occurred, its relative and absolute location, the distances and directions involved, the natural and man-made features of the place, and critical relationships in the spatial distributions of those features and historical event occurring there. (NSH 3G)
  • Students will draw upon visual, literary, and musical sources including: (a) photographs, paintings, cartoons, and architectural drawings; (b) novels, poetry, and plays; and, (c) folk, popular and classical music, to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative. (NSH 3I)
  • Students will analyze cause-and-effect relationships bearing in mind multiple causation including (a) the importance of the individual in history; (b) the influence of ideas, human interests, and beliefs; and (c) the role of chance, the accidental and the irrational. (NSH 3C)


  • United States Map
  • Photocopied sections from the book, The Truth About Sacajawea by Ken Thomasma.
  • Art supplies, such as rolls of blue, green and brown paper for props.


PBS, Ken Burns Series:: A Documentary Film,
Part 1, 2, 3: Lewis & Clark:
The Journey of the Corps of Discovery
. (1997)


The Truth About Sacajawea
by Ken Thomasma

Naya Nuki: The Shoshoni Girl Who Ran by Ken Thomasma


National Geographic Web Site http://www.nationalgeographic.com

This web site offers an interactive journey with Lewis and Clark. It puts the students survival skills to the test, in addition to offering trivia and excerpts from Corps of Discovery journal entries.

Thomasma Web Site

Ken Thomasma is an author that writes children’s books about Native Americans.


Bookmark the website used in the lesson. Load any plug-ins necessary to run the website. Cue the videotape to the appropriate starting point.

Photocopy sections from the book The Truth About Sacajawea by Ken Thomasma. Gather art supplies needed for scenery and props in play


Setting the Stage
The class will have been engaged in lessons about westward expansion, specifically the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis & Clark Expedition. To further prepare the students for the mini-unit on Sacagawea, we will have read the book Naya Nuki: The Shoshoni Girl Who Ran by Ken Thomasma. Naya Nuki was Sacagawea’s childhood friend. Together, along with others, they were captured by the Hidatsa Indians. Naya Nuki escaped and returned to her Shoshoni family. She traveled more than 1000 miles and endured extreme hardships.

The book demonstrates how the Shoshoni culture and lifestyle were conducive to survival and how having these skills Naya Nuki was able to survive. The book is significant because it provides insight as to what Sacagawea’s childhood was like and illustrates reasons for why she was so valuable to the Corps of Discovery.

Step 1:
To prepare students for this lesson we will review lessons about Lewis & Clark and the story about Naya Nuki by creating integrated timelines and maps. The timelines will demonstrate the correlation of the historical fiction book and the journey of the Corps of Discovery. The maps will show that the routes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition from Fort Mandan coincided with Naya Nuki’s escape route home from the Mandan-Hidatsa village.

Step 2
: Students will be asked to log on to the
National Geographic Web Site. http://www.nationalgeographic.com

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to name the point on the journey at which the expedition acquired the services of Sacagawea. Students will engage in an interactive journey with Lewis and Clark. Students will test their survival skills as they make decisions about the journey. In addition, students will click on trivia and journal icons that will supplement their knowledge about the expedition. After exiting the site, a discussion about survival will ensue.



Step 3: Sacagawea will be introduced and the role she played to the survival of the expedition will be discussed.

Create a KWL Chart

(What We Know/What We Want to Find Out/What We Learned and Need to Learn) on the board about Sacagawea.

As a group, the class will complete the chart based on what we know about Sacagawea and what we want to find out about Sacagawea. Students will then be assigned to read selected sections from the book, The Truth About Sacajawea by Ken Thomasma.

The book contains journal entries and synopses from the Corps of Discovery. Each student will read their section silently and will report their information about Sacagawea.

Complete the KWL chart and close the discussion.


Step 1: As a class, review the KWL chart that was created the previous day. Explain that the chart is not yet complete and instruct the students to bring new information to your attention so that it might be included in the chart. Insert video, Lewis and Clark, into VCR.

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION and ask them to raise their hands when they hear why Sacagawea’s husband was hired to join the expedition. START the video where there is a still shot of Fort Mandan and the narrator says “and on the bitterly cold evening of Feb 11th...”. STOP the video when the screensays “The Real Unknown”. Check for comprehension and ask the students if they know why Lewis and Clark thought Sacagawea would be integral to the expedition. Ask students if they have any information to add to the KWL chart.

Step 2:
Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION and ask them to think about how the voyage is different for everyone on it and particularly different for Sacagawea. START the video with the still screen that says “The Real Unknown”. STOP video when Clark says “This stream we called Sacagawea or Bird Woman’s River after our interpreter the Shoshoni woman”. Check for comprehension and ask students to discuss how this journey is different for Sacagawea than the others (this was a journey home for her, she was carrying a child on her back, she was a woman). Discuss the contributions that she has made so far to the expedition. These may be added to the KWL chart.

Step 3:
Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them to raise their hands when they know the name of the landmark that Sacagawea recognizes as being familiar. START video when the screen shows a picture of the Missouri river and Clark says, “we all believe that we are now about to enter on the most perilous and difficult part of our voyage...” STOP the video with “the chance to get those horses had quite possibly passed forever.” Check for comprehension and ask students to find the location of the expedition on the map. Ask students to identify the point at which Naya Nuki found her family when she escaped from the Hidatsa’s. Might the expedition be close to finding the Lemhi Shoshoni? Fill in KWL chart.

Step 4:
Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, by asking them to raise their hands when they know what it was that the Lemhi Shoshoni Indians needed from the explorers. START video at the still frame that says “The Journey of the Corps of Discovery” and STOP at “they named the spot “Camp Fortunate”. Check for comprehension and ask students to discuss how the needs of the expedition differed from the needs of the Lemhi Shoshoni Indians. Hypothesize what may have happened to each group had they not helped each other. Pose the question, would the two sides have been able to help each other without the presence of Sacagawea? Spend the remainder of the period reviewing the KWL chart, the timelines and the maps. Ask students to think about the role of Sacagawea and the Lemhi Shoshoni Indians in order to prepare for the next days activity.


In order to help students understand what Sacagawea’s life was like, try writing a play about her life with your students. Practice it, and then perform it.

Step 1.
Have your students review the background information on Sacagawea’s life. Have them help you list significant parts of her life (i.e. being kidnapped, meeting Lewis and Clark, having her son on the expedition, seeing her brother and her people again in Montana close to the Idaho border). Have these significant parts be the different scenes in your play.

Step 2.
Have your students help you list the main characters in Sacagawea’s life. (Main characters: Sacagawea, Charbonneau, Pompey, Lewis, Clark, and Cameawait). Assign students to play the roles of these main characters. Use the extra students as people from the different tribes (Hidatsa, Missouri Mandan, and Lemhi Shoshoni) and for extra people traveling with the expedition.

Step 3.
Have students find out all that they can about their character. What part or role do they play in this play?

Step 4.
Now begin writing your play with the students step by step. Have each character (student) take part in the writing and organizing of the play. If you want to keep it easy, have a narrator for your play so that the students don’t have to learn lines, they can just learn actions and positioning.

Your play should look something like this:
Scene 1: Sacagawea was born in approximately 1787 to a Shoshoni woman who was part of a Native American tribe that lived in the Rocky Mountain area of Northwestern United States. Her name means “Bird Woman” in the language of the Shoshoni.

Scene 2: When she was a young girl, she was captured by an enemy Native American tribe called the Hidatsa, and sold to a Missouri Mandan Native American.

Scene 3: Sacagawea was then sold to a French Canadian fur trader named Toussaint Charbonneau. Charbonneau married Sacagawea (she was at this point 16 years old) and she was pregnant.

Scene 4: When Sacagawea was about nine months pregnant, her husband was hired by Lewis and Clark (sent by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Purchase) to be an interpreter. They were in the North Dakota area in the winter of 1805 where they all settled down to wait out the long, cold winter before setting off west again.

Scene 5: Sacagawea’s baby was born in this North Dakota camp during the winter of 1805. She named her little boy Jean Baptiste but called him Pompey.

Scene 6: In the spring of 1805 Lewis and Clark set out west again. They were trying to find a water route to the Pacific Ocean and were following the Missouri River westward. Charbonneau and Sacagawea, with Pompey strapped to her back, traveled with them. Lewis and Clark soon found out that Sacagawea was much more help than her lazy husband.



Scene 7: The exploring party followed the Missouri River to its source in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. By this time, it was late summer of 1805. Winter would soon set in and the explorers realized that there was no water route to the Pacific. They had to get out of the mountains or they would freeze and starve to death. They needed horses todo this.

Scene 8: A group of Shoshoni Native Americans visited the explorers’ camp. Could Lewis and Clark persuade the Shoshoni to sell them horses? As soon as Sacagawea saw the leader of this tribe, she burst into tears. The man, Cameawait, was her brother from whom she had been kidnapped many years ago.

Scene 9: Lewis and Clark got their horses from the Shoshoni. They all were able to continue their expedition westward, cross the Rocky Mountains, and reach the Pacific Ocean.

Scene 10: On their way back, Sacagawea and her husband remained at their Mandan village.

Step 5. Now that the play is written, have the students’ think of ideas for costuming (what did the explorers and Native Americans wear at this time?). Have the students also think of some setting or scenery that could be used (Wilderness: accurate plants and trees, teepees, etc.).

Step 6. Put the play together and practice where students should stand, what they should say, and what they should do. This could be lengthy and take a day or so. Also, assign students to bring things from home for a costume for their character.

Step 7. Make the scenery for your play. Keep it easy and fun.

Step 8. Perform your play in front of an audience, and, if possible, for parents.


Have students become designers and design a Sacagawea coin of their own. Students should be creative and draw how they would portray Sacagawea.

Social Studies/Language Arts:

There is controversy over Sacagawea’s death. Some sources say she died young and others say she lived up to be nearly 100 years old. The truth is unknown. Have students research this. Students can become news reporters and take their own stand explaining the “truth” about Sacagawea’s death.

Social Studies/Language Arts:

Research and develop an “expedition” through your town or state. Where are you going to encounter dangers? Where will you get your supplies? Who will be your “friends” who help you through your journey and who will be your “enemies” who will try to stop you from success? Draw maps and create journals to document your journey.

Language Arts:

Students will read other books about Native Americans by Ken Thomasma. They will report information about Native American cultures both written and orally. Source for books can be found at the Ken Thomasma Web Site. http://www.horsefeathers

Basket weaving was a skill that the Shoshone tribe practiced. Teach students how to weave baskets of their own.

Community Connections:

Contact a local Native American tribe and arrange for someone to come speak to the class about the Native American culture.

Research the Native American tribe near your region. What tribe is it? How long have they been there? Was this before or after Sacagawea’s time? Does the tribe have any connection to Sacagawea’s tribe?

Contact a local Native American museum. Arrange for a visit to discuss Native American traditions and ways of life.

For additional lesson plans and ideas relating to this topic and many others try TeacherSource at PBS Online! You will find activities, lesson plans, teacher guides and links to other great educational web sites! Search the database by keyword, grade level or subject area! Mathline and Scienceline are also great resources for teachers seeking teaching tips, lesson plans, assessment methods, professional development, and much more!

The Idaho 2001 National Teacher Training Institute is made possible through the efforts of
Idaho Public Television