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 The West "The People":
The Lewis and Clark Expedition

by Korbie Vaughan & Ashley Thurman
Idaho State University

Grade: 4th
Time Allotment: Three 60-minute blocks
Subject Matter: Social Studies and History

          Little was known about western America when the Lewis and Clark Expedition set out in 1804. Twelve years earlier Captain Robert Gray, an American navigator, had sailed up the mouth of the great river he named the Columbia. Traders and trappers reported that the source of the Missouri River was in the mountains in the Far West. No one, however, had yet blazed an overland trail. President Thomas Jefferson was interested in knowing more about the country west of the Mississippi. In 1803, two years after he became president, he asked Congress for $2,500 for an expedition.
          To head the expedition, Jefferson chose his young secretary, captain Meriwether Lewis. Lewis invited his friend lieutenant William Clark to share the leadership. Both were familiar with the frontier and with Indians through their service in the army. Before Lewis and Clark set out, word came that Napoleon had sold an immense tract of land to the United States. The expedition would therefore be exploring American territory. Plans for the expedition were carefully laid. The party was to ascend the Missouri to its source, cross the Continental Divide, and descend the Columbia River to its mouth. In preparation for the historic journey, Lewis studied map making and learned how to fix latitude and longitude. In the winter of 1803-04 the expedition was assembled in Illinois, near St. Louis. The party consisted of the two leaders, Lewis and Clark; 14 soldiers; nine frontiersmen from Kentucky; two French boatmen; and Clark's servant, York. On May 14, 1804, the explorers started up the Missouri in a 55-foot (17-meter) covered keelboat and two small craft.
         Through the activities presented in these lessons, students will become familiar with the conditions facing the members of the Expedition in the early 1800's, as well as the causes and consequences of the Expedition. In addition, students will contextualize the Expedition in relation to their own personal histories and knowledge of the early 1800's events.

Learning Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  • Contextualize an event from the early 1800's via their own prior knowledge and personal histories.
  • Describe the conditions of the land in the 1800's and during the expedition.
  • Identify the major stopping points of the expedition after a first-hand, hands-on experience.
  • Describe the consequences of the expedition both good and bad.
  • Express the challenges facing the crew of the expedition including the environment.
  • Identify major people involved with the expedition and what their role was.

From the National Standards for History, grades 5-12

  1. The students will think chronologically, distinguishing between past and present events. They will establish temporal order in constructing their [students'] own historical narratives. Students will work forward from some beginning through its development, to some end or outcome. (NSH 1A, and 1C)
  2. They will be able to 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 1E)
  3. The students will appreciate historical perspectives, describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their diaries. They will draw upon data in historical maps in order to obtain or clarify information on the geographic setting in which the historical event occurred. (NSH 2F and 2G)
  4. Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions by identifying likenesses and differences. Analyze the importance of different individuals in history and the influence of. Hypothesize the influence of the past, including both the limitations and the opportunities made possible by past decisions. (NSH 3A, 3C, and 3J)
  5. Identify issues and problems in the past and analyze the interests, perspectives, and points of view of those involved in the situation. (NSH 5A)

Media Components:
The People (Washington D.C.) Episode 1

Web Sites

Pencil; Videotape worksheet ; Web site worksheet one for each pair; Four sheets of paper, folded pamphlet style.

Prep For Teachers
Have the map of United States outlining the Expedition trail up on the board. Bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson, and prepare worksheets for the web site assignment. Cue the videotape to the appropriate starting point. Prepare worksheets to be used with the videotape. Have four white sheets of paper for each student, for the hands-on element of the lesson.

Introductory Activities
Establishing a Personal Connection to History

The following activities will prepare your students for a lesson on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and provide them with a strong sense of context for the historical event.
Explain to your students that you will be examining a historic event that took place in the year 1804 in North America. How many years ago was that? How many states were there in 1804? Which ones were they? Have a discussion on this, referring to the map on the board and using prior knowledge.

Tell your students that 1804 may seem like a long time ago, but it really isn't. We had some of the states that we now have today. How many are there today? (50) Out of the states that the expedition went through, how many have you been to? (Have the students refer to the map up on the board, to figure out their answers). Now ask your students what sorts of things they saw while they were in those states in recent years. Encourage answers discussing the environment, the economy, and the people.

Ask your students if anyone happens to know how old their oldest relative is? Come up with an age of someone's relative, and decide what time period they lived in when they were in 5th grade, and where they lived. Ask your students if they think their relative knew someone who lived in 1804. Do your students think that things were similar in 1804 compared to when their relatives lived? What sort of things were similar/different? Discuss what might things have been like/looked like? Allow for discussion. Further, discuss what things may have been like in 1804.

Learning Activity:
Establishing an Understanding for the Corps of Discovery

Ask your students what they know about the expedition that Lewis and Clark took across America. What do your students think about taking a trip across the country today? How would it be different in 1804? What sort of things would have been harder/easier? Brainstorm and get some ideas. Ask your students to get in pairs and log on to the Discovering Lewis and Clark Web Site ( Have them go to "A Map of the Trail". In this site, they can explore the trail that the Lewis and Clark Expedition took across America starting at point 1 ending at point 19.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, by asking them to fill in the answers to their worksheet while tracing the path the expedition took. Beginning with number 1 on the map, click on it and find the answer to question number 1 below. After you are done click the "proceed" button to go on to number 2. Do this until you have traced the entire expedition (all of the stops) to number 19 where it ended, answering each question along the way. Enjoy the "Corps of Discovery".

After everyone has completed their worksheet, tracing the entire expedition from beginning to end, discuss some of their feelings about it. Ask your students what kind of things they learned? Did you come across things that you had already known? Was there anything that stood out in your mind as being either bad/good?

Ask your students to brainstorm a list of key landmarks, people, and animals they came across. What do we know about those things today? Also discuss the time frame it took from beginning to end. How long did it take? How many miles did they travel a day? If we were to travel the same trail today, how long would it take? How is our transportation different today?

Learning Activity:
Establishing a Timeline for History

Now that the students have established an understanding of what happened on the Expedition in 1804, and developed a basic understanding of that time period, ask your students for their ideas on what other things they think were happening in the United States at that time that may have effected this expedition? Depending on your student's knowledge, their answers will vary.

In 1804 western expansion was forthcoming, yet little was known about Western America. President Thomas Jefferson wanted to explore the area west of the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. In July of the same year, Napoleon of France, in a surprise move, offered the whole Louisiana Territory to the United States for $15,000,000. America accepted and overnight the United States grew by about one million square miles, from the Mississippi to the Rockies and from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. More and more people began to move West in search for a better life.

Ask your students to log on to Lewis and Clark's Historic trail "A time line of the events before, during, and after the Expedition"( ). Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask your students to examine the timeline of things that occurred before, during, and after the expedition, and record some thought on what they see. Do the events they see here correspond with the Map they traced? Are there things they left out/added in? What new discoveries did they see on this timeline?

After your students have examined the timeline, discuss their reactions. What did they learn about what happened after the Expedition? Before? Were there discrepancies between their prior knowledge and what they have learned now? What about between the two different web sites? Also, ask your students about some of the stops they made, what did they call them, and do they still go by the same names today?

Explain to your students that the event you will be examining took place across the United States in the year 1804, on an expedition led by two men accompanied by several other men including French boatmen, 3 dozen army recruits and a slave.

Learning Activity:
Explain to your students that you will now be examining a historical event that took place in 1804 across North America. Insert Washington D.C.: A Documentary Film into your VCR.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION,:  Have half the class determine who the great father was and what Jefferson called the expedition. The other half of the class should determine how many army recruits were with the adventurers and who was Clark's personal servant. The entire class should listen for Who was leading the expedition and who was the young girl they hired? Hand out the worksheets.

START the tape when the screen is filled with a map zoomed in on the words "The River of the West." With a man's voice saying, "each country was searching for the Northwest passage…" PLAY the tape until you hear the male narrator say, "a Shoshone who had been captured by the Hidatsa as a small girl." PAUSE the tape.

Check for comprehension. Who lead the expedition? What did Jefferson call the expedition. Remind your students that the video said that, "the Mandans looked down from the bluffs of the Missouri." Ask your students if they know what a Mandan is? Also can they define a bluff?

Remind your students that the video also mentioned that, "Thomas Jefferson purchased from France half-a-billion acres between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains." This is where the Corps of Discovery would take place. Point this out on the map.

Remind your students that the video also mentioned that, "Clark was a gregarious seasoned frontiersman." Ask your students if they can define gregarious.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, have students answer questions 6-10 on their worksheet and to identify what problems the Expedition might encounter. PLAY the tape until the screen is filled with two adults and one young Indian and a male's voice says, "and give us proofs of their veracity by repeating many words of English." STOP the tape.

Check for comprehension: Remind your students that the video said, "that they were now about to penetrate a country at least 2,000 miles in width on which the foot of civilized man had never trodden." Ask your students to define both penetrate and trodden.

Ask your students what problems the Expedition might have come across on their journey after seeing certain aspects described. What potential dangers would there be for them? Ask your students, How did Sacagawea's role change from the beginning of the Expedition to what we have just learned.

FAST FORWARD the tape until the screen is filled with an image of a calm river and the male narrator is saying, "by November the river started to widen still further." Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to fill in the blanks of the worksheet as they see it on the video.

PLAY the tape until you hear Native American Chanting. STOP the tape. Ask your students what the Expedition did for America. Ask them to predict what might have happened if this Expedition hadn't taken place. How do they think America would be different? Ask your students what the Indians did before people came into their land. Ask them what their feelings and thoughts are now that they know what happened on the Expedition.

In the modern sense of the word "discovery," the Corps of Discovery discovered nothing; everything they reported on had been in plain sight of the native nations for many generations. Nevertheless, Lewis and Clark certainly were the first to see the land and the people along the Missouri and Columbia rivers with the eyes and attitudes of a new nation, grounded in the science and philosophy of the Enlightenment.

Culminating Activity
Students will write four journal entries. Each entry will be from a different point of view. There will be one point of view for Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, and a Mandan Indian.
Give each student four pieces of white or off white paper. Tell them that they are able to use pencil or pen. Explain to them that they have to imagine themselves as each one of these people. They need to describe a regular day or a certain event that happened and how it made that person feel. The events and days do not have to be the same for all four people. They need to make sure to write in first person. Example (The weather was very harsh and I became sick for almost two weeks….)

Remind your students that in addition to the experience, they need to describe the landscape, relationships and cultures. Also, tell them that they used their journals for other activities like, sketching, games, poetry, songs….

Tell the students that the rest of their assignment is to take these pages home and make them look as authentic as possible. They can do anything from tearing or crumpling, to putting dirt or mud on it to make it look as old as possible.
BE CREATIVE! Put Yourself back in History! When the students are all finished with this assignment ask them how they felt while writing, as if they were another person.


    The Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled many miles across Northern America. Have the students calculate the exact number of miles spent and how long it took them. Also decide on an average of miles traveled per day. After all of this decide how many days it would take you, with the average you came up with, if you were to drive your car today.
  • ART
    Have the students create a travel brochure advertising the availability for space on a similar expedition. Have them create pictures of places they will be going, scenery, people and animals they will come across. They will design and construct their own brochure to influence people to take this wonderful trip. Bring in some examples of cruise brochures that people look at today. Have them explain what sorts of things this trip entails, what are the rewards of it. Tell your students to be creative!
    Complete further research about the people on the expedition. Read some of their journal entries to help you learn more about their personalities and their values. Who were the key individuals? What were the main occurrences? Have the students write and produce a role-play retracing the expedition. Allow for the student's input to make this more meaningful to them.
  • Assign each student a different person involved with the expedition to research. These parts include Lewis, Clark, slaves, other men on the journey, Sacajewea, Shoshone Indians, Mandan Indians, Thomas Jefferson, etc. Use each person's individual character and their point of view. It is important for the students to research well and find accurate information about their characters. Also as a class discuss the major landmarks, animals, and problems they came across that should be included in the play. Students may use actual excerpts from diaries found, or accounts taken from primary sources.


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