Lewis and Clark Expedition Introductory Activity
An introductory lesson activity is important because it generates interest, focuses attention, reveals background knowledge, and prepares students for future learning. The activity described below is perfect for introducing students to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It requires students to make real-life connections, encourages critical thinking, and provides a solid foundation for learning more about Lewis and Clark.
Set the Stage
Start the activity with a whole-class discussion about camping. If many of your students have never been camping, have them use a movie or tv show about camping as a point of reference. Questions to consider: Who has been camping? Where did you go? How did you get there? How long did your camping trip last? Who went with you? What was the weather like? What types of items did you pack for your trip? Did you forget anything? Is there an item you wished you had that might have made your camping trip easier?
Have students imagine that they are about to embark on a cross-country camping trip that will last several years. To prepare for the long journey, they will need to pack three items for each category listed below.
- Camping Equipment
- First Aid
- Additional Items
Review and Analyze
Provide students with a brief background of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. You can read through and discuss the information below, or show this short PBS video.
In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, doubling the size of the country. President Jefferson was eager to send an expedition to explore the newly acquired land west of the Mississippi River. He hired Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead an expedition across the continent. Jefferson had three goals for the expedition: 1) Establish peaceful relations with the Native Americans. 2) Find a route across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. 3) Collect detailed information about western plants, animals, and geography.
Show students the list of supplies Meriwether Lewis compiled for the long journey. Click here to view the entire list of supplies and the original manuscript. Go through the list and examine the purpose of a handful of items. You can also have students try to guess the purpose of some of the unfamiliar items. They will have a chance to explore more on that later.
After taking time to prepare their own packing list and review the packing list of Lewis and Clark, students are ready to note the similarities and differences. Using a compare and contrast graphic organizer, have students record two differences and two similarities between the two lists. When finished, students can discuss their findings with a partner. This compare and contrast exercise requires students to think about the Lewis and Clark Expedition in relation to their own lives, creating a deeper connection to the learning.
First, students identify three items from Lewis and Clark’s packing list that they have never heard of before. Next, students must research each item in order to record the item’s purpose. Finally, students draw a picture of the item. This mini-research activity works well because it allows students to explore more about Lewis and Clark, while giving them the freedom to make their own choices.
After completing this introductory activity, students will have a solid foundation for learning more about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Click here to view more Lewis and Clark lesson ideas, including a map activity and primary source analysis lesson.