Exploring the West

Middle School and High School Teacher

The lesson will teach the students why there was an expansion to what is now the western half of the United States, as well as the displacement of Native Americans.

Grade Level: 5 - 7th

Subject: Social Studies

Length of Time: 3 Class Periods

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Common Core Alignment

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 - Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 - Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.8 - Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.10 - By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.8 - Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.6-8.9 - Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Objectives & Outcomes

The students will be able to list the reasons for the Westward expansion, the difficulties encountered, and its effect on the Native American people.

Materials Needed

Access to the Internet for research.

Prepare ahead of time:  Need a map of the original 13 colonies for display.


Opening to Lesson

  • Say to students:  Imagine staying inside your home or backyard for several years, but seeing the rest of your neighborhood, and maybe mountains or woods.  What would it feel like?  What would you want to do?  Would you want to explore beyond your home and yard?  Why?
  • Allow for student responses and discussion.

Body of Lesson


  • Display a map of the original 13 colonies.
  • Ask students to name the 13 colonies.  Ask students if they can describe what life was like for the colonists.
  • Allow for student responses and discussion.
  • Compare the students being confined to their home and yards to the colonists also wanting to explore the West.
  • Ask students:  What challenges do explorers face, whether leaving a backyard for the first time, or heading across the country?
  • Allow for student responses and discussion.

Guided Practice

  • Pair students.  One student will be assigned as a colonist and the other student a Native American.
  • Both students will have Internet access for research.
  • The colonist will list the reasons for moving West, challenges faced, and other information about the journey.
  • The Native American will describe life before the colonists arrived, the colonists’ arrival and effect on their life, and the challenges which faced them.
  • The pair of students will do the research together, discuss the accuracy of the information, compare and contrast the challenges, and prepare the information for a report to the class.
  • Once students have completed the research and have prepared their reports, the students will be assigned time slots to present the information to the class.

Independent Practice

  • Test or quiz related to Westward Expansion.  Using a blank outline map of the United States, the students will identify a journey West, labeling the different landmarks, states, and cities from that time period.  Students write a short story from the perspective of a colonist or a native American.


  • Ask students: What challenges did explorers face in the 1700s that are more easily overcome by explorers today?  What problems do explorers have today that may not have existed then?  Which group of people had a more difficult time, the colonists or the Native Americans?
  • Allow for responses and discussion.
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Assessment & Evaluation

Final reports assessed using a prepared rubric.  Test or quiz based on the research and class presentations.  

Modification & Differentiation

Students work alone either as a colonist or Native American.  Each group presents separately, debating which had a more challenging life.

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