Lesson plan

The Impact of Westward Expansion

How did westward expansion impact people living in the United States? Use this history lesson to give students an overview of the people and events involved. Then help them reflect on multiple perspectives in an informational paragraph.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

No standards associated with this content.

No standards associated with this content.

No standards associated with this content.

No standards associated with this content.

Which set of standards are you looking for?

Students will be able to write an informational paragraph about westward expansion using a timeline and informational text as resources.

(5 minutes)
  • Show students a blank map of the United States and explain that our country did not always look the way it does today.
  • Explain that prior to the 1800s, the United States extended between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River. The country consisted of 16 states, including the original 13 colonies, and various territories that would later become states.
  • Draw a blue line to show where the Mississippi River is and shade in the portion of the map to the right of it in green (do not shade Florida; see related media for a map showing the region to shade). Label the shaded area "United States before the 1800s."
  • Tell students that today we are going to learn about some of the events and people that were involved in expanding the United States westward, helping to make the country what it is today.
(15 minutes)
  • Hand out the Sun Notetaking organizer and instruct students to write "Westward Expansion" in the center circle.
  • Explain that the word expansion means "an enlargement or extension of an area." So westward expansion is the term for how the United States grew as it acquired territory west of the Mississippi.
  • Tell students that you are going to tell them some key facts about westward expansion. Explain that, as you talk, they should record key terms, names, and dates that they hear. Remind students that they do not need to write in complete sentences or worry about spelling as they take notes.
  • Provide students with a brief overview of the important people and events during this time. Highlight and shade important places on the map as you go.
    • In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson paid France $15 million for the land that stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. That territory, over 800,000 square miles, included land that would eventually become 15 states, from Louisiana to North Dakota. This transaction is known as the Louisiana Purchase and it nearly doubled the size of the United States. (Shade this area on the map red. Label it "Louisiana Purchase 1803.")
    • Soon after, President Thomas Jefferson hired Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore and map out the area that was included in the Louisiana Purchase. They traveled from Missouri and eventually reached the Pacific Ocean. During their expedition, they mapped out river valleys that would later become important parts of the Oregon Trail, a major route for emigrants heading west in the mid-1800s. (Draw Lewis and Clark's trail in brown and label it.)
    • In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, forcing Native Americans to leave their homes and move west of the Mississippi River. As part of that act, 16,000 people in the Cherokee Nation were forced to walk 1,200 miles to relocate to Oklahoma. Thousands of Native Americans died during this walk and it became known as the Trail of Tears. (Draw and label the trail in black.)
    • Some Americans believed that they had a divine right to claim land and spread democracy. A journalist named John O'Sullivan described this belief as the United States' Manifest Destiny.
    • During this time, many people began moving west because they hoped there would be greater opportunities in the new territory. The California Gold Rush and the development of the Transcontinental Railroad brought thousands of Americans and immigrants from all over the world to the Western United States.
    • The U.S. government wanted to encourage more settlement in the Western United States. So, in 1862, the Homestead Act was signed into law, which allowed any American to claim free land. Many people who previously couldn't own land, like freed slaves and women, were allowed to participate.
(10 minutes)
  • Draw a blank timeline on the board. Label one end "1800" and the other end "1900." Make a small, unlabeled mark at the midpoint as a guide for the other dates that will be added in.
  • Ask students to volunteer information to help fill in the timeline, using their notes for specific events and dates.
  • Support students as you collaboratively fill in dates and events on the timeline. Record key dates that relate to Westward Expansion in red (i.e., 1803—the Louisiana Purchase, 1830—the Indian Removal Act, 1862—the Homestead Act).
  • Insert other important dates and events that fit into the time period in black (i.e., 1836—Battle of the Alamo, 1846–1848—the Mexican American War, 1848—the discovery of gold in California, 1861–1865—the Civil War, 1869—the Transcontinental Railroad is completed, 1876—the telephone is invented, 1879—the electric light bulb is invented). This will help students develop a context for how westward expansion fit into history.
(20 minutes)
  • Explain to students that they are now going to read more information about three of the events you discussed—the Louisiana Purchase, the Trail of Tears, and the Homestead Act.
  • Hand out a copy of Historical Perspectives: Westward Expansion to each student. (Note: students will also need a sheet of paper or a writing notebook for this activity.)
  • Choose volunteers to answer the following question based on the reading: "How did westward expansion impact the people living in the United States?" Write some of their thoughts on the board, using appropriate transition words and phrases (e.g., "The Homestead Act gave people the chance to own land. As a result, many moved out west, leaving their homes behind for the chance of a new home.").
  • Tell students they will now write an informational paragraph about how westward expansion impacted the people living in the United States.


  • Read the informational text aloud during Independent Work time, or allow students to partner read.
  • Provide sentence frames to support students during the writing activity.
  • Instead of making your own map during the lesson, use a simplified map coloring sheet (see optional materials) or an image of a map that is already colored.


  • Color and label the rest of the blank map to include the Texas Annexation, the Acquisition of Florida, the Mexican Cessation, the Gadsden Purchase, and the Oregon Territory.
  • To make your map even more specific, note the original 13 colonies on the map and label the area with the year 1776. Label the other areas east of the Mississippi "Old Northwest 1783" and "Old Southwest 1783."
  • On the timeline, include state-specific events and dates that relate to your home state. Remember to label Westward Expansion dates in red and all other dates in black so that students can pinpoint events that are directly related to the lesson. All other dates will serve as historical context.
  • To build on this history lesson, offer students additional reading on key historical figures, like Lewis and Clark (see additional resources).
  • Invite students to recreate the Westward Expansion map by shading and labeling a blank map of their own.

Show a video with a rap song about Westward Expansion's impact on Native Americans to give students additional information in a visual format. See related media.

(5 minutes)
  • Have students sit with a partner and share their informational paragraphs.
  • Circulate and listen as students read their paragraphs so that you can get a sense of overall student understanding.
  • Call on a few volunteers to read their paragraphs aloud to the whole class.
  • Optional: use a standards-based rubric to assess student writing (see optional materials).
(5 minutes)
  • Make a web organizer on a sheet of chart paper. Label the center circle "The Impact of Westward Expansion." Label four branches from the center "U.S. Government," "Native Americans," "African Americans," and "Women."
  • Call on students to discuss how each group listed was personally impacted by westward expansion. Record student answers on the chart.

Add to collection

Create new collection

Create new collection

New Collection


New Collection>

0 items