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Lewis & Clark: For Educators: Teaching Units & Lesson Plans Lewis & Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition Exhibition Locations
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Teaching Units & Lesson Plans

Using Primary Sources


Target Grade Level:
Middle and High School, Grades 6 - 12

This unit presents the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition from a new perspective, that of trade and property. It highlights the commercial motivations the expedition and explores the established American Indian trade networks of the Northwest. It also asks how various cultures define wealth. The benefits of trade, the influence of culture on trading practices, the specialization of American Indian tribes, and the influence of geography on trade are all presented in the historical context of the expedition.

This unit also offers many opportunities to help students use primary sources. Students can learn to investigate and analyze a historical topic through the artifacts and written records from people of the time. Through analysis of a variety of primary source materials, the lessons encourage students to draw their own conclusions, citing evidence from the sources. They can compare concepts of wealth of American Indians, Euro-Americans, and American teenagers today. They can look at American Indians through the eyes of Lewis and Clark and analyze the effects of point of view on historical narrative. Through the use of lessons in this unit, students will come to understand that the Lewis and Clark expedition was also a trade mission. Trade benefits societies, and value varies among cultures.

Explore Connections to Today for this unit.


Trade is an important component in the well-being of societies. What is traded, how it is traded, and what is valued all vary with culture.


  • Did American Indians need to establish trade relationships with Americans?
  • Who would benefit the most?


Students will:

  • understand the meaning of trade, commerce, and economy
  • identify conditions necessary for successful trade
  • understand that a culture's objects can tell about the culture
  • draw conclusions about American Indian trade with traders from other countries
  • recognize that the value of objects varies among cultures
  • list items valuable to both American Indians and Lewis and Clark
  • recognize that trade follows different customs in different cultures
  • identify aspects of Euro-American trading practices
  • identify aspects of American Indian trading practices
  • learn that St. Louis benefited from trade with American Indians
  • connect the Lewis and Clark expedition with the expansion of American commerce


Students will:

  • analyze and draw conclusions from objects
  • understand the relationship between geography and trade
  • draw trade networks
  • compare, analyze, and draw conclusions from two quotations
  • analyze and draw conclusions from a document
  • locate Indian cultures on a map of the Northwest


  • prior knowledge will be determined by a brainstorming lesson at the beginning
  • individual and group work will be checked regularly
  • individual outline maps will be checked for accuracy before constructing the large classroom map
  • students will show mastery of information they place on the large map as they teach that information to the rest of the class
  • students will be asked to discuss, then complete written answers to reflection questions


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