Lewis & Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition Exhibition Locations

For Educators: Teaching Units & Lesson Plans:



Target Grade Level:
Elementary and Middle School, Grades 4 - 8

This unit focuses on the connection between language and culture and how the knowledge of a language helps one to understand a culture. It also shows the importance of anticipating communication barriers. Without Lewis and Clark's numerous interpreters, the outcome of the expedition might have been significantly altered. Even with the interpreters, the senders and receivers of messages did not always clearly understand each other. Students will also learn about several forms of nonverbal communication in the historical context of Meriwether Lewis encountering the Shoshone Indians. Lesson 4 focuses on Chinook jargon as a trade language on the northwest coast and encourages students to explore how languages change and adapt. The final lesson, more appropriate for older students, allows students to analyze several quotes by present-day Indians who are talking about the importance of language preservation.

Explore Connections to Today for this unit.


  • language unlocks culture
  • there are many ways to communicate a message
  • language is fluid and changes over time


  • How does knowledge of a language help one to understand a culture?
  • How is language linked to culture?
  • What are the challenges of communicating a message?


Students will:

  • define culture and interpreter
  • identify several challenges to communication
  • list several kinds of nonverbal communication
  • know the connection between words and culture
  • learn that "new languages" form
  • define a "jargon" language
  • learn that language formation/creation is a continual process going on today
  • identify ways language and culture intersect


Students will:

  • learn a simple phrase in Indian sign language
  • put a language chain in the correct order
  • draw conclusions from a narrative passage
  • create a list of words that reflect American culture
  • analyze interviews by American Indians and draw conclusions


Through various activities including writing, designing a peace medal, and creating a word list with definitions, the teacher will assess student progress.

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