Distance Learning Week Two: Westward Expansion

Hello fifth graders, and welcome to week two! This week we are learning about Westward Expansion. Follow along with this week’s lesson plans to learn with us!


Monday: What was “Westward Expansion”?

So far this year, everything we have learned in US history has been working with a map that looks pretty much the same as our map looks today, like this:

For many many years of our country’s history though, the United States did not look like this! Before 1803, the political boundaries of the United States looked pretty different, and the vast majority of this land belonged to other people. Before 1803, the United States looked like this:

The whole western side of the map that we’re used to seeing was not part of the United States. So, how did the United States grow from a tiny country on the eastern coast to becoming the 50 states that it is today? And who did these early Americans take that land from? And how did those people respond? I can’t imagine people just handing over their land and their homes…

These are the questions we will be answering this week. To get started, your job today is read this Newsela article. Remember to annotate and take the quiz as you go.




Tuesday: Manifest Destiny and American Progress

Painting American Progress, by John Gast, 1872

Today we are going to spend some time looking closely at a very famous painting. The painting above is called American Progress, and it was painted by a man named John Gast in the year 1872. The painting represents the idea of Manifest Destiny, which was the idea that it was God’s will for the United States to span all the way from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Pacific Ocean on the western coast.

Let’s take some time to really slow down and look at this painting. Write down your answers to these questions in your notebook.

First: Take five minutes (for real, I mean five minutes! set a timer!) to make every observation that you can about this painting. What do you see? (shapes, colors, people, objects, etc.)

After you have made all of these observations, answer the following questions:

  1. What do you notice about the colors used in this painting?
  2. Who are the people represented in the left side of the painting? Who is shown on the right side of the painting?
  3. Which direction are these people moving? (hint….westward expansion)
  4. Who is the angel? What is she holding? What idea do you think she might represent?
  5. Do you think the artist John Gast thinks that Westward Expansion is a good thing or a bad thing? Why?
  6. Do you agree or disagree with John Gast? Why?



Wednesday: How did the settlers get all the way to places like Oregon and California?

During the 1800s, no one was traveling in cars. If a family wanted to move all the way to the West, to places like Oregon or California, they had to walk and take wagons! There were many trails used to move west, but the most famous is the Oregon Trail. This was a long and dangerous trail, and many people died. It’s called the Oregon Trail because it ended in Oregon, but the trail actually went through five states! Can you imagine walking through five states?!

To continue your learning today, watch the Flocabulary video and complete the assigned activities on the Oregon Trail.

Optional activity: When I was a kid, one of the most popular computer games ever was called the Oregon Trail. We would race home from school to play it! You can play this classic game online for free, if you want to! Click here to play.


Thursday: Was this land really “open”? Who was the land taken from?

As you know, Europeans and white settlers were not the first people to “discover” the United States. This land has existed for billions of years, and was in habited by diverse nations of peoples centuries before Christopher Columbus ever landed here, and waaayyy before Thomas Jefferson decided to take over the Louisiana Purchase.

Before we get started on your independent reading for today, I have recorded a read aloud for you. This story, Encounter, is written by Brittany Luby, a native author of the Anishinaabe people, and is illustrated by Michaela Grade, of the Tlingit tribe. It’s a beautiful story of an early encounter between two very different people on the shores of America, and really highlights how the two are more alike than they are different. Enjoy!

While Encounter shows us a really beautiful story, and many encounters between white settlers and native peoples might have followed a similar storyline, there were also dishonest and cruel interactions between white people seeking land and money, and the native peoples who lived in the Americas.

Beginning with the arrival of Columbus in 1492, peaking during the years of Westward Expansion in the 1800s, and even continuing into today (we’ll talk about that Friday), the United States has a long history of taking vast amounts of land from indigenous peoples. Today, we will learn about a law passed by president Andrew Jackson called the Indian Removal Act, and we will read about another trail, this one is called the Trail of Tears.

Read today’s Newsela article, “A Short History of the US Government’s Relationship with Native Americans”, respond to the annotations (or create your own following our reading annotations guidelines), and submit the quiz to wrap up today’s lesson.


Friday: How are native nations still fighting for their land today?

The United States has a long history of mistreating Native populations, and even today, land is being taken away from native tribes. This might sound surprising to you, because many of us have learned about native people only as people living in the past. A lot of us know and believe myths about native peoples, one of which being that all native people were killed during the times of colonization and westward expansion. The first thing we’re going to do today is dispel a couple of these myths. Watch this short video about a native girl named Daunette and what her native heritage means to her.


As we can see from “meeting” Daunette, native people were not all killed by the US government and white settlers. In fact, 5.2 million Native Americans are living in the United States today. 40% of native people live on reservations, and 60% live all across the United States, in cities and states that are not reservations. Natives living both on and off reservations face daily discrimination and racism, and those living on reservations are still fighting for their land.

One of the most well known fights for land rights has been fought in the last few years over the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline that was built underneath the Standing Rock reservation. Read this Newsela article to learn more about the pipeline and the treatment that Sioux Indians have faced on the Standing Rock reservation. Read the article, annotate, and submit the quiz when you’re done.

When you finish the article, watch the music video below, which was created in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and to encourage native people and their allies to stand together. No questions on this one, just enjoy!


That’s it for this week guys! Remember to submit any completed assignments by Friday at 3:00pm. Thanks for all of your hard work!






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