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K is for Keelboat

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As a group, students will explore the significance of the keelboat in Lewis and Clark’s journey as a result of the Louisiana Purchase. Students will identify key themes relating to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and will classify and describe these themes according to a defined written format.

Coin Type(s)

  • Nickel

Coin Program(s)

  • Westward Journey Nickel Series


  • As a group, students will explore the significance of the keelboat in Lewis and Clark’s journey as a result of the Louisiana Purchase.
  • Students will identify key themes relating to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and will classify and describe these themes according to a defined written format.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Minor/supporting Subject Area Connections

  • Technology


  • Fifth grade

Class Time

Sessions: Five
Session Length: 45-60 minutes
Total Length: 151-500 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Small groups
  • Individual work

Background Knowledge

Students should have a basic knowledge of:

  • Circulating coins
  • Research skills
  • Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery

Terms and Concepts

  • Obverse (heads)
  • Reverse (tails)
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Bicentennial
  • Louisiana Purchase
  • Corps of Discovery
  • Keelboat


  • 1 overhead projector
  • 1 overhead transparency of each of the following:
    • “Louisiana Territory” map from the Resource Guide
    • Keelboat Nickel from the Resource Guide
  • Chart paper
  • Markers
  • 1 overhead transparency marker (optional)
  • Keelboat Nickels
  • 1 copy of an appropriate book that provides an example of the alphabet book format, such as:
    • A is for America, An American Alphabet by Devin Scillian
    • M is for Majestic: A National Parks Alphabet by David Domeniconi
    • Capital! Washington from A to Z by Linda Krauss Melmed
    • S is for Show Me: A Missouri Alphabet by Judy Young
  • Tape
  • Copies of each of the following:
    • “ABCs of Lewis and Clark” worksheet
    • “Keelboat Data Sheet” (optional)
    • “Alphabet Fact” worksheet
    • “Alphabet Letter Page Guide”
  • A selection of appropriate resources that provide accurate information about the details of Lewis and Clark’s journey, including encyclopedias, reference books, magazines, Internet sites, and the Lewis and Clark journals.
  • Computers with Internet access (optional)
  • 11x14 white drawing (construction) paper
  • Colored pencils or markers
  • Plastic book binding
  • Index cards


  • Make one overhead transparency of each of the following:
    • “Louisiana Territory” map from the Resource Guide.
    • Keelboat Nickel from the Resource Guide.
  • Gather several Keelboat Nickels (1 per student).
  • Locate an appropriate text that provides an example of the alphabet book format (see examples under “Materials”).
  • Write each letter of the alphabet at the top of a different piece of chart paper.
  • Make copies of each of the following:
    • “ABCs of Lewis and Clark” worksheet (1 per student).
    • “Keelboat Data Sheet” (1 per student).
    • “Alphabet Fact” worksheet (1 per student).
    • “Alphabet Letter Page Guide” (1 copy).
  • Locate a selection of appropriate resources that provide accurate information about the details of Lewis and Clark’s journey (see examples under “Materials”).
  • Arrange to use the school computer lab for two class sessions (optional).
  • Bookmark appropriate Internet sites (optional).

Worksheets and Files

Lesson plan, worksheet(s), and rubric (if any) at

Session 1

  1. Display the overhead transparency of the “Louisiana Territory” map. Explain that our country was not always the same shape that it is today. Show the students the section of the country that existed before the Louisiana Purchase.
  2. Draw a concept web on chart paper, writing “Lewis and Clark” in the middle circle. Have the students brainstorm what they know about Lewis and Clark and record responses on the web.
  3. Use the concept map to guide a discussion about Lewis and Clark and the Louisiana Purchase. Be sure to discuss that, in the early 19th century, President Jefferson bought the territory shown on this map as part of the Louisiana Purchase. He then sent a team of explorers who were lead by two men, named Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to explore this new land.
  4. Using the “Louisiana Territory” map, show the students the area that Lewis and Clark explored. Note the territory’s position in relation to your school’s location.
  5. Explain that one of President Thomas Jefferson’s missions for Lewis and Clark was to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean from the eastern states. Another important mission for this journey was to record information about the plants, animals, and American Indians that they came across. Add this information to the Lewis and Clark concept map.
  6. Follow Lewis and Clark’s route with your finger or an overhead marker, and point out that the explorers traveled over both land and water. Ask the students to brainstorm the modes of transportation that Lewis and Clark may have used during their journey.
  7. Explain that, starting in 2004 and continuing through 2005, our country is changing its nickels to tell the story of Lewis and Clark and their explorations of our country’s western lands 200 years ago. Display the Keelboat Nickel overhead transparency. Explain that the keelboat portrayed on the coin was the primary vessel used during the first part of Lewis and Clark’s journey.
  8. Distribute a Keelboat Nickel to students and allow them to examine each side.
  9. Explain the terms “obverse” and “reverse” and ask students to describe the image on the coin’s obverse. They should realize that this image of President Thomas Jefferson is the same as that on the pre-2004 Monticello nickel obverse.
  10. Ask students to examine the image on the coin’s reverse. Direct students to discuss why this boat might have been important to the expedition and how it might have helped Lewis and Clark achieve their mission from the President. Encourage the students to make observations about the boat’s characteristics. Guide the students to discuss how the keelboat might have helped Lewis and Clark in their mission to observe and record information about the plants, animals, and people they encountered along the way.
  11. Explain that the keelboat was important to Lewis and Clark’s expedition because it carried the first key items and information they discovered back to St. Louis. Add this information to the Lewis and Clark concept map.
  12. Collect all of the Keelboat Nickels.
  13. Explain that the students will have the opportunity to learn more about the keelboat and other aspects of the Lewis and Clark Expedition through a research project. Inform the students that they will be taking notes on key people, events, and other important information, which will be compiled into an alphabet book on the journey of Lewis and Clark.
  14. Introduce students to the selected text. Read the selected text aloud to the class, asking students to note the format of an alphabet book. After reading, ask students to define the format parameters of an alphabet book. Guide the students to consider the author’s decision-making process in determining the overall book concept. How does the author build on this concept through the words represented by each individual letter? Guide students to the realization that authors use a keyword on each alphabet letter page and that the selected keyword denotes an important topic.
  15. Display large pieces of chart paper around the room, each with a different letter of the alphabet written at the top.
  16. Distribute one “ABCs of Lewis and Clark” worksheet to each student.
  17. Model the class research process by referring to the Lewis and Clark concept map designed earlier in the class period. Ask the students to select information from this map and discuss its relevance to the Expedition. Select a letter that corresponds with the keyword in each response and record it on that letter’s piece of chart paper. For example, students may point out that the keelboat was the main vessel in Lewis and Clark’s travels and was used for shelter, protection, and hauling important cargo back to Thomas Jefferson. Add this information to the “K” chart paper for the word “keelboat.”
  18. Provide students with an ample selection of research materials such as books, magazines, Internet sites, and encyclopedias. Direct students to use these resources to research important information about Lewis and Clark’s journey.
  19. Allow the students to begin their individual research. Remind them to record important information on their individual “ABCs of Lewis and Clark” worksheets. Inform the students that they should be able to find information for most of the boxes on their chart and that some of the letter boxes will fill more quickly than others. Also tell students that they may record multiple appropriate key words in each box.
  20. Allow students to start their research during the remaining class time.

Session 2

  1. Review the assignment given during Session 1. Remind the students to look for key places, people, and ideas from the Expedition and to record their findings in the appropriate boxes of the “ABCs of Lewis and Clark” worksheet.
  2. Provide students with the same research materials from the previous session and direct them to complete their research.
  3. Have the students meet in groups of four to share their “ABCs of Lewis and Clark” worksheets. Direct the students to fill in any gaps in their research and to discuss the most important ideas under each letter.

Session 3

  1. Have the students add their individual research from the “ABCs of Lewis and Clark” worksheets onto the class alphabet charts displayed around the room. Do not allow students to repeat ideas on the class chart (even if they are recorded under different letters).
  2. If certain letters appear to have too little information, direct the students to speed research that letter for ten minutes. Record student research on the corresponding class letter chart.
  3. Remind students about the ABC example text read in Session 1, discussing how the author chose one key word to represent each letter. Have students discuss how they would decide upon a key word for each letter.
  4. Explain that the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition will be celebrated from 2003 to 2006. Mention that there have been other coins created to honor the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (the Peace Medal Nickel, the Missouri quarter, the Louisiana quarter, the Golden Dollar, the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial silver dollar, the Lewis and Clark commemorative gold dollar). Explain that each of these coins depicts an important person, place, or event from the Expedition. If possible, show images of each of these coins and add the coin names to the large alphabet chart.
  5. Direct the students to walk around the room, reading the information on each letter chart. Have the students place a check mark next to what they feel is the most important person, place, thing, or event under each letter with a pen or a pencil. Explain to students that they should only check one item on each letter chart.
  6. Discuss findings with the students, highlighting the key people, places, information, and events. Allow student volunteers to explain the rationale behind their check marks under each letter.
  7. Explain to the students that they will each be responsible for creating one of the letter pages that will make up the class alphabet book.
  8. Model the design and construction of one of the alphabet book pages with the students, using the “Alphabet Letter Page Guide” as a template. On a piece of chart paper, write in large letters at the top of the page “K is for _______________.”
  9. Have the class discuss ideas for the topic of this page, based on the most important information on the class letter chart for “K.” Direct students to select the keelboat as the most important idea in the “K” chart, and therefore the topic of this page. Write in the word “keelboat” on the blank line.
  10. Have students brainstorm information on the keelboat that would be important to include on the page. Record these ideas on the board. If necessary, add important information about the keelboat, referring to the “Keelboat” data sheet. Include all of this important information in a paragraph about the keelboat on the “K” page.
  11. Create an illustration of the keelboat on the “K” page.
  12. At the bottom, include a picture of the Keelboat Nickel. Explain that on the students’ pages, they will design a nickel reverse that depicts the main ideas of their letter page.
  13. Keep this “K” page displayed throughout the rest of the sessions as a guide for students.
  14. Randomly assign each student one letter of the alphabet for his or her book page, keeping “K” as an example page for the students.
  15. Distribute an “Alphabet Fact” worksheet to each student and have each student write his or her name and assigned letter at the top of the page. Explain that this is the worksheet for compiling information on their one letter, and will be used as a rough draft for the book page.
  16. Allow the students time to record the information on the class letter charts for their “Alphabet Fact” worksheet.

Session 4

  1. Direct the students to review the items posted on the large alphabet chart and talk with other students about ideas and facts for their book pages.
  2. Distribute a piece of white drawing paper to each student, telling them which way to hold the paper (horizontally or vertically) so all of the book pages face the same direction.
  3. Explain that using the information from their “Alphabet Facts” sheet, students need to write a paragraph combining key ideas from their assigned alphabet letter. Remind students that they are also responsible for including an illustration and a coin design. Refer to the “K” page as a guide, if necessary.
  4. Have the students begin writing and creating their pictures and coin images on the white drawing paper. Encourage them to check with each other about accuracy of information as well as proofreading techniques.
  5. As each student completes all the parts of the page, have him or her share their page with a partner. If a student finishes early, you may want to have him or her create a cover page for the book.
  6. When the entire class is finished, place the letter pages in alphabetical order and have the book bound.

Session 5

  1. Have students present their letter pages to the class, starting with the letter “A.” Direct each student to read the paragraph, show the illustration, and explain both the features of his or her coin design. Encourage other students to make note of any new ideas on index cards. (The cards can be used later for games and review sessions.)
  2. The alphabet book can be placed in the library for other students to examine at their leisure. The students may want to present their “K Is for Keelboat” book to their book buddies or younger classes in the school.
  3. As a culminating activity, list all 26 words from the class alphabet book on the board. Have students write a composition about Lewis and Clark’s journey that uses all 26 words. The first paragraph of the composition will be about the preparation and mission of the Expedition. The second paragraph will be about the journey out to the Pacific Ocean. The third paragraph will be about Lewis and Clark’s interactions with the American Indians. The fourth paragraph will be about the journey back to St. Louis. The last paragraph will discuss the significance of the Expedition to United States history.
  4. Allow students to use the alphabet letter charts displayed around the room and the class alphabet book as reference for their compositions.
  5. When students have finished, collect the compositions for assessment.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Allow students to work together when researching information.
  • When recording researched information, allow use of a tape recorder, portable word processor, or a scribe.
  • Students can work in pairs or small groups when creating their letter page for the class book.


  • Have the student create a model of the keelboat or of other concrete items that they’ve researched.
  • Have students write a persuasive essay on the importance of continual exploration for future generations.
  • Create a board game showing the challenges the Corps of Discovery faced and the discoveries that they made.
  • Have students write a descriptive paragraph about other coins that have significance in the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
  • Assess information on the completed book pages and student compositions.
  • Have the students present the completed material to classmates and younger students.

There are no related resources for this lesson plan.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: L.5 Language
Grade(s): Grade 5
Cluster: Conventions of Standard English

  • L.5.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • Explain the function of conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections in general and their function in particular sentences.
    • Form and use the perfect (e.g., I had walked; I have walked; I will have walked) verb tenses.
    • Use verb tense to convey various times, sequences, states, and conditions.
    • Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb tense.
    • Use correlative conjunctions (e.g., either/or, neither/nor).
  • L.5.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
    • Use punctuation to separate items in a series.
    • Use a comma to separate an introductory element from the rest of the sentence.
    • Use a comma to set off the words yes and no (e.g., Yes, thank you), to set off a tag question from the rest of the sentence (e.g., It’s true, isn’t it?), and to indicate direct address (e.g., Is that you, Steve?).
    • Use underlining, quotation marks, or italics to indicate titles of works.
    • Spell grade-appropriate words correctly, consulting references as needed.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.5 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 5
Cluster: Craft and Structure

  • RI.5.4. Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 5 topic or subject area.
  • RI.5.5. Compare and contrast the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.
  • RI.5.6. Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.5 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 5
Cluster: Key Ideas and Details

  • RI.5.1. Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
  • RI.5.2. Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.
  • RI.5.3. Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.

This lesson plan is not associated with any National Standards.