Be the Historian


Students will build upon their knowledge of the Corps of Discovery to research and explain the significance of gifts given to American Indians by Lewis and Clark.

Coin Type(s)

  • Nickel

Coin Program(s)

  • Westward Journey Nickels


Students will build upon their knowledge of the Corps of Discovery to research and explain the significance of gifts given to American Indians by Lewis and Clark.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies


  • 5th

Class Time

  • Sessions: Three
  • Session Length: 45-60 minutes
  • Total Length: 121-150 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Small groups
  • Pairs

Background Knowledge

Students should have a basic knowledge of:

  • Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery
  • Research skills

Terms and Concepts

  • Obverse (front)
  • Reverse (back)
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Louisiana Purchase
  • President Thomas Jefferson
  • Corps of Discovery
  • Peace Medal
  • American Indians
  • Artifact


  • Peace Medal nickels
  • Copies of the "Great Gifts" directions
  • Copies of the "Medal Meanings" questionnaire
  • Copies of the "Medal Meanings" chart
  • Computers with Internet access
  • 1 copy of the "Lewis and Clark Expedition" overview from the Resource Guide
  • Chart paper or chalk board
  • Markers or chalk
  • Copies of age-appropriate reference materials that provide information about the gifts carried by Lewis and Clark on their expedition, such as:
    • Lewis and Clark by Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer
    • Lewis and Clark on the Trail of Discovery: An Interactive History with Removable Artifacts by Rod Gragg
    • Lewis and Clark for Kids: Their Journey of Discovery with 21 Activities by Janis Herbert
    • Eyewitness: North American Indian by David Murdoch
    • Library of Congress information on the expedition, with photographs of artifacts, at
  • Writing paper
  • Paints, colored pencils, or markers
  • Paint brushes (optional)
  • Drawing paper (1 copy per student)


  • Gather Peace Medal nickels (1 per student).
  • Make copies of the "Great Gifts" directions (1 per student).
  • Make copies of the "Medal Meanings" questionnaire (1 per student).
  • Make copies of the "Medal Meanings" chart (1 per student).
  • Arrange to use the school computer lab for two consecutive days.
  • Bookmark appropriate Internet sites.
  • Write on either a chalk board or chart paper a list of gifts that Lewis and Clark brought for the American Indians that they encountered, and about which you have found reference materials. Pull this list from the supply list in the Resource Guide.
  • Locate appropriate resource materials.
  • Gather art supplies.


Worksheets and files (PDF)

Lesson Steps

Session 1

  1. Engage students by asking if their parents ever bring gifts to people they are visiting. As a class, discuss the purpose of this type of gesture.
  2. Ask the students if they have heard about the new Westward Journey Nickel Series™, which the United States government is producing in 2004 and 2005. As background information, describe this series. Then ask leading questions to assess the students' pre-activity knowledge of the expedition of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery.
  3. Distribute a Peace Medal nickel to each student and allow them time to thoroughly examine each side.
  4. Explain the terms "obverse" and "reverse" and ask students to describe the image on the coin's obverse. The students should be able to explain that this side shows an image of President Thomas Jefferson. They should also realize that this is the same image as on the old Jefferson nickel obverse.
  5. Ask students to turn the nickel over and describe the images on the reverse. Ask students to make predictions about the coin's design. Who are the individuals shaking hands and why might they be shaking hands? Record student responses on a piece of chart paper or on the chalkboard.
  6. Explain that this image was taken from a medal that Lewis and Clark brought on their journey. Just as their parents might bring gifts when they visit a friend's home, Lewis and Clark needed to bring gifts on their visits. Ask the students for whom they think these gifts were brought.
  7. Collect all Peace Medal nickels.
  8. Explain that the students will get a chance to learn more about these medals and why Lewis and Clark brought them on their journey as they conduct an Internet search; once all parts of this project are complete, students will take turns presenting their findings to the class.
  9. Assign each student a partner to work with in the computer lab.
  10. With your class, visit the computer lab. Explain that students will use sites you have bookmarked, like the United States Mint Web site and others that relate to the Corps of Discovery.
  11. Distribute the "Great Gifts" directions and the related worksheets to each student. Read the introduction on the directions aloud to the class and direct the students to read the remainder of this page independently or with a partner. To check for comprehension, ask the students to orally explain the goal of this project and the steps they must complete to reach that goal; these directions will guide their research.
  12. Allow the students to begin their research during the remaining class time.

Sessions 2 and 3

  1. Return to the computer lab with your class and allow the student pairs to complete their research, explaining that they will have a limited time to complete their research (adjust this as appropriate).
  2. Return with the students to the classroom and post the list of gifts that Lewis and Clark carried for the American Indians they met.
  3. Direct the students to complete steps 3 through 7 from the "Great Gifts" directions. Circulate through the classroom offering guidance and taking anecdotal notes on the students' work and presentations.
  4. As students finish their presentations, collect each student's "Great Gifts" packet of materials (this should include their two worksheets and the artifact information and image) and display their work in the classroom.
  5. Redistribute a Peace Medal nickel to each student. Again have the students examine the images on the coin's reverse.
  6. Examine the list of predictions that students made during session 1. Again ask the students who the individuals are shaking hands and why they might be shaking hands. See if the responses are different and if there is more of a consensus among the students.
  7. Discuss the purpose of the Peace Medals carried by Lewis and Clark and why this image may have been selected as the first new design in the Westward Journey Nickel Series.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • When grouping students, attend to exceptionalities.
  • Allow students to work together when they draw or paint and present their artifact image.


  • Have students write a short paragraph explaining the historical significance of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
  • Have students design a peace medal that would be good to give to a student in another country. Have them include symbols of friendship and relate it to contemporary events.


  • Take anecdotal notes about student participation and involvement during teamwork and presentations.
  • Assess information on the completed worksheets and artistic reproduction of the artifact.
  • Evaluate the new nickel designs to see if students picked a significant event to depict.

Common Core Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any Common Core Standards.

National Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any National Standards.