Over the Rivers and Through the Woods


Students will examine the purpose of the keelboat used by the Corps of Discovery on their expedition. They will assess its strengths and weaknesses for navigating different rivers, and will also describe its overall purpose for the Expedition.

Coin Type(s)

  • Nickel

Coin Program(s)

  • Westward Journey Nickels


  • Students will examine the purpose of the keelboat used by the Corps of Discovery on their expedition.
  • They will assess its strengths and weaknesses for navigating different rivers, and will also describe its overall purpose for the Expedition.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies
  • Language Arts
  • Technology


  • 6th

Class Time

  • Sessions: Three
  • 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:

  • The Lewis and Clark Expedition ("Introduction" and "Lewis and Clark Expedition Overview" from the Resource Guide)
  • Circulating coins and the new "Westward Journey Nickel Series™"
  • Journal writing
  • Basic research skills
  • Internet navigation

Terms and Concepts

  • Obverse (heads)
  • Reverse (tails)
  • Journal
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Keelboat
  • Artifacts



  • Make an overhead transparency of the "Louisiana Territory" map from the Resource Guide.
  • Make copies of each of the following:
    • Thomas Jefferson's letter to Meriwether Lewis (1 per student).
    • "And Your Mission Is...!" worksheet (1 per pair).
    • "Nickel for Your Thoughts" worksheet (1 per student).
    • "KWHL Chart" (1per small group).
    • "Why the Keelboat?" worksheet (1 per student).
    • "North America in the 1800s" map (1 per small group).
    • "Keelboat Inventory" list (1 per small group).
  • Gather several Keelboat Nickels (1 per student)
  • Arrange to use the school computer lab for two class sessions (optional).
  • Bookmark appropriate Internet sites (see examples under "Materials"; optional).
  • Locate a selection of appropriate resources that provide accurate information about the details of Lewis and Clark's journey (see examples under "Materials").


Worksheets and files (PDF)

Lesson Steps

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 their contribution to our country's expansion. Record responses on the web.
  3. Use the concept map to guide a discussion about Lewis, Clark, and the Louisiana Purchase. Be sure to discuss that in the early 19th century, President Jefferson bought the territory shown on the map as the Louisiana Purchase. He then sent a team of explorers, who were led by two men named Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to explore this new land.
  4. Explain that President Thomas Jefferson had several missions for Lewis and Clark to accomplish during their explorations.
  5. Assign the students to pairs and give each pair one copy of Thomas Jefferson's letter to Meriwether Lewis. Direct the students to read Jefferson's letter and underline or highlight the missions of the Expedition.
  6. Distribute one "And Your Mission Is…" worksheet to each pair of students. Read the directions aloud and have the students match Thomas Jefferson's mission excerpts with the actual missions of the journey. Review the answers to check for student understanding.
  7. Referring back to the "Louisiana Territory" map, 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 students to brainstorm the modes of transportation that Lewis and Clark may have used during their journey.
  8. 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 exploration 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. 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.
  9. Divide the class into small groups of three or four students.
  10. Distribute a Keelboat Nickel to each group for examination. Review the terms "obverse" and "reverse" with the students and ask them to very closely examine the "reverse" side of the nickel.
  11. Distribute one "A Nickel For Your Thoughts" worksheet to each student. Have students discuss in their groups why the keelboat might have been selected for a new nickel design. Direct students to record their responses on the "A Nickel For Your Thoughts" worksheet.

Session 2

  1. Direct students to meet in their groups from Session 1.
  2. Distribute one "KWHL Chart" to each group. In their groups, the students should select a recorder. Direct the students to examine what they Know, Want to know, and How they can learn more about Lewis and Clark's keelboat. Have recorders add this information to the group KWHL charts. They should leave the Learn column empty for now.
  3. Regroup and, as a class, use the group KWHL charts to create a class KWHL chart on the chalkboard. Explain that, today and in the coming days, the students will have the opportunity to learn more about the keelboat's role in Lewis and Clark's expedition.
  4. Distribute one "Why the Keelboat?" worksheet to each student. Explain that the students will work in their groups to research important characteristics of the keelboat's construction.
  5. Review the three boxes on the "Why The Keelboat?" worksheet. Have the students discuss why it would be important to know about the keelboat's safety features, cargo storage capability, and river navigation efficiency. Explain to the students that these three topics will be the focus of their research.
  6. Visit the computer lab with your students, or provide significant print resources such as books, magazines, Encyclopedias, and the Lewis and Clark journals.
  7. Allow an appropriate amount of time for student research.
  8. When students have completed their research, direct them to discuss what they have learned about the keelboat's construction in their groups. Have the recorders add this information to the "L" column of the groups' KWHL charts. Then encourage the groups to share with the class what's on their charts, adding new information to the "L" column of the class KWHL chart.
  9. Give each student a copy of the "North America in the 1800s" map. Explain that most people would identify St. Charles, Missouri as the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition but that the journey of the keelboat actually began before then. Using the map, track the journey of the keelboat. Guide students to discover that the keelboat's trip began in Pittsburgh, before the Expedition itself was under way.
  10. Have the students trace the river routes of the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers with a red marker or pencil on their maps. Compare the river routes to the route of the Expedition.
  11. Have the students discuss where the keelboat's journey ended. Guide the students to respond that the keelboat's journey ended in Fort Mandan, North Dakota, before the end of the Expedition. Direct the students to mark this location on their map. Have the students determine on how many rivers the keelboat traveled.
  12. Have the students predict what happened to the keelboat and its cargo at this point and why it was no longer needed. Explain that the keelboat was sent back from Fort Mandan in order to carry reports and artifacts east to President Jefferson to show him evidence of the Expedition's success.

Session 3

  1. Direct the students to meet in their groups from Session 1.
  2. Distribute one "Keelboat Inventory" list to each group. Explain that the groups are now to pretend that they are back in St. Louis, unloading the cargo from the keelboat.
  3. Explain to each group that their job is to sort this inventory list into six crates that can be shown to President Thomas Jefferson. Each crate should represent one of the goals of the Expedition identified on the "And Your Mission Is…!" worksheet from Session 1.
  4. Distribute several pieces of chart paper and markers to each group.
  5. Direct the groups to label each piece of chart paper "Crate 1," "Crate 2," and so on. Explain that each crate will represent a different mission of the Expedition. Remind the students that all the items on the inventory list must be represented in one of the crates.
  6. Direct the groups to review their KWHL charts. Discuss the crate charts as a class and add any new information to the class KWHL chart.
  7. Lead a class discussion on the role that the keelboat played in Lewis and Clark's Expedition. Have students discuss how the keelboat helped Lewis and Clark achieve their mission.
  8. Direct the students to write a composition responding to the following prompt: "How would Lewis and Clark's expedition have been different without the keelboat? What part of the mission might have been more successful? What might have failed?"
  9. If time allows, have students peer-edit their compositions for content, grammar, and mechanics, in class or as homework.
  10. Collect the student compositions for assessment.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Allow students to work one-on-one with partners throughout these activities.
  • Allow students to use a tape recorder, a portable word processor, or a scribe when creating their final compositions.


  • Allow the students to independently explore the other forms of transportation used by Lewis and Clark during their journey.
  • Invite students to explore and present information regarding one or several of the artifiacts sent back on this keelboat.


  • Use the group worksheets, group charts, and individual compositions as assessment tools.
  • Evaluate student participation in discussions .
  • Take anecdotal notes regarding students' ability to work cooperatively.

Common Core Standards

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.6 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Key Ideas and Details

  • RI.6.1. Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • RI.6.2. Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
  • RI.6.3. Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.6 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • RI.6.7. Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.
  • RI.6.8. Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.
  • RI.6.9. Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: W.6 Writing
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Research to Build and Present Knowledge

  • W.6.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.
  • W.6.8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources; assess the credibility of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.
  • W.6.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
    • Apply grade 6 Reading standards to literature (e.g., “Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres [e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories] in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics”).
    • Apply grade 6 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., “Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not”).

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: L.6 Language
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Conventions of Standard English

  • L.6.1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • Ensure that pronouns are in the proper case (subjective, objective, possessive).
    • Use intensive pronouns (e.g., myself, ourselves).
    • Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in pronoun number and person.
    • Recognize and correct vague pronouns (i.e., ones with unclear or ambiguous antecedents).
    • Recognize variations from standard English in their own and others' writing and speaking, and identify and use strategies to improve expression in conventional language.
  • L.6.2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
    • Use punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes) to set off nonrestrictive/parenthetical elements.
    • Spell correctly.

Discipline: Language Arts
Domain: RL.6 Reading: Informational Text
Grade(s): Grade 6
Cluster: Craft and Structure

  • RI.6.4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.
  • RI.6.5. Analyze how a particular sentence, paragraph, chapter, or section fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the ideas.
  • RI.6.6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.

National Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any National Standards.