US Territorial Expansion Lesson Plans

After the United States gained their independence, they set their sights on the territory to the west, and the expansion carried on into the 20th century. War, economics, culture, and innovation are prevalent and recurring themes surrounding territorial expansion. In these activities, students will explore the acquisition of different territories throughout Colonial America and understand how expansion affected not only our nation's history, but also the history of the world.

Student Activities for US Territorial Expansion

Essential Questions for U.S. Territorial Expansion (1783-1959)

  1. Why did Americans desire westward expansion?
  2. Why do people move?
  3. What were the economic, political, and social forces driving people westward?
  4. How did the spirit of improvement, along with a rise in industry and new technologies, affect the nation’s development and expansion?
  5. How do major themes such as war, culture, religion, technology, economics, race, and geography permeate the various expansions of American territory?
  6. How did territorial expansion cause conflict with other nations and cultures?
  7. How has territorial expansion shaped the world’s current day perception and idea of what America stands for?

Colonial America

Within the confines of American history, the acquisition of land has been a crucial motivating factor in expanding our country’s power. War, death, discovery, and success have all been byproducts of such expansion. The United States’ history is molded by the ambition and drive to increase our holdings and opportunities. From the initial war with Great Britain for the original thirteen colonies, to the purchase of the Louisiana Territories from France, and even the imperialist ambitions against weaker countries, the United States has aimed to grow in power through land. Over the course of 170 years, America has grown to include 50 states and a multitude of lands around the world.

The impact expansion has had on the geography, history, society, and culture of the United States is immense. Through the activities in this lesson plan, students and teachers alike can better grasp how we came to be where we are today and analyze the various expansions America has experienced.

Find more lesson plans and activities like these in our History Category!
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