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U.S. Territorial Expansion (1783-1959)

Lesson Plans by Richard Cleggett

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US Territorial Expansion Lesson Plans

Student Activities for US Territorial Expansion Include:

War, economics, culture, and innovation are prevalent and recurring themes surrounding territorial expansion. U.S. territorial expansion starts in the early days of the country and carries on into the 20th century. The history, events, and major effects of expansion play pivotal roles in not only our nation’s history, but the world’s history.


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US Territorial Expansion Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Original 13 Colonies Lesson Plan | Frayer Model

US Territorial Expansion - The Original 13 Colonies
US Territorial Expansion - The Original 13 Colonies

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The original 13 American colonies serve as the foundation to America and its future expansion across the North American continent. The causes, effects, purpose, and culture of the original thirteen colonies are the primary elements in understanding this first undertaking of land acquisition.

Using a Frayer Model storyboard, students will identify and explain the major causes and effects of British North American colonists fighting for - and winning - the rights to America’s original thirteen colonies. Students will examine how the colonies functioned, and also how and why the idea of expansion was further peaked.



Extended Activity

Have students examine and analyze one colony or region of colonies (New England, Mid-Atlantic, or Southern). Using the Frayer Model storyboard, have students explain the function of each colony or region and the major roles it played not only as an original land expansion, but for future expansions as well. Reference “The Development of the Colonies” in our Events and Causes of the American Revolution lesson plans for further ideas.


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The Louisiana Purchase of 1803

US Territorial Expansion - The Louisiana Purchase of 1803
US Territorial Expansion - The Louisiana Purchase of 1803

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Using a spider map, students can detail and explain the 5 W’s of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. By identifying and explaining who, what, when, where, and why, students will be able to analyze the significance of what will be the largest land acquisition in American history. Doubling the size of the country, the Louisiana Purchase proved vital in the idea of expansion and manifest destiny. The land itself will be utilized and explored, and will provide major economic opportunity for generations, even to this day.


Extended Activity

Have students create a spider map for one or more current day states that presently exist in what was once the unexplored Louisiana Territory. Students should identify factual information about the state like population, laws, economic functions, and history. This will allow students to make current event connections to one of the earliest land acquisitions in American history.


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Florida Acquisitions (1810-1819)

US Territorial Expansion - Florida Acquisitions
US Territorial Expansion - Florida Acquisitions

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Less than twenty years after the Louisiana Purchase, the United States was able to acquire Florida from Spain. More territory meant more land for settling and economic ventures, as well as greater access to natural resources and trade. The U.S. began to assert itself as a power in North America.

Students will use a traditional storyboard to outline and define how the United States acquired various parts of Florida from the Spanish. Each box should refer to either a major figure, event, acquisition, treaty, etc. This activity can be either teacher or student led. Teachers can select pre-determined information that they want their students to research about America’s Florida acquisitions, or students can have autonomy on what they’d like to include in their board. Focus should remain on major events, legislation, and conflict with both Spain and the native population.



Extended Activity

Have students research the history of Florida before America’s acquisition of it and beyond. Focus on conflict and fighting with the Native American population, in particular the Seminoles. Students should research and organize, in a traditional storyboard, the major events, figures, and legislation regarding Florida and its territorial, cultural, and social history. Reference “Jackson and the Indian Policy” in the Jacksonian Democracy lesson plans.


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Texan Independence and Annexation

Texan Independence and the Annexation of Texas
Texan Independence and the Annexation of Texas

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The Annexation of Texas was a great victory for the United States. Both the acquisition of territory and military successes benefited the economy and standing of the United States.

Utilizing a grid storyboard, students will detail both Texas’ fight for independence, as well as its eventual annexation into America as a state. One row will be used to explain Texan Independence and the other will focus on the Mexican-American War, in which Texas is fought for and won. The column categories will detail territorial expansion, including major figures, major events, significance, and effects in regards to Texas as a territorial acquisition. Students will then analyze and connect Texas’ own fight for independence, and their eventual path to statehood, with America’s overall history of expansion.

Break this activity into smaller pieces among groups if necessary. One group could focus on Texan Independence and another group on the Annexation of Texas, or assign one column to a group or student.



Extended Activity

Have students research the history of Mexico and their path to becoming an independent nation. This will give a more global perspective on Texas as a territory, and a more expansive history of the land, culture, and people of South Central North America. Use the grid storyboard layout detailing both French and Spanish control of the region, and Mexico’s path to independence.


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Oregon Territory 1846

US Territorial Expansion - The Oregon Territory 1846
US Territorial Expansion - The Oregon Territory 1846

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Rallying around the idea of an American border at 54°40’ North latitude, Americans were willing to fight Great Britain over the swampy, wooded area. With war raging in Mexico, however, many were relieved when conflict was avoided. The idea of manifest destiny was soon realized, as American territory officially stretched to the Pacific Ocean.

The spider map layout will be used to illustrate the 5 Ws of America acquiring the Oregon Territory. By detailing the major points of conflict with Great Britain, and the United States being on the brink of war, students will analyze and explain how America peacefully acquired what is now the Northwest continental United States.



Extended Activity

Have students use a spider map storyboard to further detail a present state in the Northwest territory. Students should focus on economics, functions, populations, commerce, etc. to expand on what the area means to present day America. Utilize the 5 W’s activity to allow students to compare and contrast the path from territorial acquisition to statehood.


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Westward Expansion Timeline of the United States (1803-1959)

US Territorial Expansion Timeline 1803-1959
US Territorial Expansion Timeline 1803-1959

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Using a timeline storyboard, have students chronologically organize each territorial expansion in American history. Beginning with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, have students note and explain major acquisitions such as Florida, Texas, the Mexican Cession, Oregon, and for connective purposes, include the modern acquisitions of Hawaii and Alaska (both of which became states in 1959). Students will be able to analyze and explain major concepts such as manifest destiny, war, foreign relations, and culture. The timeline storyboard will also provide a visual narrative of westward expansion.


Westward Expansion Timeline

1803

Louisiana Purchase

As a young, ambitious country, the United States aimed to continue expansion. In 1803, with Thomas Jefferson as president, the U.S. brokers a deal with France for the Louisiana Purchase. The acquisition doubles the size of the United States.

1819

Florida Acquisitions

Under President James Monroe, the U.S. fiercely contests Spain for control of both East and West Florida. Spain, weakened from war with France, cedes Florida to the U.S., even despite controversial military moves by General Andrew Jackson.

1836

Texas Achieves Independence

As American settlers poured into Northern Mexico, so did their ideas of independence and autonomy. After warring with Mexico for over three years, Texans finally achieve independence, remaining their own republic for nine years.

1846

Oregon Territory

While at war with Mexico, the U.S. also found themselves contesting Great Britain over the Oregon Territory. Tensions rose, as did the cry for war. However, the territory was peacefully divided at the 49th parallel, and war averted.

1848

Mexican Cession

Desiring Texas, and fueled by the idea of manifest destiny, the U.S. initiates war with Mexico. After nearly three years of fighting, the U.S. defeats Mexico, and is awarded nearly 55% of Mexico's territory. The region constitutes the entire Southwest U.S.

1959

Alaska and Hawaii Become States

The last two states to enter the Union were Hawaii and Alaska, both in 1959. Hawaii was previously imperialized and made a territory in 1893. Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million dollars.



Extended Activity

Have students create a timeline storyboard on post 1850s land acquisitions to exemplify America’s imperialist period. Students should include acquisitions of territories, protectorates, and wherever else America has held influence. Places that could be included: Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines.Hawaii and Alaska could also be re-introduced and explained.


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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 our initial war with Great Britain for the original thirteen colonies, to our purchase of the Louisiana Territories from France, and even our imperialist ambitions against weaker countries, the United States has aimed to grow in power through land even at our humble beginnings. 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 our geography, history, society, and culture is immense. By using Storyboard That to explain and analyze the various expansions America has experienced, students and teachers alike can better grasp how we came to be where we are today. With a variety of storyboard graphic organizers available, students will be able to contextualize America’s expansions.


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?



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