Index Inside the Corps The Native Americans The Archive Living History Into the Unknown Forum with Ken Burns Classroom Resources Related Products Interactive Trail Map Search Lewis and Clark navigation Introduction Lessons Lewis and Clark navigation

Lesson 1
Uncharted Territory

Learning Objectives

Students will:
  • Identify and discuss attributes of and information available about places yet physically unexplored;
  • Chart what was known about and/or preconceived perceptions of the areas Lewis and Clark explored;
  • Compare and contrast past (pre-Lewis and Clark) and modern maps of North America;
  • Study the expedition’s route, identifying places it visited and named, and noting changes and similarities on modern day maps.


This lesson correlates to the national McREL standards located online at

Standard 1. Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes, and other geographic tools and technologies
Standard 2. Knows the location of places, geographic features, and patterns of the environment
Standard 4. Understands the physical and human characteristics of place
Standard 5. Understands the concept of regions
Standard 6. Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions


  • A copy of Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (To order visit Shop PBS)
  • A reproducible map of the US
  • A U. S. road atlas that includes topographical features and/or a U.S. topographical map that includes political boundaries
  • Colored pencils
  • A television and VCR or DVD player
  • Computers with Internet acces
  • Student Activity Sheets (requires Adobe Acrobat to download)

Time Needed

6-7 hours of class time

Teaching Strategy

Introductory Class Discussion

(NOTE: Students may first complete questions in Section 1 of the activity sheet to jumpstart their thoughts for class discussion.)

  1. Have students think about a place where no one has ever been. (You might get a variety of answers, from the bottom of the ocean to another galaxy.) Ask them what is known about these places. Are there preconceived ideas we have about them? Is information available about these sites? Have we been able to see these sites even if no one has visited them? How have we obtained information about these places so far?

  2. Invite students to discuss what they would do to prepare for a journey to a location where no one has ever been and/or for which there is limited information. Ask whether myths about the place might dissuade them from visiting it or entice them to explore.

  3. Explain that although people already lived in the region where Lewis and Clark visited, to the European people who had settled the eastern United States, the American West was a mysterious place. Invite students to discuss what Lewis and Clark must have imagined about their journey - particularly the places they would visit - before they embarked upon it.

  4. Show the segment of Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery in which John Allen compares the journey of Lewis and Clark to Apollo 13’s journey to the moon. Invite students to discuss any similarities and differences between the two journeys. For example, Allen notes that Apollo 13 was able to maintain contact with people on earth while it traveled through space. Lewis and Clark were isolated, without the means to report their day-to-day experiences with others.

  5. Have students write and illustrate journal entries in the voice of expedition members before they embark on their journey. The journal entry should discuss what they expect to find, what they fear, what they will miss, and where they plan to go. It can include, for example, sketches of the animals they might see, the terrain they can expect to cross, etc.

Life and Geography at the Time of the Expedition
  1. Instruct students to read the "Circa 1803" section of the Lewis and Clark Web site to determine what information was available to the Lewis and Clark expedition about the West before it embarked on its journey. Students can discuss this information after they have completed the chart in Section 2 of the activity sheet.

  2. Ask students to look at the pre-expedition map of the West in the Map section of this Web site's Archive. ("Soulard Map of the Missouri and Upper Mississippi, 1802" by William Clark) They should also look at "A New Map of North America from the Latest Discoveries" at the University of Virginia Library's Web site. These maps show empty spaces in the middle of the continent, California as an island, and the Rocky Mountains as being much smaller than they are. Ask students to compare this map to a modern map. Have them complete and discuss the questions in Section 3 of the activity sheet.

The Corps of Discovery Route
  1. Instruct students to look at "The Route of the Corps of Discovery" in the Archive section of this Web site to find out where the expedition actually went. Have them trace the journey on a copy of a U.S. map.

  2. Ask students to closely compare their maps to a modern map of the United States. Have them answer the related questions in Section 4) of the activity sheet.

Place Names

  1. Have students look at the modern U.S. map and locate areas through which Lewis and Clark passed, noting the how the explorers named these locations. They can refer to the following journal excerpts found at the Web site’s Archives to gain some of this information: Judith River: (footnote on 5/29/05), Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers: Lewis (7/28/05), and Ft. Clatsop: Whitehouse (12/25/05). Have students label these features on their maps and trace them with a red pencil to indicate that the Corps of Discovery named them.

Online Resources

    Harriman Expedition Retraced

    NOVA: Mountain of Ice


    Discoverers and Explorers

    Explorers Web

Assessment Recommendations

Evaluate students on the following aspects of performance. The student:

  • thoughtfully and accurately completed the Activity Sheet.

  • wrote a thoughtful journal entry that incorporated several of the components from the chart in the previous section.

  • accurately placed the requested route and site information on the map.

  • participated in the classroom discussion.


  • Have students research the origins of the pre-Lewis and Clark maps they looked at for this lesson. When were these maps made and by whom? Why would mapmakers have created maps without first verifying geographical accuracy? On what would they have based their information?

  • Local history can be fascinating. Ask students to research the origins of names of sites names close to their home.

  • Your students might also examine the Mars Pathfinder Mission Information at the NASA Web site to highlight information available about a planet that has yet been visited by humankind.