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Lesson 15
The Art of Communication

Learning Objectives

Students will:
  • Participate in communication decoding experiences;
  • Experience the international language, Morse Code;
  • Hypothesize how Morse Code may have impacted Lewis and Clark’s expedition if it had been available to them.


This lesson correlates to the national McREL standards located online at .

Language Arts
Standard 3: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
Standard 5: Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Standard 3: Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.


  • A copy of the program Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (To order, visit ShopPBS)
  • A television and a VCR or DVD player
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Lesson 15 Student Activity Sheet

Time Needed

Two or three 45-minute class periods or one to two 90-minute class periods.

Teaching Strategy

  1. Create interest by having students view the first section of Part II. This segment (0:05:30-0:12:20 ) tells the story of how Chief Cameahwait agreed to sell the Corps of Discovery all the horses they needed to cross the mountains. This segment illustrates the lengths that were necessary in order for the two groups to communicate.

  2. Point out that translating from Shoshone to Hidatsa to French to English was what made it possible for the expedition members to communicate. Discuss how much time the translation must have taken, the possible problems translating through so many languages may have caused, and how remarkable it is that the Corps was able to complete the transaction and obtain the horses needed.

  3. Next, introduce students to Morse Code. Created by Samuel F. B. Morse in 1838 and still used today, particularly by amateur radio operators, Morse Code was used to transmit messages via telegraph beginning. Explain to students that Morse Code consists of a short sounds (dits) and longer sounds (dahs). Some students may be familiar with Morse Code from involvement in scouting activities or use of walkie talkies, etc.

  4. Distribute the Lesson 15 Student Activity Sheet . Review the letter chart and the series of dits and dahs used to represent each letter.

  5. Have students decode the message on the sheet and record it in the space provided. Check decoding for accuracy. The message should read: February 6, 1805 The blacksmiths take a considerable quantity of corn today in payment for their labour.

  6. Have students write their own Morse Code message and have a peer decode it.

  7. After the Morse Code activity is completed, students should write a 1-2 paragraph response to the following question: “How would Lewis and Clark’s journey have been different if they had been able to communicate with others using Morse Code? Give several examples.”

Online Resources

    A Science Odyssey: Sending Messages

    NOVA: Vanished

    International Morse Code Chart

    Morse Code Alphabet

    National Association for Amateur Radio

Assessment Recommendations

  1. Assign participation grades for completion of the Activity Sheet and classroom discussion activities.

  2. Assign a completion grade for the written response paragraphs activity.


  1. Have your students learn more about how Morse Code is used by amateur radio operators. Use the internet to research this or contact a local amateur radio operators club or organization and invite a guest speaker in to discuss and demonstrate if possible.

  2. Review photographs and information on various communication devices that have been developed. Some to research might include the telegraph transmitter and receiver, early telephone equipment, the first digital electronic computers developed during WWII , the first model of the 45 rpm record player , An Apple 1 Kit Computer, Robot Auto Factory, Digital/cellular telephones, and the Internet and email communications systems. Use information learned from researching to construct a timeline or display that illustrates the evolution of communication devices and the impact they have had on communication and our culture.

  3. Draw on multi-lingual students or people in your community and have a short, translated discussion in front of the class.