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 9
Packing for a Transcontinental Expedition

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Estimate the number and types of supplies that would be needed for a trans-continental expedition.
  • Compare and contrast their estimates with the actual supply list used by Meriwether Lewis.


This lesson correlates to the national McREL standards located online at

Standard 1: Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process
Standard 3: Uses basic and advanced procedures while performing the processes of computation
Standard 9: Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics

Thinking and Reasoning
Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument
Standard 5: Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques
Standard 6: Applies decision-making techniques.


  • A copy of 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
  • Graph paper and/or computers with graphing software such as Excel

Time Needed

Two 90-minute or four 45-minute class periods

Teaching Strategy

  1. Create student interest by working with students to measure a space the size of the keelboat (55 feet long by 8 feet wide). Mark this area on the floor or in some manner so that students can see it and have a frame of reference for the size of the boat.

  2. Discuss after viewing and be sure students understand what the goals of the expedition were. Review with students the number of people in the expedition, the land mass they were to explore, and the amount of time it was estimated they would be gone.

    Video clip (journey preparation): Part I, 00:01:00-00:17:15

  3. Have students work in cooperative groups to brainstorm a list of supplies the Corps of Discovery would have needed for their trans-continental expedition.

  4. Instruct each group to divide the list into items they would have to transport and items which could be obtained along the way.

  5. Each group should narrow the supplies they would have to transport down to the 10-20 items they feel are the most important. Encourage groups to keep in mind the dimensions of the keelboat. Realistically, what supplies could be transported safely? Groups should be prepared to defend/justify the reasoning behind their selections.

  6. Each student should develop a graph that is a visual representation of the items their group chose to bring along with the estimated quantity of each item. Students could create bar or circle graphs to describe their estimates. In addition to the graph, each student should write a justification for why the item was included on the graph and how the group arrived at the estimated quantity of each item.

  7. Have groups compare their list to the list of supplies collected by Meriwether Lewis. To find a list in the documentary video, view Part 1.

  8. Facilitate a class discussion where students surmise the importance of the items purchased by Meriwether Lewis.

  9. Conclude the lesson by asking each student to write a 1-2 paragraph response about which three items they believe would be most important for the expedition and why.

Assessment Recommendations

  • Participation grades could be given for taking part in brainstorming activities, class discussions, and group work.

  • Points or group work grades could be assigned for steps 3-5 group project.

  • Completion grades and/or letter grades could be given for construction of the graphs and related written information to accompany the graph and the final written response activity.


  • The keelboat was abandoned on the Jefferson River at Beaverhead Rocks. The Corps had to decide which items to leave behind as they continued their journey in the smaller canoes, on foot, and on horseback. Have the class re-examine Lewis' list of supplies and discuss which items would be kept and which ones would be discarded. Students should apply what they have learned to justify what supplies are most important.