Northwest Ordinance Lesson Plan

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson plan will provide you with a quiz, discussion questions and topics, an activity, and key vocabulary that will help students learn about the Northwest Ordinance.

Learning Objectives

After students have finished this lesson, they should be able to:

  • define the Northwest Ordinance
  • identify the area of land known as the Northwest Territory
  • name the states that belong to this territory
  • understand the way these states arose thanks to the Northwest Ordinance


1-2 hours


  • Handouts of the The Northwest Ordinance: Definition & Summary lesson text.
  • A map of the Northwest Territory that showcases the physical landmarks.
  • Maps of the original sizes of many of our original states
  • Handouts of the transcript of the Northwest Ordinance, one for each student.

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Key Vocabulary

  • Northwest Ordinance
  • Northwest Territory
  • Thomas Jefferson

Warm Up

  • Gauge how familiar your class is with the lesson topic by asking:
    • Does anyone know where the Northwest Territory used to be?
  • Warm up the class for the lesson by asking:
    • If the U.S. had a lot more stateless territory, how would you go about creating new states?
    • How would you divide them up?
    • What rights would they have compared to the older 50 U.S. states?

Instructions & Discussion Questions

  • Write the key vocabulary on the board.
  • Pass out the handout containing the lesson text on The Northwest Ordinance: Definition & Summary. Students should read this quietly on their own, taking notes on important topics and key vocabulary.
  • Now start the video portion of the lesson, pausing at 0:37.
    • What was the purpose of the Northwest ordinance?
    • Show students a map of the Northwest Territory that showcases the physical landmarks that delineated this territory in more detail.
  • Pause after 2:52.
    • Show the students various maps of the original sizes of many of our original states.
    • How did Congress acquire much of the western lands?
    • Who was Thomas Jefferson?
  • Pause at 3:54.
    • What were Jefferson's suggestions with respect to admitting new states?
    • Explain to students why Jefferson's original proposal never made it past Congress?
  • Pause after 6:15.
    • When could a region apply for statehood?
    • What rights would these states have?
    • What states eventually comprised what was once the Northwest Territory?
    • Discuss why/how slavery was banned in the Northwest Territory despite its existence at the time of the territory in some U.S. states.
  • Watch the rest of the lesson, answering any remaining questions.
  • Once the discussion has concluded, students should take the lesson quiz as an in-class mini activity. Review the questions and answers to clear up any commonly missed points.

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