Westward Expansion Unit Plan

Instructor: Anthony Cognata

Anthony has taught multiple grade levels in middle school, coached across contents, and has a master's degree in Educational Leadership.

The following unit plan will help you explore the Westward Expansion with your students. You will find a variety of resources to utilize including activities, project ideas, discussion questions, and lesson plans.

Westward Expansion Unit

As you begin to think about teaching students all about Westward Expansion, it can often feel pretty daunting. There is so much that could be included in a study on Westward Expansion. This unit is meant to explore the time period and hone in on the following:

  • Individuals moved west because they thought that they were going to have more opportunities, riches, etc.
  • The nation as a whole bought into the idea of Manifest Destiny in the 1840s as continued American dominance grew in the region.

Use the outline and various resources below to assist you in helping students understand these concepts.


It will help to have an opening discussion or activity to gauge your students' level of knowledge. The following questions or activities are ideas to aid you in your teaching:

  • What was Westward Expansion? Are there any famous historical figures that were involved in this movement that you know? What about key terms associated with Westward Expansion?
  • What positives do you think came from Westward Expansion? What negatives do you think came from Westward Expansion?
  • Show students a collection of paintings and pictures from the period of Westward Expansion. Have students discuss what they see in the pictures and what they think life was like during that time period.

Analyzing Causes, Events, and Effects

You will want to begin your study of Westward Expansion by figuring out what factors drove European Americans westward during the 19th century. You'll also want to note what obstacles were initially in the way of their movement west. Through this Westward Expansion Lesson Plan students get a basic idea of what the term means and what the everyday life of pioneers was like. With this California Gold Rush Lesson Plan you can emphasize to students the idea that many pioneers had great expectations of wealth and prosperity that they didn't have about their original homes.

Then, you will want to have them analyze the idea of Manifest Destiny as this is critical to their understanding of the time. This Manifest Destiny Lesson Plan is a great segue into that topic. If you have already taught the Louisiana Purchase and War of 1812, you can circle back to those topics and discuss with students that those could be seen as beginning events that led people to really believe in Manifest Destiny. You will want to explore this further with the events that took place in Texas in the 1830s and 1840s. This Texas Revolution Lesson Plan and learning about the Mexican American War will be crucial for them to see the whole picture.

As your students get further into their understanding of the time period, the following Debating Westward Expansion Lesson Plan is a beneficial way for them to utilize their historical thinking skills and the material that they have learned so far.

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