American Imperialism Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

In this lesson plan, we'll give you the tools to explain to your students why Puerto Rico and Guam are part of the United States, as well as other aspects of America's imperialist history.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to complete the following:

  • Understand the concept of Imperialism.
  • Recognize economic, political, and cultural imperialism.
  • Trace the development of America's colonial holdings during the early 20th century.


  • For the activity, a set of dice for each pair of students in your classroom.


30 minutes, then another 40 minutes for the activity

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.


Play the video American Imperialism Around the Globe, stopping at the following points to raise these questions for discussion:

  • 1:17 - How does the idea of 'nation', or a group of people with a shared culture, factor into the United States' expansion? Have we been an empire since our first moves after independence? Or have we 'Americanized' some places while left others as their own?
  • 3:00 - Would you consider the Southwest part of the American empire back then, when most people spoke Spanish and were culturally Mexican? What about today, when despite heavy Mexican cultural influence, the area is decidedly American?
  • 6:27 - Compare the ideas of Cultural and Economic Imperialism. What countries today use cultural imperialism? What about economic imperialism?


Divide your class into four groups:

  • Economic Imperialists
  • Cultural Imperialists
  • Political Imperialists
  • Anti-Imperialists

Each imperialist group should choose a country that was colonized by the Americans and say why it was a good thing for America that the country was colonized. Meanwhile, the anti-imperialists should discuss why the United States should stay away from Imperialistic practices in general. Give them 15 minutes to discuss their positions. Here are some points they should consider during their discussion:

  • Was the decision good for the United States?
  • Was it true to American principles?
  • Was it good for the people of the colonized area?
  • How would they convince opponents, both in the United States and in the target country, to accept their opinion?

After 15 minutes, give each group 3-5 minutes to present their findings.


  • Have your class read and discuss the Monroe Doctrine, most notably the second paragraph.
  • Encourage students to compare the ideas of American Imperialism to the idea of Manifest Destiny. Are there overlaps? What are the differences?
  • Place American Imperialism in the late 19th century in the scope of the Imperialism of major European powers. Was America really acting all that differently than the U.K. or France?

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