Manifest Destiny Lesson Plan

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Use this lesson plan to introduce the concept of manifest destiny. Read about the background, learn about key figures, and examine opinions on the topic. Follow up with a writing and dramatic activity.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • explain the term Manifest Destiny
  • describe the inspiration for expansion
  • define key terms
  • decide and debate an opinion


1 hour


  • Role cards (see below)

Key Vocabulary & Concepts

  • Manifest Destiny
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Revolutionary War
  • John Winthrop
  • Ohio Valley
  • Louisiana Purchase
  • Rocky Mountains
  • Texas
  • Mexico
  • John O'Sullivan
  • Santa Anna
  • Democratic Review
  • James K. Polk
  • Oregon Territory
  • Henry Clay
  • Ulysses S. Grant
  • William Ellery Channing
  • Emanuel Leutze's Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way
  • John Gast's American Progress
  • hot button issue
  • territory
  • annexation
  • editorial
  • lamentable

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.


  • Build background knowledge and connect students to learning by asking them to do a flash writing reflecting and commenting on the core idea of Manifest Destiny - the U.S. is destined to expand and civilize the world.
  • Share answers and clarify understanding.
  • Tell students they will be investigating westward expansion, specifically the term Manifest Destiny.
  • Discuss the meaning of these and other vocabulary/concept words before the lesson to ensure understanding.
  • With students, read the lesson Manifest Destiny: Summary, Definition & Timeline.
  • Refer to a map of the United States (as seen in our lesson) to add visual representation to concepts.
  • As you read, discuss concepts. Use these questions to guide students to a deeper understanding:
    • Describe how the roots of Manifest Destiny can be said to be found in colonial times. Give evidence.
    • What is the role of Texas in the concept of Manifest Destiny?
    • Explain O'Sullivan's thinking in his Manifest Destiny opinion.
    • Discuss the quote from James K. Polk that Mexico was 'inferior in both race and power' that it must 'bend to the will of its neighbor.' Why did people think this way? Did everyone agree?
    • What role did art play in the Manifest Destiny movement? Why?
    • What role did the theory of Manifest Destiny play in the late 1800's and 1900's?
  • With students, create a chart of those who believed in Manifest Destiny and those who did not. List their opinions and quotes; create a timeline to record events.


  • Students will work as individuals, partner pairings, or small groups to defend their feelings and opinions of Manifest Destiny.
  • Either assign students a role, allow them to choose, or choose randomly. Roles for this activity include a slave, Native American, white colonist or settler, abolitionist, Mexican, Frenchman, women, and any other you'd like to include.
  • After students have their role card, instruct them to use their imaginations and historical documents to create a short first person narrative describing their life and reactions to Manifest Destiny.
  • If time allows, students can perform a short skit, sharing their ideas. Or, allow students to read their narrative. Discuss and defend ideas.


  • Read diaries, letters and other documents from this time period. Compare and contrast to your students' work.
  • View the art listed in this lesson and other forms created during this period. Discuss the importance and allow students to create their own paintings and drawings.
  • The role of women during this time is very different than today. Discuss what women were thinking and doing during this time. Ask students to consider if the movement of Manifest Destiny would have been different if women were given a louder voice.

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