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History Detectives 5th Grade Standard IV Object. 1

Main Core Tie

Social Studies - 5th Grade
Standard 4 Objective 1

Time Frame

2 class periods of 45 minutes each

Group Size

Small Groups




Students will use primary source materials to investigate significant events in American History of the 19th Century.



  1. 6 folders labeled with the 6 general topics of this lesson (See attachments for file folder labels.)
  2. Each folder will contain copies of primary source materials for its specific topic. (See attachments. Some sample resources are provided or the teacher may wish to use their own primary sources.)
  3. Chosen Project materials. (See list of extension activities below.)
  4. Historian's Investigative Sheet

Background for Teachers

Teacher needs general knowledge of the following content: the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the California Gold Rush, Treaties with American Indians, the Trail of Tears, the Homestead Act, the Oregon Trail, and the Spanish Trail. It would be helpful to understand how to find and use primary sources.

Student Prior Knowledge

Basic understanding of U.S. geography and research skills, i.e. encyclopedia, atlas, internet.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of the motivation for each of the following events in U.S. History and the significance for each.

Instructional Procedures

  1. The teacher will prepare 6 investigative folders. Inside the folders there will be primary source materials about the following topics. (See Materials' attachments above.)
    1. The Louisiana Purchase (Lewis and Clark)
    2. The California Gold Rush
    3. Treaties with American Indians /The Trail of Tears
    4. The Homestead Act
    5. The Oregon Trail
    6. The Spanish Trail
  2. The teacher divides the class into 6 groups. (Groups smaller than 4 students are not suggested.) Then the teacher assigns 1 folder to each group. The students will look through their assigned folder and discuss what they know about each primary source document or artifact. Next, as a group, they will write a sentence or statement about each item. The groups will then share their information with the whole class.
  3. Teacher reads a book about the 6 topics. (Here are some suggested titles.)
    Suggested Read-Alouds
    • How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark by Rosalyn Shanzer
    • Gold Fever: Tales From the California Gold Rush by Rosalyn Shanzer
    • Trail of Tears by Michael Burgman
    • Quilt Block History of Pioneer Days by Mary Cobb
    • The Oregon and Santa Fe Trails by Cindy Borden
  4. Students will complete the Historian's Investigative Sheet and then will present their findings to the class.

Strategies for Diverse Learners

Differentiation -- ELL write 1 sentence Regular -- write a paragraph.



  • Day by Day with Lewis and Clark
    One highlight of this site is it's hosting of "Day by Day with Lewis and Clark". It is an audio archive consisting of 627 three-and-one-half-minute audio vignettes covering the expedition's 863 days en route. "It was produced by the late Elena "Leni" Holliman for Yellowstone Public Radio, of Billings, Montana for the bicentennial observance, from May, 2004 through September, 2006."
  • Go West Across America With Lewis and Clark student interactive web site
    The Louisiana Purchase (Lewis and Clark)
    *Go West Across America With Lewis and Clark student interactive web site
  • Gold Rush
    The PBS link for the American Experience film "Gold Rush".
  • Lewis & Clark Great Journey West
    This site has an interactive journey log as well as teacher lesson plans and materials. It is also a companion to new large format film from National Geographic entitled "Lewis & Clark Great Journey West".
  • Lewis and Clark Map
    This is the above site's link to a map of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
  • Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation
    Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation site that has teacher links and a kids' page
  • Library of Congress
    The Library of Congress copy of the Homestead Act document.
  • National Archives
  • National Park Service
    The National Park Service site for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
  • PBS web site
    This is a companion to the Ken Burns movie entitled "Lewis & Clark The Journey of the Corps of Discovery". This site has a great interactive map and an archive, which includes maps and journal entries.
  • Scholastic
    Student interactive web site sponsored by Scholastic.
  • South Dakota
    This is a site from South Dakota. It has journal, map, and time line resources for both teachers and students.
  • The California Gold Rush
    This is a portal to lots of resources and other links for the California Gold Rush for both students and teachers.
  • The Homestead Act
  • The Oregon Trail
  • The Spanish Trail
  • The Trail of Tears
    Treaties with American Indian /The Trail of Tears
    The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
  • Trail of Tears
    The PBS site for historic documents about the Trail of Tears.
  • Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
    The National Park Service site for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
  • We Shall Remain
    The PBS link for the American Experience film "We Shall Remain" with links to educational resources.
  • Westward Expansion Scholastic
    A student interactive web site on Westward Expansion sponsored by Scholastic.

  1. Students could research for specific information about one of the lesson topics or historical events.
  2. Students could write up their report as a participant or stand-by observer:
    • Write a mock journal
    • Create an advertisement
    • Write a newspaper article
    • Write as an 'Imbedded Reporter'
    • Create a picture story
    • Make a PowerPoint, slideshow, or other multimedia presentation
  3. Students could identify the cause for the historical event.

Then the students could identify the result or consequences of the historical event.

The following Web Sites have wonderful resources for teachers and/or students to use in any part of this lesson.

Assessment Plan

Assessment Options

  1. Each student will complete the Primary Source Summary found at the bottom of the Historical Investigative Sheet. (See Materials' attachments.)
  2. Using the information shared with the class from the different Primary Sources, write 1 paragraph to summarize each event or all 6 events.
  3. Students could identify the cause for the historical event. Then the students could identify the result or consequences of the historical event.

Created: 06/25/2009
Updated: 02/05/2018