Jefferson and Expansion: Scaffolding Student Understanding of Cause and Effect

Lesson Plan

TitleJefferson and Expansion, Scaffolding Student Understanding of Cause and Effect

Grade Level: AP US History

Topics: Lewis and Clark and the Louisiana Purchase, Primary Documents

Subject: History: US, Geography

Author Information: 
Jamie Wilson
Watauga High School Boone, NC

Lesson Type: Both group and individual aspects

Duration: 60-90 minutes

Lesson Plan Overview: This lesson focuses on the following question: “Analyze the causes of and the resulting issues from the Louisiana Purchase. Concentrate your answer between the years 1790-1820.” The lesson will allow students to interact with primary sources and begin to develop the skills that will help them write a Document Based Question in the future. The activities help students to examine documents with the purpose of answering a question as opposed to simply analyzing for meaning, as well as grouping/analyzing documents for essay writing.

Prior Knowledge: Students will need to have at least a basic understanding of the timeline of the Louisiana Purchase, including the former ownership of the territory by Spain, the transfer to French ownership, and the issues surrounding the purchase by the United States.

AP US History Curriculum Framework Standard:

Key Concept 4.2– U.S. interest in increasing foreign trade, expanding its national borders, and isolating itself from European conflicts shaped the nation’s foreign policy and spurred government and private initiatives.

Key Concept 4.3.II: Various American groups and individuals initiated, championed, and/or resisted the expansion of territory and/or government powers.

A.With expanding borders came public debates about whether to expand and how to define and use the new territories.

C.Whites living on the frontier tended to champion expansion efforts, while resistance by American Indians led to a sequence of wars and federal efforts to control American

Indian populations.

Key Concept 4.3.III: The American acquisition of lands in the West gave rise to a contest over the extension of slavery into the western territories as well as a series of attempts at national compromise.

Lesson Plan Steps

1.For homework, students should read over the primary sources provided, and complete the Document Analysis Guide to help structure their thinking about the documents within the period. Included in this lesson are links to complete digital versions of the documents, as well as a printable copy of abridged versions of the documents. These will particularly be helpful if time is an issue or for students who may struggle with finding the main idea in a document.

2.When students arrive in class, the teacher may want to use some time to review the key components of the timeline that led to the Louisiana Purchase. (5-10 minutes)

3.As a large group, have students share the general categories they thought of in the graphic organizer (the third column). For causes, these will probably include topics such as Jefferson’s desire for an agrarian economy, and a desire to gain control of the Port at New Orleans. Resulting issues might include the spread of slavery, issues with Native Americans, rising conflicts within the nation, and Jefferson’s own Constitutional issues. (10 minutes)

4.Once the class has created a list of agreeable topics, the teacher should create a group to focus on each topic. Each group will examine the documents again through the lens of their assigned topic. Each group should receive a copy of the Topic Analysis Guide, and they should use the documents to answer the questions as a group. (30-45 minutes)

5.Once groups have finished, each group should share their work/thoughts with the entire class.

(15-20 minutes)

Possible Extensions:

  • The class can work together to turn this preliminary work into a finished essay. Each group could write a paragraph based on their work, and then groups could rotate their paragraphs to another group for proofreading and editing.
  • After discussion of the information, students could write their own essay on the topic, either for homework, or the next day in class.
  • The documents and key question could be used as a DBQ


  • Students will either need links to the original documents, or copies of the abridged versions of the documents as well as the graphic organizer to complete the homework.
  • In class, students will need copies of the Topic Analysis Guide.

Document List: Digital Versions

Accommodations: Students who are higher ability could be given the full text of all documents rather than the abridged versions.

Assessment: The assignment itself is a formative assessment in both skills and content. Students will be able to demonstrate their proficiency with document analysis, their understanding of cause and effect, and their ability to write clearly and concisely to answer a question. Students will also be able to demonstrate their understanding of the history surrounding the Louisiana Purchase.