ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Lewis and Clark: Artful Recordings

Capture observations in nature in the spirit of explorers Lewis and Clark


Key Staff

Classroom Teacher

Key Skills

Making Art: Analyzing Assessing and Revising
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Communication and Collaboration


From 1803 until 1805, explorers Lewis and Clark, under the charge of President Thomas Jefferson, set out to map and explore land obtained through the Louisiana Purchase. Not only were they explorers, they were also historians, as they and other members of the Corps of Discovery recorded their discoveries of new plants, animals, and people in journals. In this lesson, students take on the roles of Lewis and Clark, as they explore the original journals and create journals of their own.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Be exposed to oral and written history of the Lewis and Clark expedition
  • Research the original journals of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery using primary Resources
  • Select and research one plant and one animal species identified by the two explorers
  • Create detailed drawings and write an observation of selected plant and animal
  • Species in their environments in a nature journal

Teaching Approach

Comprehensive Arts Education

Teaching Methods

  • Discussion
  • Reflection
  • Experiential Learning
  • Group or Individual Instruction

Assessment Type

Peer Evaluation


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Internet Access
  • Projector
  • 1 Computer per Learner
Required Plugins
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Review the history of Lewis, Clark, and the Corps of Discovery. Possible resources include:

Listen to excerpts from The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (edited by Gary E. Moulton), especially those addressing plant and animal encounters and discoveries (requires Flash Player).

Review select illustrated pages from the Lewis and Clark journals.

Become familiar with the original journals of Lewis and Clark, specifically dates addressing plants and animals. You can direct students to particular dates if research time is limited (for example, one time period rich in discoveries was September 5-18, 1804).

If students will not have access to computers for journal research, obtain print resources of the journals from the library for student use or schedule time in the library or computer lab for student research.

Obtain and review Plants on the Trail with Lewis and Clark and Animals on the Trail with Lewis and Clark, both by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.

Read about Nature Journaling

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with:

  • Westward Expansion
  • Louisiana Purchase
  • Explorers Lewis and Clark (which can be taught as part of this lesson)

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Media Center or Library
  • Computer Lab


  • Large Group Instruction
  • Individualized Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Play an audio excerpt from one of Lewis or Clark’s journals. A possible selection is May 29, 1805. NOTE: Do not show the excerpt. Allow audio only.

2. Ask follow-up questions about the excerpt.

  • Who may be writing this?
  • Where are they?
  • What is the purpose of this writing?
  • How does the writer feel at the time of this writing?
  • What type of writing is this?
  • What is something that you may write that may be similar in style?

3. Play the audio again, and this time, show the text of the excerpt.

4. Ask follow-up questions about the written excerpt.

  • What is unusual about this writing?
  • What can you determine about the writer?
  • Is it beneficial for the reader to see the writing in its original, uncorrected, form?
  • Why or why not?

Build Knowledge

1. Introduce journals as one type of primary resource (first-hand recordings of a historical event). Discuss other types of primary resources (interviews, photographs, video recordings, audio recordings, etc.)

2. Share select pages of Lewis and Clark journals. Discuss the importance of the written word, the role of the illustrations, and how they work together to create a complete document.

3. Introduce or review the historic exploration of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. Explain that one of the goals of the exploration was to record new discoveries, including those of plants and animals. (The level of detail for this part of the lesson will depend on curriculum objectives for this age/grade level.)


1. Explore the original journals of Lewis and Clark. Using online or print resources, ask students to look for journal recordings of plants and animals encountered during the expedition. (Depending on the source, they may or may not be illustrated.) If time is limited, direct students to specific time spans for exploration.

2. Ask each student to research one animal and one plant discovered during the Lewis and Clark journey. The Research Guide handout, listing areas of research, is available within the Resource Carousel. Areas of research should include, but are not limited to:

  • The common name of the plant or animal
  • The scientific name of the plant or animal
  • The date it was first discovered or noted by the Corps of Discovery
  • The location it was found by the Corps of Discovery
  • What the journal writer said about the plant or animal
  • A reproduction of the illustration by the journal writer
  • What the author thought it might be
  • The current status of the plant or animal (common, endangered, extinct, protected)
  • Physical characteristics of the plant or animal that would help someone else identify it
  • Students should present their findings informally in a classroom discussion. Create a list of reported plants and animals.

3. Create nature journals. Each student will create a nature journal to capture personal observations of the natural world in a future lesson step. Students can make these journals from repurposed notebooks or composition books or create them from raw materials (paper, cardboard, leather, fabric, string, yarn, etc.) The detail is up to the teacher. (This may be a good part of the lesson to do in collaboration with the art instructor.) Resources are provided at the end of this lesson.

4. Record an event or observation in nature in the student nature journals just like Lewis and Clark did. Ask students to observe and record an object or event in the natural world using words and illustrations. This could be a plant, an animal, an animal home, tracks, scat, a land formation, the weather, etc. The observation could occur during a class field trip experience or nature walk in or around school property or at a nearby natural area. The nature journal entry should include but is not limited to:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Location
  • Visual description (in narrative form, 3-4 sentences in length)
  • Other sensory observations (smell, hear, touch with caution, do not taste)
  • Illustration of observation/object


1. Present journal entries to class. Individually, ask students to read their journal entries aloud to the class. Ask the class to try to determine -- by the words only -- what event or object the journal writer (or naturalist) recorded. The writer can then reveal the illustration for the class for confirmation (or non-confirmation). Offer constructive criticism to the journal entry author for improvement. (Record guess, actual journal entry, and score on the Peer Review form.)

2. Record a second event or observation. Repeat the recording process as a homework assignment. Have students present their journal entries to the class. Did the author improve on his or her recording ability?

3. Discuss the use of primary resources (such as nature journals) today to record observations and events.

4. Have students review each other's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.

Extending the Learning

1. Compare two or more entries by Lewis, Clark, and the Corps of Discoveries for a single date.

2. Analyze a journal from a non-traditional source, such as Seaman, the dog on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

3. Write original journal entries as a member of the Corps of Discovery.

4. Continue to record observations and events in nature in journals.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
Visual Art

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 5: Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others

Grade 5-8 Visual Arts Standard 6: Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines

National Standards in Other Subjects
Historical Understanding

Historical Understanding Standard 1: Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns

Historical Understanding Standard 2: Understands the historical perspective

Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Language Arts Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes


Science Standard 11: Understands the nature of scientific knowledge

Science Standard 12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry



Mary Beth Bauernschub
Original Writer

Carol Parenzan Smalley

Email Print Share


- +
Email a link to this page
Share This Page



Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center 

with the support of

The US Department of Education 

ARTSEDGE, part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program, is generously funded by David Rubenstein.

Additional support is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee
for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
Unless otherwise stated, ArtsEdge materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes
provided that ArtsEdge and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  
    Privacy Policy
| Terms and Conditions


You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.