Lesson Plan:

The Impact of Physical Features on Western Settlement

By Colleen Fitzgerald


Throughout our history, factors such as physical features, Native American settlements, economic opportunity, and political decisions have created new human settlement patterns. In this lesson students read diary entries and analyze works of art to develop generalizations about the influence of physical features on westward settlement patterns in the mid-1800s.

National Standards (National Center for History in the Classroom, 1996)

Grades 5-12

This lesson addresses Standard 1, Era 4 (United States Territorial Expansion between 1801 and 1861) Under Historical Thinking, it addresses Standard 2 (Historical Comprehension) as it relates to comprehending historical narratives and drawing upon visual material as sources of information for historical study.


  • Physical map of the United States
  • Printed Copies of Artwork (attached)
  • Copy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum painting Colorado by Boardman Robinson, 1946
  • Copy of the Wyoming State Historical Society painting Green River Crossing of the Overland Trail by Dave Paulley, 1986
  • Copies of diary entries found under Materials


    gunwale - the upper edge of the side of a vessel
    swamp - to fill (a ship or boat) with water to the point of sinking it
    haul - to pull or drag forcibly
    bluff - a steep headland, promontory, riverbank, or cliff