Westward Expansion: Grade 2 Lesson on the Transportation Revolution

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1. Describe how new forms of transportation and communications impacted the westward expansion of the United States SS02-S01-C05-04

Transportation (e.g., trails, turnpikes, canals, wagon trains, steamboats, railroads)

Communication (e.g., Pony Express, telegraph)

2. Know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently. LA2-RI-5


  • Pieces of bulletin board paper to create murals
  • Art supplies
  • Access to computers or library with encyclopedias and reference books
  • Map of the United States


Gather students around you and tell a brief story of how transportation aided in the westward expansion of the United States. Use the U.S. map to tell your story.

When the United States was a new country most people lived in the New England area and along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. After a while, the people realized that they could not grow certain crops they wanted in the soil and climate of that area, so they decided to move west. (Show this on the map.)

Remember that they didn’t have cars, planes, trucks or trains so it was not easy at all to move. Many moved close to the Mississippi so that they could use the river to transport goods. They often got to their destination by walking on trails (ex. The Oregon Trail) and pulling a cart with a few possessions. Some were lucky enough to ride horses or travel in covered wagons. The best known was a Conestoga.

The roads were often rutted or muddy or even nonexistent! People knew that something had to be done. A private company started building a better road system called turnpikes.

After folks were settled and growing crops, they needed to find ways to send the crops to other places in trade. They used flat boats to travel up and down the waterways. Eventually steamboats were built which could carry more people and supplies. They built manmade waterways called canals to connect cities that had no natural waterways.

Before long railroads were being used. These were cheaper to build and did not freeze up in the winter, as did some of the waterways. It took a while to standardize the railroads so that all trains could run on all tracks. Still, trains were a faster and cheaper way to travel.

During this time, communication was being developed as well. Remember that they did not have computers or phones for texts and emails! In the early days when folks wrote a letter, they never knew if or when the letter would get to its destination. That had to be changed.

The Pony Express was one answer. In rain or shine men traveled quickly on horses to deliver mail. They changed horses every ten miles and continued riding. Then the telegraph machine was invented and became the fastest way to send a message.

Think of how things have changed from then to present day! In which time period would you like to live?


Divide your students into small groups. Because the students will perform a small amount of research, you may want to choose a better reader to be in each group. Remind students that it’s also important to look at the photos and drawings when finding information.

Assign each group one of these topics:

  • Trails
  • Conestoga
  • Turnpikes
  • Flat Boats
  • Steamboats
  • Canals
  • Railroads
  • Pony Express
  • Telegraph

Allow time in the library or on the computer for simple research. Each group should find 3-5 facts about their topic. Then create a mural with drawings of the subject and include background landscape drawings, maps or people. For example, the mural might show people lining up in a store to send a telegram. Plan before you draw. Fill the space!

Present the mural and information to the class.