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The Erie Canal

Introduction

An engineering marvel of its day, the Erie Canal cost more than $7 million to construct, but generated enough toll money to pay for itself within ten years. After the canal opened in 1825, traffic and commerce between the Great Lakes region and the Atlantic seaboard jumped significantly. Transit time between the interior and the east coast decreased dramatically, westward settlement increased, and the economy grew at the most rapid pace in U.S. history. European markets seeking American goods benefited as well. It was the highest period of economic growth in our history! In this lesson, students learn about the Erie Canal, the people who used it, and its economic impact.

Materials

Strategy

Before beginning the lesson:

  • Read and review the content of the Primary Source of the Month and the Feature Article: "The Erie Canal: A Brief History."
  • Create a series of stations around the room by placing students’ desks in groups of three. [Note: See diagram below. You will need one station for every three students]. Each trio of desks represents New York residents, settlers and merchants, and pioneers. The space between the desks represents the Erie Canal.
  • Place a complete set of Erie Canal Game Situation Cards at each station, placing the New Yorkers, Settlers/Merchants, and Pioneers card stacks on the appropriate desks [See diagram below.] Important: Make certain the first and last Pioneers cards are in their proper locations in the stack. The cards in between should be shuffled.
Classroom Diagram

1. Divide students into groups of three and seat them at stations set up around the room.

2. Using the information gleaned from the Primary Source of the Month and the Feature Article: "The Erie Canal: A Brief History," conduct a class discussion about the Erie Canal and its importance in American history.

Explain to students that this activity will help them learn more about the Erie Canal and the people who used it. Also explain that, in each group, the three desks represent New York residents, settlers and merchants, and pioneers. The space between the desks represents the Erie Canal.

3. In each group, have students take turns drawing a situation card from their assigned stack, read it aloud to the other members of the group [Note: Cards must be drawn in the following order—1) Pioneers, 2) New Yorkers, and 3) Settlers/Merchants.], and follow the directions. If a student’s card indicates travel through the Erie Canal, have him/her walk between the desks to move through the canal in the proper direction—west toward Lake Erie or east toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Game play continues until all of the situation cards have been drawn. Have students retain their game cards for post-game review.

4. Give each student a Erie Canal Game Graphic Organizer. Have students review their stack of Erie Canal situation cards and complete the graphic organizer.

Have each student select one character they learned about while playing the game (e.g. New York resident, pioneer, settler, merchant, or business owner). Then, using the information from their graphic organizers, have them write a series of diary entries from that character’s perspective in which they describe the impact of the Erie Canal on them and the United States.

Lesson Extension

Have students explore the geography of the Erie Canal by having them draw a map of New York, place the Erie Canal in its proper location, and label the lock cities.


This lesson was written by Susan Hewitt, elementary school teacher, Lakeside, California.



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