Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
From Sea to Shining Sea

Understanding Primary Sources:
Describing the Grand Canyon

Objective: Students read and analyze an excerpt from one of John Wesley Powell's books about his expedition through the Grand Canyon to understand the physical characteristics and other elements of the Canyon.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
2 hours over a period of 1 or 2 days

Building Background:
Ask students to tell what they know about rivers and the different ways that rivers can change the shape of the earth. Then have them reread "The Grand Canyon" feature on pages 20-21 of their textbook. Ask them to describe how the Grand Canyon was formed. Then have students look at the photograph of John Wesley Powell on page 21. Share with them that Powell is credited with being the first person known to explore the full length of the Grand Canyon. In 1869 he led a nine-person expedition down Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon. Then tell them that they will be reading a description of the Canyon from a book written by Powell about some of his adventures.

What To Do:

1. Before reading the primary source text, have students conduct research on the Grand Canyon. They can use reference books in the library to gather information about its location, physical characteristics, and plants and wildlife. If your class has Internet access, students can search the following sites for the information:

Grand Canyon

This site from the National Geographic Society provides images, an interactive map, and facts about the Canyon.

Grand Canyon Explorer

This site offers in-depth information on the Grand Canyon, including descriptions of its geology and dimensions, as well as images and maps. The link to John Wesley Powell provides details of his 1869 expedition through the Canyon.

2. Have students share what they found out about the Grand Canyon.

3. Pass out copies of the A Description of the Grand Canyon worksheet. Have students read the entire excerpt and answer the questions.

4. When students have completed the worksheet, ask for volunteers to share their answers.

Have students draw a picture of the Grand Canyon based on Powell's description, the information and images in their textbook, and on their research. Ask students to present their pictures to the class, describing the physical characteristics of the Canyon they drew.


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