Lesson Plan: The Grand Canyon - John Wesley Powell Expedition

The Grand Canyon: Assembling the Expedition Team

Author John Ross talks about John Powell and the team he assembled as they prepared to explore the uncharted area of the U.S.


In this lesson, students will listen to author John Ross talk about the life of John Wesley Powell who, in 1869, became the first person to travel the entire Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. He discusses the expedition team Powell assembled, their journey through the Grand Canyon and the contributions Powell made that are relevant today.


  • Step 1:

    Students can use the following handout to take notes as they view the videos in this lesson.

    Handout: The Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell's Expedition (Google Doc)

    View the video clip below as a class to provide background information on John Powell, his expedition team and the area they explored. Use the accompanying questions to guide class discussion.

    Video Clip 1: Assembling the Expedition Team (3:12)

    1. Describe the area that John Powell set out to explore.

    2. How did they prepare for their expedition? What supplies did they bring?

    3. Describe the team John Powell assembled to accompany him on this expedition.
  • Step 2:

    Have students view the following video clip either on individual devices or as a class, then discuss the experiences, challenges John Powell's team endured on their expedition.

    Video Clip 2: The Expedition (7:15)

    Author John Ross describes some of the experiences members of this exploration group had on their expedition.

  • Step 3:

    View this video as a class to learn about the contributions John Powell has made to our country.

    Video Clip 3: Contributions (1:29)

    Author John Ross discusses John Powell's contributions including those in Geology, Ethnology and Geomorphology.

  • Step 4:

    Culminating Activity:

    Ask students to consider the notes they took while viewing the videos and during class discussion and complete the following activity.

    You have been selected as a member of John Powell's expedition team. Write or create a video journal that include the following items:

    • What is your background experience that you can contribute to the team? Describe your feelings about entering into this unexplored terrain.
    • How you would prepare for the expedition? What supplies do you recommend bringing along?
    • Explain the situations you have encountered along your journey. What challenges did you face? Describe the scenery.
    • Describe your reaction after emerging from your expedition along the Colorado River.
  • Extension Activity:

    View the video in the bell ringer below on John Powell's 100th Meridian theory and read the related articles linked on the topic. Compare the ideas and concerns during Powell's time with present day issues.

    Bell Ringer: John Wesley Powell: 100th Meridian (5:00)

    Author John Ross talks about John Powell's theory of homesteading and the 100th meridian.

Additional Resources