Lesson Plan

C&O Canal Case Studies: grades 3, 4, 5

An historic black and white photo of a boat near the Paw Paw tunnel.
In one of the case studies, students decide if they should build the tunnel or not.
NPS/CHOH collection


Use this lesson as a stand-alone classroom activity or as a post-field trip activity. This lesson addresses critical thinking and analysis skills. There are three case studies from which to choose. Students will read the case study, list pros and cons, and discuss what decision they made and why.


Students will read and discuss the case studies in order to:

1) Read and analyze the text,
2) Synthesize information provided in the scenario with information learned by completing the pre-visit activities (see lesson plan for A Journey on the C&O Canal) or during the park visit,
3) Document, discuss, and explain their decision.


The lesson materials include a printable, one-to-two page case study and a one-page worksheet for each case study. The lesson was designed for Washington County, Maryland, students who visit the Williamsport Visitor Center at the Cushwa Basin, but it is applicable for other locations along the canal as well. It is suited for students in third, fourth, and fifth grades.

We recommend completing the lesson "A Journey on the C&O Canal" before completing this activity.


There are three case studies from which to choose:

1) "In Need of Repairs" asks students to decide if they should repair their boat now or wait until the season is over.

2) "Working on the C&O Canal" asks students to choose which supplies they need from Cushwa's Warehouse to supply the boat.

3) "To Tunnel or Not to Tunnel" has students making the decision to bore through or follow the river at the Paw Paw bends.


1) Choose one or more case studies and make a copy of the text and worksheet for each student, 
2) Divide the students into small groups; assign a case study to each group, 
3) Read aloud, or have the student groups read aloud, the case study, 
4) Give the students five to ten minutes to complete the worksheet on their own,
5) Instruct the students to take five minutes to discuss their case study,
6) Ask each group to present their decision to the class, making sure to explain why they made that decision.


Collect the worksheets to examine student writing and reasoning.

Assess student speaking ability, making sure they presented using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details. 

Park Connections

This lesson reinforces the lessons learned during their park visit and/or during their classroom introduction to the canal (see lesson plan for "A Journey on the C&O Canal"). The case studies use real places along the canal: the Paw Paw Tunnel and the Cushwa Warehouse at Williamsport, thereby connecting the students with both the historic resources found on the canal, such as the towpath, and the natural resources found along the canal, such as geology and the Potomac River.


To add an art component, teachers may ask the students to draw their case study.

To add a math component, teachers may ask each group to present the pros and cons of each case study, then take a vote, and tally it into a graph.


engineer, treacherous, cave-in, income, rudder, boate-wright