Lesson Plan

"Making the Desert Bloom": The Rio Grande Project - A Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plan

“Rio Grande Project” map from the Bureau of Reclamation
The Bureau of Reclamation's
Bureau of Reclamation

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Grade Level:
Fifth Grade-Twelfth Grade
Subject:
Agriculture, Engineering, Geography, Geology, Hispanic or Latino American History and Culture, Hydrology, Landscapes, U.S. Presidents
Duration:
Variable. Adaptable to teacher and student needs.
Group Size:
Up to 36
Setting:
indoors or outdoors
National/State Standards:
Relevant United States History Standards for Grades 5-12: Era 7 - The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930) Standards 1B and 1C
Keywords:
lesson plan, Teaching with Historic Places, Bureau of Reclamation, Theodore Roosevelt, Reclamation Act, Homestead Act, Rio Grande Project, Rio Grande, Elephant Butte, New Mexico, Texas, mexico, irrigation, storage dams, diversion dams, water in the West, Western History, Southwest United States, water conservation, Construction Equipment, hydraulic engineering

Overview

In this lesson, students learn about the construction of the complex irrigation system along the Rio Grande River, where it runs through New Mexico and provides Americans with life-sustaining water. Students will use primary and secondary source materials to investigate the historic Elephant Butte Dam and Mesilla Valley irrigation system, built by the Bureau of Reclamation in the first decades of the 20th century.

Objective(s)

  1. To describe President Theodore Roosevelt's proposed plan for irrigating the arid West. 
  2. To outline the early history of the Bureau of Reclamation. 
  3. To describe the creation and construction of the Rio Grande Project and list three short- and long-term problems the Project encountered. 
  4. To describe the components of the Rio Grande irrigation system. To identify water-related resources in the students' local area.  




Background

Information on how to use a Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan can be found here.

Historical context for the lesson plan topic can be found in the lesson's Setting the Stage section.  



Materials

  1. Two maps showing the arid West and the Rio Grande Project;
  2. Three readings: a selection from President Theodore Roosevelt's first State of the Union message; a history of Reclamation's early years, and a chronology of the Rio Grande Project;
  3. One illustration showing a section of the Mesilla valley, and 
  4. Five historic photos




Procedure

"Making the Desert Bloom": The Rio Grande Project

Each Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan contains the following teaching activities: Getting Started (inquiry question), Setting the Stage (historical background), Locating the Site (maps), Determining the Facts (readings, documents, charts), Visual Evidence (photographs and other graphic documents), and Putting It All Together (activities). See Parts 2-7 for information about how to use these resources.

Click here to go directly to the lesson plan.

Getting Started

Begin this lesson by asking students to discuss possible answers to the inquiry question that accompanies the "Getting Started" image. Provide them with paper print-outs of the image and question, or direct them to the lesson plan website. To facilitate a whole class discussion, you may want to print or scan the image to make an overhead transparency or digital slide. The purpose of this exercise is to engage students' interest in the lesson's topic by raising questions that can be answered as they complete the lesson.

Rather than serving merely as an illustration for the text, the image is a document that plays an integral role in helping students achieve the lesson's objective. To assist students in learning how to "read" visual materials you may want to begin this section by having them complete the Photo Analysis Worksheet for one or more of the photos. The worksheet is appropriate for analyzing both historical and recent photographs and will help students develop a valuable skill.

Getting Started section for this lesson

Setting the Stage

This section is intended to be used, if necessary, as background material. Read this material aloud to students or summarize it, or provide them with paper print-outs, or direct them to the lesson plan website. If students have computers, you can direct them to the page on the website.

Setting the Stage section for this lesson

Locating the Site

Provide students with the maps and questions included in Locating the Site. You can give them paper print-outs or direct them to the lesson plan website. Have students work individually or in small groups to complete the questions. At least one map familiarizes the students with the historic site's location within the country, state or region. Extended captions may be included to provide students with information necessary to answer the questions.

Locating the Site section in this lesson

Determining the Facts

Provide students with copies of the readings, documents and/or charts included in this section or direct them to the lesson plan website. Allow students to work individually or in small groups. The series of questions that accompanies each of these readings is designed to ensure that students have gathered the appropriate facts from the material.

Determining the Facts section for this lesson

Visual Evidence: Images

Distribute the lesson's visual materials among students. Provide them with paper print-outs, or direct them to the lesson plan website. Have the students examine the photographs and answer the related questions. Note that two or more images may be studied together in order to complete the questions. Extended captions may be included to provide students with important information.

Rather than serving merely as illustrations for the text, the images are documents that play an integral role in helping students achieve the lesson's objectives. To assist students in learning how to "read" visual materials, you may want to begin this section by having them complete the Photo Analysis Worksheet for one or more of the photos.

Visual Evidence: Images section for this lesson

Putting It All Together

After students have completed the questions that accompany the maps, readings and visuals, they should be directed to complete one or more of the activities presented below. These activities engage students in a variety of creative exercises that help them synthesize the information they have learned and formulate conclusions. At least one activity leads students to look for places in their community that relate to the topic of the lesson. In this way students learn to make connections between their community and the broader themes of American history they encounter in their studies.

Putting It All Together section for this lesson

Assessment

Assessment is built into the lesson plan in the form of questions for all documents, including maps and images, and in the student products completed for Step 7, Putting it All Together.



Additional Resources

Students and educators who want to know more can find sources for additional information (with links) here: Supplementary Resources.