The Ohio and Erie Canal

This lesson will provide a historical overview of the importance of the Ohio and Erie Canal. It will give students an idea of what Ohio was like before and after the canal was constructed.


Standards Addressed
Grade 6, Social Studies — Geography

06-08 Benchmark
B. Define and identify regions using human and physical characteristics.

Y2003.CSS.S03.G06-08.BB.L06.I03 / Places and Regions

03. Explain the distribution patterns of economic activities and how changes in technology, transportation, communication and resources affect those patterns, including agriculture.


06-08 Benchmark
C. Explain how the environment influences the way people live in different places and the consequences of modifying the environment.

Y2003.CSS.S03.G06-08.BC.L06.I05 / Human Environmental Interaction

05. Describe ways human settlements and activities are influenced by environmental factors and processes in different places and regions, including bodies of water.


Grade 8, Social Studies — Geography

06-08 Benchmark
C. Explain how the environment influences the way people live in different places and the consequences of modifying the environment.

Y2003.CSS.S03.G06-08.BC.L08.I02 / Human Environmental Interaction

02. Analyze how physical characteristics of the environment influenced population distribution, settlement patterns and economic activities in the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries.


3 x 5” index cards

Computer with PowerPoint capabilities



  1. Open the PowerPoint presentation “Bringing Ohio to the Nation” (Web page) to Slide 1. (Download the PowerPoint file.)
  2. Divide student into cooperative groups of three or four students each. Go to Slide 2 and have the groups discuss the scenario.
  3. Have a short class discussion about this scenario. Then show students Slide 3 and discuss what life was like during the frontier period of Ohio’s history.
  4. Show Slide 4. Have the student groups answer the questions on the Bringing Ohio to the Nation student handout. Each group can report their answers to the class. Answers can be recorded for the class to see.

    1. What makes this a primary source? It is from a journal written by a person who is experiencing the trip.
    2. Describe the writer of the text. Answers will vary. Look at spelling and grammar. Look at the activities he’s doing.
    3. What does this tell you about the trip down the canal? Answers will vary, i.e., “It would have been a hard trip” or “land would have been forest.”
    4. Yes, it is a primary source. Answers will vary, but the picture shows how the animals pulled the canal boats using the Towpath Trail.
  5. Using Slides 5 and 6, have students answer the questions either in small groups or as a class. They should discover that when the goods travel by boat north to Lake Erie, they can move on to Buffalo, the Erie Canal and the Atlantic Ocean. The goods heading south can travel to the Ohio River, then to the Mississippi River, and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.
  6. Before changing to Slide 7, have students discuss how they think the Ohio and Erie Canal would change the lives of the same family from the original scenario.
  7. Show Slide 7 and discuss the drastic changes in the lives of Ohioans after the completion of the canal.
  8. Ask the class if Slide 8 could be a primary source. Ask them to describe the advertisement to you. How would it have been distributed? What is the most amazing fact about the ride? The canal boat goes 307 miles in 80 hours, or less than 4 miles per hour.
  9. Enrichment Activity: Distribute the Effects of the Canal handout. Ask students what the chart shows them. With a partner, students can make a graph showing either one of the commodities carried on the canal or all of the commodities. They might use Excel or Create a Graph ( for this activity.
  10. For an extension, you could discuss the different northeast Ohio industries that were started in part because of the influence of the canal. These include the steel industry in Cleveland and the oat business (ultimately, the Quaker Oats Company) in Akron.


Toward the end of the class, hand out the index cards to all the students. Instruct them to write one or two items they learned about the importance of the Ohio and Erie Canal to Ohio’s early economy. Have them give you the index cards as they exit the room at the end of the class. The cards could be placed on the board so that students could review the information that they learned.


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