Breaking Down the Borderlands

Grade Level: 9-11
Subject Areas:  US History, World History, Mexican American Studies, World Geography  
Time Required: 2 90-minute class periods
Prepared by: Liz LaClair; Garland, Texas
Keywords: Land acquisition, US/Mexico border, territory, mapping, timeline, borders, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Manifest Destiny, Gadsden Purchase

Download Lesson 1 and Lesson 2 
*Please note that only Lesson One can be displayed--to view Lesson Two, please download.*


Liz LaClaire

Elizabeth “Liz” LaClair grew up in Michigan and has taught both middle and high school social studies. Currently, she works as a World Geography and AVID teacher at Lakeview Centennial High School in Garland, Texas. In her spare time, Liz enjoys yoga, cooking, and traveling and every chance she gets. She is excited to spend time learning about binationalism and identity in the Summer Institute and in her adopted state. Liz plans to use her experience in the Chihuahuan Desert to develop engaging cross-curricular lessons that bring more current affairs and issues into the classroom. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and @MsLchs.

Curriculum Vitae


This lesson will focus on the historical treaties and national policies that have changed the US/Mexico border and land territory throughout time.







  1. How has the United States/Mexican border changed over time?

  2. What were the causes and effects of those changes? 





TEKS (Texas Essentials Knowledge & Skills)

US History

12)  Geography. The student understands the impact of geographic factors on major events. The student is expected to:

  1. B) identify and explain reasons for changes in political boundaries such as those resulting from statehood and international conflicts.

Mexican American Studies

3) History. The student understands developments related to Mexican independence and Mexico's relationship with the United States from 1800-1930. The student is expected to:

(A) explain the significance of the following events as turning points relevant to Mexican American history: the Grito de Dolores, Mexico's acquisition of independence, Texas's declaration of independence from Mexico, Mexican-American War, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexican Revolution, creation of the U.S. Border Patrol, and Mexican repatriation of the 1930s

World History

(15)  Geography. The student uses geographic skills and tools to collect, analyze, and interpret data. The student is expected to:

(A)  create and interpret thematic maps, graphs, and charts to demonstrate the relationship between geography and the historical development of a region or nation;

(16)  Geography. The student understands the impact of geographic factors on major historic events and processes. The student is expected to:

(A)  locate places and regions of historical significance directly related to major eras and turning points in world history;

(C)  interpret maps, charts, and graphs to explain how geography has influenced people and events in the past.

World Geography

(18)  Culture. The student understands the ways in which cultures change and maintain continuity. The student is expected to:

(A)  analyze cultural changes in specific regions caused by migration, war, trade, innovations, and diffusion.






Handouts for Lesson 1
Handout 1
Handout 2
Handout 3
Handout 4
Handout 5
Handout 6
Handout 7
Newspaper Rubric

Handouts for Lesson 2
Graphic Organizer
One Page Rubric

6 stations (one per character)

Blank paper or poster - 1 per student (if not completing electronically)








Intro/Opening: In small groups students will analyze the map (H1) and complete the map analysis (H2) from the National Archives.

Guided Practice:

  • First students will read the three articles (H3-5) provided and annotate (# the paragraphs, highlight key points, dates, and proper nouns).
  • Students will complete a timeline graphic organizer (H6).
    1. And/or complete optional SPICE Chart
  • Students will then take their timeline and complete an illustrated timeline using 2 boxes for each reading.

For each box students must include: title, a visual, summary, and a higher order thinking question.

Students will then participate in a historical role play simulation activity.

  • Divide students into six groups.
  • Place character names at six different stations around the room and/or hallway.
  • Provide students questions or prompts to respond to as their assigned character.
  • Allow students time to engage in meaningful discussions with others at their groups.
  • Groups will then create a summary of their discussion to place on their station and present to the class.

Use the following characters:

President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

General Zachary Taylor

President James Polk

Nicholas Trist

James Gadsden

President Franklin Pierce




As an extension students can be assigned an additional character from the previous activity and will produce a one page historically accurate creative writing piece from the point of view of their character. Critical thinking Q’s which can be discussed in a Socratic Seminar setting:

* How would history be different if the border never changed?

* How would the narratives be different from both sides of the borders? (How does where you are from impact how you see/tell history?)

* How do you think this impacts life and culture in the region?

If time allows the students can further research the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo by a jigsaw activity. Students will break into groups and each group would analyze and share out their findings.



Students will choose one of the readings and create a newspaper article from the viewpoint of either a United States or Mexican reporter. First they will complete the pre-write worksheet (H7) and then they will place their finished product on either a blank sheet of paper or poster board depending on the teacher’s preference.

*Students can research newspaper templates or one can be provided by the teacher.

*This can also be done electronically.



Any of the activities can be completed in groups. Reflection/Question stems can be provided for the historical role play simulation or optional Socratic seminar. You can give students the choice between an illustrated timeline or a reflection writing.

  • Students would fold in their paper in half.

  • On the left they would write down words, phrases, images, anything from the articles.

  • On the right they would jot down their response or emotions to whatever they have on the left.









CCR: Texas College and Career Readiness Standards.

I.A.5, I.B.2&3, I.F.1&2, II.A.1, IV.A.1-3,5&6, V.A.2,V.B.1











Editors, “Manifest Destiny.”, A&E Television Networks, 5 Apr. 2010,

“Gadsden Purchase, 1853–1854.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State,

Griswold del Castillo, Richard. “War’s End.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service,

“The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, 25 Apr. 2018,

“The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.” The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Hispanic Reading Room, Hispanic Division), Library of Congress, 21 June 2017,

“Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.” Digital History, 2019,





I was overwhelmed by a wealth of information during my time in Paso del Norte. The region is extremely rich in culture, physical beauty, and history. It is a multinational area where two cultures blend seamlessly together despite borders. During one of our sessions with Victor Manjarrez I was struck by something he said, “look at border security as an ecosystem”. This simple statement really drove my thinking when creating these lessons.

I wanted to create lessons that showcased the historical, cultural, and geographic aspects of the borderlands. I decided the best way to put my experience into curriculum was to divide the lessons into physical and human geography. Lesson one begins with history and land acquisition. I want students to see both sides of the story (historical Mexican and American narrative) and the impacts these historical treaties and the changing of land ownership over time have ultimately had on both countries and their borderland residents. The students analyze maps and dive deeper into the idea of Manifest Destiny as they research the shifting borders and boundaries.

Lesson two on the other hand, explores the human side of life in the borderlands. Through the medium of a webquest students research and explore the culture of the area, migrant’s stories, struggles, and challenges. They inspect the impact of the wall from a human and environmental standpoint and get a glimpse that the culture of the borderlands is complex and intertwined.

My hope is that students really put themselves into the shoes of historians and geographers and understand that history is not one narrative, but that many different perspectives come into play when we learn about a region and how interconnected the human aspect of life is with the physical land.




Contact Us

R. Joseph Rodriguez &
Ignacio Martinez
UTEP NEH: 2021 Summer Institute for Teachers
(915) 747-7054

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Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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