United States Territories


Our United States Territories lesson plan teaches students about the various United States territories, including their histories, how they came to be U.S. Territories, and what their lasting significance is. They also learn vocabulary related to the territories.

Included with this lesson are some adjustments or additions that you can make if you’d like, found in the “Options for Lesson” section of the Classroom Procedure page. One of the optional additions to this lesson is to invite people who have been to one or more of the territories to speak to your class about their experiences.

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What our United States Territories lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: United States Territories introduces students to the United States Territories. Students may be familiar with one or more of the U.S. Territories but may not have much knowledge of the region, people, attractions, and other information about the area. At the end of the lesson, students will be able to locate and identify the different U.S. Territories on a map, list some of the characteristics of each territory, and explain some of its history. This lesson is for students in 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the orange box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. The supplies you will need for this lesson are colored pencils, poster paper, internet access, paper for a booklet, and the handouts.

Options for Lesson

Included with this lesson is an “Options for Lesson” section that lists a number of suggestions for activities to add to the lesson or substitutions for the ones already in the lesson. One optional addition to this lesson is to assign each of your students a territory to research and then have them present what they learn to the class. You could also have students create a tourist booklet identifying several attractions and landmarks in the territories. You could plan a “U.S. Territory Day” with lessons and activities related to the territories. Another idea is to invite people who have been to one or more of the territories to speak to your class about their experiences. Finally, you could have your students create a comparison chart for the five territories.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page includes a paragraph with additional guidelines and things to think about as you begin to plan your lesson. This page also includes lines that you can use to add your own notes as you’re preparing for this lesson.


Introduction to the U.S. Territories

The United States Territories lesson plan includes four pages of content. The people who live in U.S. Territories are citizens but cannot vote in Presidential elections. The U.S. has five inhabited territories. Territories are organized parts of the country that do not have the full rights of a state and have their own governing bodies. The U.S. is responsible for defending them and assisting them, just like they are with states.

The U.S. has other territories that are uninhabited. Some previous U.S. Territories, like the Philippines, Cuba, Micronesia, and Palau, became independent countries. The current territory system is similar to the original 13 colonies that eventually became the United States. Before becoming states, they were territories.

We created the states of Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin from the Northwest Territory and North and South Dakota from the Dakota Territory. The states of Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Alaska are all previous territories that became states in the 1900s. Congress has the ability to create territories, as laid out in the Constitution.

We currently have two criteria used to categorize American territories. First, we have either incorporated or unincorporated territories. Incorporated territories are integral parts of the country and they must follow the Constitution. The U.S.’s only incorporated territory is Palmyra Atoll, which is uninhabited and owned by the Nature Conservancy. This land used to be part of Hawaii. When Hawaii became a state, they excluded this land. All other territories are unincorporated, or not integral parts of the U.S.

Second, we have either organized or unorganized territories. Organized territories are subject to the Organic Act, which establishes governments. We have four organized territories. The people who live in them are U.S. citizens. We have twelve unorganized territories. One of them, American Samoa, is inhabited, but the people who live there are not citizens.

We call the other unorganized territories the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands. They include Palmyra Atoll, Midway Islands, Wake Island, Baker Island, and more. All but four are in the Pacific Ocean. The other four are in the Caribbean.

The U.S. Territories

The five inhabited territories are Puerto Rico, Guam, US Virgin Islands, Northern Marianas Islands, and American Samoa. Washington, D.C. is not a territory or a state, but is a federal district. These territories are self-governing. None of them are states, but Puerto Rico is most likely to become a state one day because of the size of its population and land mass. The other territories are smaller and have smaller populations, which means that they would have a large representation in Congress. Each territory has a delegate in the House of Representatives, but they do not have voting rights.

American Samoa, Guam, and Northern Mariana Islands

American Samoa has a population of about 55,000, an area of 76 square miles, and its capital is Pago Pago. This group of islands in the Pacific, halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, has been a territory since 1898. They revised their constitution in 1967.

Guam has a population of about 160,000, an area of 210 square miles, and its capital is Hagatna. This island, found between Hawaii and the Philippines in the Northern Pacific, has been a territory since 1898. It’s home to the Anderson Air Force Base.

Northern Mariana Islands has a population of about 54,000 across 15 islands, an area of 179 square miles, and its capital is Chalan Kanoa. This group of islands is east of the Philippines and south of Japan. They have been a self-governing commonwealth territory since 1978.

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

Puerto Rico has a population of about 3.7 million, an area of 3,515 square miles, and its capital is San Juan. It’s been a territory since 1898. Spanish is its primary language and many citizens support statehood. It’s about 1,200 miles southeast of Florida.

The U.S. Virgin Islands have a population of about 107,000, an area of 134 square miles, and its capital is Charlotte Amalie. The United States purchased these islands, found east of Puerto Rico and north of Haiti, from Denmark in 1917. Christopher Columbus named them.

If you added the land mass of these territories together, it would be about 700 square miles less than the size of Connecticut or the size of about four Rhode Islands. Their combined population is about 4 million people, about the same as Los Angeles.

Attractions of the U.S. Territories

The territories generally have warm climates, and each territory attracts many visitors from the United States and abroad each year. They are surrounded by water and have long coastlines. Because they rely on tourism, they have beach resorts and many other attractions for people to see.

Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest is a tropical forest with trails, waterfalls, and a dwarf forest. Many tree frogs live there.

Guam opened UnderWater World Guam in 1999, which is one of the longest tunnel-aquariums in the world. It’s also the only oceanarium in Guam. It has more than 200 animals and over 80 species.

Blackbeard’s Castle, on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is one of its five National Historical Landmarks. It’s located in its capital city of Charlotte Amalie and opened in 1679.

The National Park of American Samoa spreads across three islands. It preserves and protects coral reefs, tropical rainforests, fruit bats, and Samoan culture.

Finally, the Northern Mariana Islands are home to the American Memorial Park. They created this as a living memorial that honors the sacrifices made during World War II in the Pacific.

The territories have many, many more landmarks and attractions that you can visit.


The United States Territories lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. You can refer to the guide on the classroom procedure page to determine when to hand out each worksheet.


Students will work in groups to complete the lesson activity. Each group will work together to research one of the five inhabited U.S. Territories and will create a poster and small booklet to encourage people from the United States to visit or live in that territory. Each poster should include words, images, logos, slogans, information about the territory, small maps, and more. The booklet should include at least five pages with facts and statistics, names of the islands, names of well-known people who are part of the territory, and more. Each group will then present their poster and booklet to the class.


For the practice worksheet, students will first match the fact to the correct U.S. Territory. They will then tell whether five statements are true or false.


For the homework assignment, students will answer ten questions about the lesson material. They will then list the five inhabited territories from smallest to largest in terms of both land size and population. Finally, they will choose one of these territories and tell why they would want to live there.

Worksheet Answer Keys

This lesson plan includes answer keys for the practice worksheet and the homework assignment. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade


Social Studies

State Educational Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3 7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.3 7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.3 7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.3 7

Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.

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Great resource

This was a great resource to our lesson on US territories.

Mari H.

Helpful resource!

Thanks for providing quality resources at low-cost to educators.