What our Columbus and America lesson plan includes
Lesson Objectives and Overview: Columbus and America introduces students to Christopher Columbus and his supposed discovery of America. The lesson presents Columbus’ life and his voyages to the New World to students. As you discuss the “discovery” of America, you should inform students that there is significant controversy about his legacy. The main point of the lesson is to show Columbus’ lead in opening travel to the Americas and connecting Europe to the New World. At the end of the lesson, students will be able to identify Christopher Columbus, describe aspects of his life, and recount the role he played in the discovery of America. This lesson is for students in 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade.
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 scissors, a container, game pieces, and the handouts. To prepare for this lesson ahead of time, you can pair the students for the activity, gather the supplies, and copy 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. Some optional adjustments to the activity are to create a larger game board for students to use out of poster board and to let students return to the America space to win the game. You could plan to hold this lesson around Columbus Day, or even plan a Columbus week. If you’re teaching younger students, you can give them coloring pages from the additional resources. Another optional addition is to invite a historian to speak to your class about America and Columbus. You could also invite a sailor to speak to your class about sailing. Finally, you could have older students complete a research assignment on other famous explorers from the past.
The teacher notes page includes a paragraph with additional guidelines and things to think about as you begin to plan your lesson. It notes that there is controversy around Columbus’ legacy. This page also includes lines that you can use to add your own notes as you’re preparing for this lesson.
COLUMBUS AND AMERICA LESSON PLAN CONTENT PAGES
America Before Columbus
The Columbus and America lesson plan includes four pages of content. The lesson begins by asking students what they think America was like before we called it America. The land was the same size, but there were no towns, cities, or states like we have today. Most of the land was wilderness. People did live here before European colonizers came from across the Atlantic. The Native Americans lived on this land, and may have done so for thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans. These people have their own culture and traditions and were living just like every other civilization in the world. Things changed for them once people arrived from other parts of the world.
Leif Eriksson was an explorer from Greenland who landed in North America around the year 1000, while the Native Americans were still living peacefully on their land. We believe that Eriksson is the first European to arrive in North America, more than 400 years before Christopher Columbus, who arrived in 1492. While Columbus was not actually the first European to arrive in North America, we do credit him for being a significant explorer of both North and South America. Because of him, other explorers came to the Americas. This eventually led to the 13 original colonies and the creation of the United States! This is why we often say that he “discovered” America, even though he didn’t.
Who is Christopher Columbus?
We don’t know exactly when Columbus was born, but we think it might have been around 1451 in Genoa, Italy. Genoa was a big, wealthy city with a seaport. Columbus was an apprentice in his father’s weaving business and also studied sailing. As a teenager, he worked on a merchant ship. They used these ships to transport cargo or carry paying passengers. They carried people and products to places on the coast of Europe and Africa.
Columbus worked and lived here until 1470, when French privateers (people and ships who raided and robbed other ships) attacked his ship on the coast of Portugal in 1470. The boat he was working on sank, and he floated to shore. From there, he went to Lisbon, Portugal, where he studied astronomy, math, cartography (mapmaking), and navigation. At this time, he also worked as a bookseller and married Doña Felipa Perestrello e Moniz. They had a son, Diego, in 1480, and another, Fernando, in 1488.
The Big Plan
At this time, in 15th century Portugal, they wanted to find an Eastern sea route that they could take to Asia. Land routes were blocked and inaccessible. Traveling all the way around the tip of Africa took too long, and they wanted to be able to easily trade with Asia. Columbus had heard that it might be possible to reach Asia by sailing west, instead of east, because the Europeans did not know that North and South America existed yet. No one knew how big the world was. Columbus thought he could sail west on a short trip and arrive on the opposite shore of Asia.
After the people in charge of Portugal, France, and England denied his request for funding for the trip, he asked King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. They said yes — eventually. It took seven years for them to approve his trip and give him the funding he needed. The government of Spain gave him half the money, and the other half was provided by private citizens.
With this trip, Columbus was hoping to achieve fame and fortune. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s main hope was to spread Catholicism, their religion, all over the world (Columbus wanted this, too). The royals offered Columbus 10% of the riches that he found, a noble title, and the governorship of any lands he found.
The Voyages Begin
Christopher Columbus traveled across the Atlantic four different times! His first journey, in 1492, was when he thought he discovered America. The lesson includes a helpful chart that lays out his four voyages.
In August 1492, he took three ships (Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria), along with 87 men. They landed on an island in the Bahamas, and then sailed from one island to the next for a few months. They looked for pearls, gold, silver, spices, and other valuable things. Columbus did not find Asia and ended up with very little treasure. He also left 40 men on one of the islands called Hispaniola (now called Haiti) and returned to Spain in March 1493.
In September 1493, he sailed back to the Americas to find that the previous settlement on Hispaniola destroyed. He then leaves two of his brothers and some of his crew there. He also enslaves hundreds of the people already living on the island to rebuild the settlement. Next, he sailed west to look for gold but didn’t find any. Columbus sent Queen Isabella 500 slaves as a “gift,” but she sent them back. He did this because he had promised the monarchy riches but had not been able to find and deliver any.
In May 1498, Columbus sailed to Trinidad and South America. He returned to Hispaniola and discovered that the colonists overthrew his brothers because of their mismanagement. The Spanish sent a new governor to take over Hispaniola because conditions were so bad there. They also arrest Columbus and bring him back to Spain.
In 1502, the Spanish cleared Columbus of charges. He sailed west for a final time. He made it to Panama and then abandoned two of his four ships due to an attack. Columbus discovered nothing new, returned to Spain with nothing, and died four years later.
Columbus did not discover America. He wasn’t the first European to travel to the Americas, and people had lived in that part of the world long before he ever arrived. His voyages provided some benefit to the Europeans, and many disadvantages to, and lasting problems for, the native people of the lands that he traveled to.
The “advantage” of his journeys was that it paved the way for other expeditions to the Americas. This eventually led to colonists settling in what is now the United States.
There were many disadvantages of his journeys. They had an extreme negative effect on the native populations of the lands he explored. He and his crew brought disastrous diseases that decimated the native populations. They ruined the natural environments of these places, leading to a significant loss of natural resources. He also enslaved hundreds of people.
COLUMBUS AND AMERICA LESSON PLAN WORKSHEETS
The Columbus and America 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.
CROSSING THE ATLANTIC ACTIVITY WORKSHEET
For the activity, students will play a game! They will first need to cut apart the Columbus and America Questions Cards, fold them, and mix them together in a container. They can use a coin, chip, or something else as a game piece. The objective of the game is to sail from Spain to America fastest. In groups of 2 -4, they will follow the game instructions. The teacher will set a time limit for the game.
Students may work in smaller or larger groups for this activity if you’d prefer.
COLUMBUS AND AMERICA PRACTICE WORKSHEET
Students will complete two short exercises for the practice worksheet. For the first, they will match the facts to the correct Columbus voyage date. For the second, they will answer questions about Columbus and his various voyages and activities. This will test their understanding of the lesson material.
ANSWER THE QUESTIONS HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT
The homework assignment asks students to answer eight questions related to Columbus. They can use the lesson material to inform their answers.
Worksheet Answer Keys
This lesson plan includes answer keys for the practice worksheet and the homework assignment. No answer key is provided for the activity worksheet. 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.