Christopher Columbus Lesson Plans

Columbus Day lesson plans are great for teaching students about geography, history, and exploration.

By Debra Karr

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Christopher Columbus Voyage

On the second Monday in October teachers and school children celebrate Columbus Day. It is a day to honor Christopher Columbus who, according to the famed rhyme about 1492 and the ocean blue, discovered America. What really happened is a little more complicated. Some teachers may want to get into a discussion of imperialismexplorers, and the plight of Native Americans, others might want to stick to the basics of how Columbus ended up in America.  

Just as with many other famous discoveries, Columbus' trip to America happened by mistake. Columbus thought he was going to the Indies to cash in on the spice trade, but landed in what we know today as America. Sponsored by Queen Isabella of Spain, Columbus sailed to the modern day American continent and discovered that the land had already been inhabited by what he termed "Indians". Although the Native Americans were nowhere near the Indies, the "Indian" name stuck for quite some time.

The lessons that follow can help students learn about Christopher Columbus, the Native American struggle, geographic and cultural boundaries, and about the technological advances that made sailing across the ocean possible. These lessons work across content areas and are good for keeping in line with a Columbus Day theme. Start lessons with warm ups, modeling, guided practice, individual practice, and exit/closure to establish solid routines in the classroom, and enhance student engagement.

Christopher Columbus Lesson Plans:

Age of Exploration and The Renaissance

This lesson compares the Age of Exploration with the Renaissance. After students view a clip of the movie "Pocahontas", they discuss the economic, political and social consequences of the European influences on Native American lands during these two ages. Questions for discussion are posed in this lesson. I would definitely incorporate timelines with dates so students could see the years that these ages represented. I would also have students create a PowerPoint to reinforce their learning of the time periods. Visual aids with numbers help students make connections with material that has the potential to be vague.

Declarations of Independence

Students divide their papers in half. On one side they write "past" and on the other side they write "present". They read an article that speaks to the plight of the modern day Native American. They then brainstorm and write down the problems facing Native Americans during Christopher Columbus's time and the issues facing Native Americans in our modern day. They continue to answer a series of questions that pertain to the article read. To enliven this lesson, use the listing exercise to fuel an at-length compare/contrast essay. The extended research needed for this essay could incorporate technology and Internet research as well.

Understanding and Writing Poetry

This lesson investigates poetry through poems written about Christopher Columbus. Because this lesson gives links to web sites about various explorers, students will have many to choose from. After reading the Christopher Columbus poem, they will analyze it, write a paragraph about it, and then create a PowerPoint that displays the significance of the poem's meaning. It would be beneficial to go over vocabulary as a warm up, and because many of the explorers come from various European nations, using maps in the PowerPoint presentation can be helpful.

Different Kinds of Boundaries

This lesson asks students to think about and analyze how the boundaries of a nation or country were first established. As students research the historical background of the country's boundaries they learn about the political and cultural influences that helped to establish such boundaries. They read a "New York Times" article that examines these areas in more depth, and eventually create their own maps. Examining the social and political stimulus for boundary creation is so vast, that I would start the lesson out with one essential question like "What are the different types of boundaries that determine the borders of a country?" to see what students come up with. Based on those answers, a lesson can be designed appropriately.


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Debra Karr