My First Biography: Christopher Columbus Teaching Guide
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
About this book
The author engages young readers from the start as we see young Christopher Columbus leaning out a window and daydreaming about exploration and treasure. His dreams follow him into adulthood, when he decides to sail to the Indies.
Columbus convinces the king and queen of Spain to supply him with ships and sailors. He and his crew sail off into the unknown on the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María. When the ships reach the island of San Salvador, Columbus thinks they have arrived in the East Indies and refers to the people there as “Indians.” Columbus didn’t realize that his dreams had brought him to a new land, the Americas.
The book’s age-appropriate, realistic illustrations picture the sequence of events in the story and also provide young readers with information about the costumes and ships of the times. The maps drawn into the illustrations help young readers understand the geography of Columbus’s brave journey.
Teaching the Book
This first biography introduces young readers to Christopher Columbus and the dreams that led him to America. The book provides an opportunity to teach a biography, practice sequence of events, and introduce exploration words. Activities will engage students in mapping, art projects, and exploring their own dreams.
Genre Focus: Biography
Comprehension Focus: Sequence of Events
Language Focus: Exploration Words
Get Ready to Read
A Brave Voyage
Explain to students that they will be reading a biography, the story of a person’s life, about Christopher Columbus. Begin by giving students the following information.
- Christopher Columbus reached America over 500 years ago.
- No one in Columbus’s part of the world knew that the Americas existed. Columbus thought he was going to China.
- Columbus sailed by looking at the stars and a compass.
- Columbus’s voyage took 34 days.
Build their background knowledge by displaying Google Earth or a world map to show Columbus’ long and daring route to the Americas. First, show students where Columbus started his journey (Spain) and then where he ended (San Salvador island; present-day Bahamas). Ask students: What do you think it was like to sail this far in a small boat at the time? How would you have felt?
Preview and Predict
Have students study the cover of Christopher Columbus. Ask them to describe what they see and how they can tell Columbus lived long ago.
Introduce students to these words about explorers and Columbus’s exploration.
Define the words and show students the place names by using the maps embedded in the illustrations, Google Earth, or a classroom world map. Use Resource #1: Vocabulary Cards and distribute copies to students.
Words to Know
Give students the following meanings for the vocabulary words, one at a time. Have them hold up the vocabulary card that matches each meaning.
- 1. someone who imagines something he or she really wants to do (dreamer)
- 2. someone who travels to an unknown place (explorer)
- 3. someone who travels on a ship, originally a ship with sails (sailor)
- 4. a country in Europe; where Columbus set sail (Spain)
- 5. where Columbus thought he was going (Indies)
- 6. where Columbus ended his voyage (the Americas)
As You Read
Reading the Book
Read the book aloud to students, modeling fluency and expression. Encourage students to follow along in their own books, studying the illustrations as each page is read. The read-aloud will familiarize students with the text and build their listening skills.
Reread the book, asking students to read their copies at the same time. Cue them to read aloud certain words and phrases that you omit from your reading. Depending on the reading skills of the group, encourage them to read the text aloud, along with you.
Sequence of Events
Explain to students that biographies are stories of a person’s life. Biographies tell important events that happened during the person’s life in the sequence, or order, that they happened. Keeping track of what happened first, next, and last in a biography helps readers understand the person’s life.
Use the cards on Resource #2: Sequence of Events to model for students how to keep track of the sequence of events in Columbus’s life. Pass out copies of the cards and have students cut them apart and mix them up. Then model for students how to identify the sequence of events in the story.
What happened first in the biography? The book begins when Columbus was a young boy. So, the first event is “As a boy, Christopher Columbus dreamed of sailing the Ocean Sea.” I’ll put that first. What happened next? You help me sort the cards in the right order, or sequence. Have students volunteer the sequence of events in the rest of the story and put the cards in the right sequence.
Big Question: Critical Thinking
Ask students to think about this question as they read. Write the question on chart paper or the whiteboard. How did Christopher Columbus make his dream come true?
After You Read
Questions to Discuss
Lead students in a discussion of these focus story elements.
When does the biography of a person usually start? (When the person is born or young.)
2. Sequence of Events
What did Columbus do after the king and queen of Spain said, no? (He kept asking until they said, yes.)
3. Explorer Words
Look at the picture of Columbus crossing the ocean with his three ships. How do you think sailors got their name? (They rode in ships with sails that catch the wind.)
Questions to Share
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
1. Text to Self
Would you have wanted to join Columbus on his journey? Why or why not?
2. Text to World
What places do explorers go to today? How do they get there?
3. Text to Text
What other explorers do you know about? What did they explore?
Content Area Connections
On the last spread in the book, the illustration shows Columbus’s route along with a compass. Ask students to use the compass and the map to figure out the direction that Columbus sailed to the Americas. Then ask what direction he sailed coming back to Spain. If possible, give students a compass to use in the classroom.
Explain to students that the United States celebrates Columbus Day on the second Monday in October. That is close to the actual date that Columbus landed in the Americas, October 12, 1492. Italian Americans have special celebrations, because Columbus was born in Italy. Ask students to find Columbus Day for the current year on a calendar.
This favorite Columbus Day poem/song is available at various sites on the Internet. Students will enjoy hearing the poem read after reading the biography of Columbus. The poem begins:
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Design A Ship
Have students look at the pictures of Columbus’s ships sailing across the ocean. Ask students to draw their own ship and make a design for the sails, like the ones on Columbus’s ships. At the bottom of the drawing, have them write the name of their ship.
Write or Draw a Dream
Ask students to think about the dreams they have. Do they dream about a place they want to go? Do they dream about what they want to be when they grow up? Ask students to draw a picture of themselves, like the one of Columbus on the first page of the book. Have them draw a big “thought” cloud coming out of their heads. Inside the cloud, they can draw or describe in words one of their dreams.
Don't Forget the Big Question
Give each student an opportunity to answer the big question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Tell them there is no one right answer. How did Christopher Columbus make his dream come true?
Timeline for Christopher Columbus
Have the class create an illustrated timeline of the important events in Columbus’s life. Use the events on Resource #2, give them numbers, and assign one to each student to illustrate. Pass out the Big Activity printable to the group. Ask each student to write their event and circle its number on the time line at the top of the page. They can use the rest of the page for their picture.
Create a timeline of Columbus’s life on a long sheet of paper and post it in the classroom. Add the students’ illustrations.
About the Author
Marion Dane Bauer is a critically acclaimed author of numerous picture books, chapter books, and young adult novels. Bauer has been praised for her ability to step into the viewpoint of any child or young adult, in a wide variety of circumstances. The author lives in a small town outside Minneapolis, MN. She loves cats, dogs, hiking, and camping outdoors. For more information, visit Bauer’s homepage.
© 2012 SI ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Students will practice sequencing events, learn new words, and create art projects as they read a biography of Christopher Columbus.