Teach your students about Christopher Columbus and his historic journey with these articles, quizzes, printables, research ideas, and more.
This lesson is designed to give students insight into the controversy surrounding Christopher Columbus. It is not intended to vilify Columbus, but rather to give students an honest view of Columbus’s voyages and the effect it had on world history.
- Identify the contributions of Christopher Columbus, both positive and negative
- Interpret information and state opinion using textual evidence
- Chapter 4 and pages 122-128 from the book Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration for Kids by Ronald Reis
- Encounter by Jane Yolen
- Internet access
- Computer and projector or computers for student use
- Columbus Controversy video clip, from The History Channel
- Chart paper or whiteboard and markers
- Optional: Three Column Note-Taking Template printable
- Optional: 3-2-1 Note-Taking Template printable
- Pre-read the books.
- Make copies for each student of Chapter 4 and pages 122-128 from the book Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration for Kids by Ronald Reis.
- Pre-watch the Columbus Controversy video clip from The History Channel.
- Make three sets of copies of graphic organizers for each student to take notes. You may use the provided Three Column Note-Taking Template printable or 3-2-1 Note-Taking Template printable, or use another graphic organizer of your choice.
Step 1: Introduce the topic by sharing this information:
This week we will be learning about the controversy around Christopher Columbus. Some people think we shouldn’t celebrate Columbus Day. Others believe we should continue to recognize Columbus and his contributions. We will study some of the controversy and form our own opinions using reasoning and evidence. At the end of the lesson you will answer these questions: Do you think Columbus should be celebrated as a great historical figure? Why or why not?
Step 2: Ask your students, “Who was Christopher Columbus? Why is he famous? Why did he go to the New World? What was he looking for?” Discuss with the class. Make a main idea web on chart paper or the whiteboard to gather your students’ thoughts.
Step 3: Ask your students whether or not Columbus discovered America. Discuss.
Step 4: Watch the short video clip titled Columbus Controversy, from The History Channel, which addresses the fact that Columbus was not the first European to discover America. The video discusses the following:
- 12 million people lived in the Americas before Columbus arrived in 1492.
- The Vikings landed in North America long before Columbus.
- Chinese explorers under command of Zheng He may have known about the Americas well before Columbus.
Direct your class to take notes during the video using a graphic organizer (see optional printables in Set Up). Explain that they will need to use the information for a writing assignment.
Step 5: Students share their notes with the class, while you record their information on chart paper or the whiteboard.
Step 1: Review.
Yesterday we learned Columbus was not the first person, or the first European, to discover America. Today we will discuss whether or not you can discover a ‘new world’ that has been inhabited by millions of people for thousands of years.
Step 2: Students read Chapter 4 from Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration for Kids by Ronald Reis, and write notes using a graphic organizer (see optional printables in Set Up).
Step 3: Students share their notes with the class. Record their findings on chart paper or the whiteboard.
Step 1: Ask your students to imagine that they are members of the Taíno people, living at the time when Columbus set foot on their island. Ask the class to imagine how they might feel when hearing about Columbus. Have them share their thoughts and imaginings.
Step 2: Tell the class you will be reading a book about Columbus’s first landfall in the New World, but this book is from the perspective of a Taíno boy. Read Encounter by Jane Yolen, including the author’s note.
Step 3: Students will write a journal reflection about the book. Have them share their reflections with the class or a partner.
Step 1: Read Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration for Kids, pages 122-128, while the class writes notes using a graphic organizer (see optional printables in Set Up).
Step 2: Start a class discussion. Be sure to mention that even though it can be argued that Columbus did not discover America, he did open up the New World to Europe. As a result, there was a massive exchange of plants, animals, people, diseases, culture, and ideas.
Step 3: Students will write an opinion piece answering the question, “Do you think Columbus should be celebrated as a great historical figure? Why or why not?”
Students must use three pieces of evidence (from their notes taken throughout the week) to support their answers.
Supporting All Learners
This lesson may be scaffolded in a variety of ways. The lesson can be consolidated into fewer days or spread out over the week. Students may work in partners or in groups when reading and taking notes, or complete the assignment individually.
- Did students take accurate notes?
- Did students use at least three pieces of textual evidence to support opinion writing?
- Does student work exhibit assessment and reflection?