Teaching and Learning the Virginia K-3 History and Social Sciences Standards of Learning



3.3 The student will study the exploration of the Americas by
  a) describing the accomplishments of Christopher Columbus, Juan Ponce de Léon, Jacques Cartier, and Christopher Newport;


  • Introduce this unit by bringing in a covered box with items inside that an explorer might use. Some examples are a magnifying lens, compass, hat, map, journal, etc. Have students guess what is in the box before opening it. Then take out one item at a time and generate guesses about why the item is in the box. Also discuss what each item is used for. List ideas on the board or on chart paper. After the students have talked about all the items in the box, explain to the class that you are beginning a unit on explorers.
  • Begin a KWL chart either on an enlarged ship model with K, W, and L on each sail or on just a chart. Elicit responses from students about what they already know about explorers and write them on the K part of the ship or chart. Then have them give responses about what they would like to learn on the W part of the ship or chart. Post this chart or ship up for the entire unit.
    - As a group, decide which characteristics are important for a good explorer to have. Have one student be the recorder and list them on a piece of paper.
    - Write the names of the following explorers on the board: Christopher Columbus, Juan Ponce de Leon, Jacques Cartier, and Christopher Newport. Stimulate the interest of the students by allowing them to partner up and choose one of the explorers to research.
    - Explain that they will complete an explorer research sheet by using any of the collection of books, articles, printouts, Internet websites, encyclopedias, etc. that you have collected for them.
    - Use an overhead of the research sheet, go over each of the areas that the students will need to find answers for and record on the sheet. Cover the Essential Knowledge information as each of the explorers is introduced later in the unit.
    - If you would like, have the students write or type up a paragraph summarizing the information they learned. They may also draw a picture or find one on the Internet to insert into their writing. Then they can be made into a class book.
  • Locate the countries of Spain, France, and England on a map and have the students color those countries on their own individual maps with a map legend. Locate the regions explored by each explorer and create a path from Europe to the Americas. Use a legend to label the paths taken.
  • Use resource materials from print and non-print sources to learn about the four explorers and some background information on each.
  • Create a giant map out of a shower curtain or piece of plastic and have the students walk the voyage that each explorer made from Europe to the Americas.
  • Create explorer boxes where the students put in objects related to that explorer.
  • Create a time line showing the dates and a picture of each explorer. It can be made as pictures and then hung across the front of the room or on string.
  • Create a Venn diagram comparing the explorers.


Short biographies are available in an alphabetized list of explorers.


Here is background information on Christopher Columbus.

The Mariner's Museum provides information about Columbus.


Here is background information on Ponce de Leon.

Here is background information on Christopher Newport.

The Community Learning Network has an explorer theme page with links to information and lesson plans.


Exploration of America: Christopher Columbus, Juan Ponce de Leon, Jacques Cartier, Christopher Newport

Adler, David.
A Picture Book of Christopher Columbus. New York Holiday House, 1991.
This is an easy biography of Columbus, which discusses his early life, preparation for his voyage, and landing in America.

Hurwicz, Claude.
Juan Ponce de Leon. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2001.
This book briefly describes the life of the Spanish explorer who first came to the New World with Columbus and went on to become governor of Puerto Rico.

Donaldson-Forbes, Jeff.
Jacques Cartier. Powerkids Press, 2003.
Illustrations and simple text provide a brief introduction to the life of this sixteenth-century explorer.