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Grade Level(s): 3-5
By: Janine

The lesson will focus on an overview of concurrent Dutch, French, Spanish, and English explorations on the east coast of North America during the 1500s and 1600s. After students read their textbooks about North American exploration, this lesson will be used to reemphasize the aims, obstacles, and accomplishments each country experienced. The use of cooperative learning through group goals and individual accountability will be accentuated.


Students will work in cooperative groups to describe accurate aims, obstacles, and accomplishments of explorers from England, Netherlands, Spain, or France by creating a poster of all the information and writing a narrative about one explorer of interest.

This lesson touches on the California State Standards for Fourth Grade Social Studies 5.2 Explain the aims, obstacles, and accomplishments of explorers, sponsors, and leaders of key European expeditions and the reasons Europeans chose to explore and colonize the world.


  • Whiteboard
  • Graphic organizer on explorers
  • Data retrieval chart on explorers
  • Class set of computers with Internet access
  • Poster board
  • Class set of pens
  • Copies of North American map for class
  • Checklist of historical information for each country


  1. Write the term "Explorers" on the board and create a semantic map with three satellites labeled What explorers do, What explorers look like, and Where explorers go. Ask students what words come to mind when they think of the term explorers and under what categories their information falls. When the students provide comments, each should be recorded around the appropriate category. Allow about six responses. If one category falls short, ask students to discuss the category in a small group and come up with one idea of what came to mind.

  2. Inform students that they will use their knowledge from the textbook readings to complete this project. Provide each student with the graphic organizer that describes the French, English, Dutch, and Spanish explorers of Early America. Have students review this with a partner. Once completed ask students why the European countries decided to send their explorers to America. Allow students to respond and ask them to write in any additional details described in class.

  3. Inform students that they will be working in small groups to study a country’s effort at exploration of the east coast of North America. Tell them that they will work together to gather detailed information about explorers from a country and their expeditions. The group will create a poster about the country’s efforts to explore North America touching on reasons for expeditions, hardships, and results.
    • Put students into groups of five and give each group a data retrieval chart and a copy of a North American map.
    • Explain the tasks to the students by describing the roles they may choose from. Members of the group can choose from one of the following tasks to research: location of expedition, reasons for expedition, the hardships, the results, or mapping the location.
    • Explain to students that they can choose to use their textbooks and websites to find the details about the European explorers. Have each group take turns logging onto either of these websites:
    • Give students time to work with their groups to find information pertaining to their task.
    • Once each student has come up with information, check to make sure they have found enough essential information through the use of a checklist.
    • Have each group work together to put their information on a poster board giving detailed information about the explorations of their country.
    • Allow students to print pictures from websites if time allows.

  4. Student groups should present their poster to the class describing the country’s goals in exploration. Ask each group what their favorite explorer is and why. Once each group has had a chance to describe their country’s explorers, as a whole class discussion ask students what countries had common goals and which countries had very different goals. Ask students what explorers they think were the most successful and why.

  5. After students complete the presentations have them independently write a narrative (approximately 2-3 paragraphs) as if they were one of the explorers they researched. Ask students to incorporate information they learned about the explorer and the explorer’s country by describing the reasons for their exploration, the places they explored, hardships, and their successes. Students should complete this assignment in first person narrative without the use of a textbook, graphic organizer, or data retrieval chart.


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