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Lesson Plan: Social Studies Activities for Early Explorers

written by: Margo Dill • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/6/2012

In many fifth grade and American history curricula, students study early explorers such as Amerigo Vespucci and Ferdinand Magellan. Social studies activities based on the early explorers make learning history more fun and memorable. Study the famous explorers with your students, and have fun, too.

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    Teaching Explorers

    When you are writing your lesson plans, you need to decide how you will teach this information to your 5th grade students. Are you going to teach explorers by country, by the regions they explored, or on a timeline--starting with the earliest explorers?

    Some teachers assign an explorer report to each student and teach necessary vocabulary and geography in between student presentations. The amount of information and facts presented during lesson plans on early explorers can be overwhelming, so focus on your objectives and instilling a love of learning in your students during this unit.

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    Quiz Game

    One fun social studies activity is to play a quiz game with your students toward the end of the early explorers unit and before they need to study for their explorers' test at the completion of your lessons. This game will help them review the important accomplishments of the famous explorers and the countries they sailed for.

    1. On the chalk board or piece of chart paper, write four or five categories across the top of the page: French explorers, English explorers, Spanish explorers, Dutch explorers, and/or Italian explorers.
    2. Underneath each category, put an explorer's name. The famous explorers who everyone knows such as Christopher Columbus should go first, near the top of the category, because those questions are worth fewer points. Put at least four names under each heading if possible. Each row of names is worth 10 more points than the row above it. The bottom or final row should be worth the most--for example, 40 points. A question on Christopher Columbus will earn the team 10 points whereas a question on Francisco Pizarro may earn the team 40 points.
    3. The class is divided into two teams, and each person on the team takes a turn choosing an explorer's name.
    4. You ask a question about the explorer. The team members can consult with their teammates to get the correct answer.
    5. If the team gets the correct answer, then they get the points for that row. If they do not know the answer, the other team gets the chance to steal.

    This is one of those great activities that helps students get ready for an end of the unit assessment.

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    Journal Writing Fun

    Another fun social studies activity to consider including in your 5th grade explorer lesson plans is asking students to keep a journal like they were actually these early explorers.

    For example, you would ask each student to pick an explorer such as Christopher Columbus. The student who chose Columbus would create a journal--maybe decorate it like a captain's log--and write in it a few times a week, pretending to be Christopher Columbus. The student uses what he knows about this famous explorer to make the journal entries detailed and to review facts about Columbus. For example, your student may write that at the beginning of this voyage, he knew that people thought he was crazy when he said the world was round. Then your student, pretending to be Columbus, could list reasons why he believed it to be round instead of flat.

    Your students can use what you teach them about the early explorers as well as other resources from the library or Internet when writing their journal entries.