4 Exciting Ways to Introduce Your Age of Exploration Unit
What comes to mind when you think of the Age of Exploration? This historical time period changed life for millions of people and led to the widespread transfer of plants, animals, diseases, people, and ideas between the Old World and the New World. But, how do you introduce such an important time period to students?
When teaching about historical periods like the Age of Exploration it can be difficult to find engaging and appropriate resources. I want to save you time, so I’m compiling engaging ways to introduce your history units.
Below are 4 engaging ways to introduce your Age of Exploration unit. I know you and your students will love them!
Introduce the Unit with a Primary Source
World Map (1507)
Primary sources are immediate, first-hand accounts of a topic from people who had a direct connection with it. Their importance is summed up in this great quote from docsteach.org (the National Archives’s tool for teaching with primary sources).
“When we ask students to work with and learn from primary sources, we transform them into historians.”
This world map from 1507 is an awesome way to introduce your Age of Exploration Unit. It helps provide context for and get your students talking about the Age of Exploration.
How it Works:
- First, I recommend pulling up the World Map from 1507 online so you can zoom in.
- Second, remind students of the cardinal directions (North, East, South, West). You may want to draw a compass rose on the board. This can help students describe parts of the map.
- Ask students the following questions. Students may share their answers verbally or write their answers down:
- What do you see? What places can you name?
- What decorative illustrations do you see? What could they mean?
- Why do you think this map was made?
- What does this map tell us about the Age of Exploration?
- After analyzing the map, show students a current world map. Ask them to notice similarities and differences between the two.
This is such an easy, low prep way to introduce your Age of Exploration unit. Check out more powerful Age of Exploration primary sources here.
Introduce the Unit with a Video
How was North America settled before European colonization? from The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
When I was teaching, videos were one of my favorite teaching tools. They’re a great way to introduce new concepts. This video from The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History explains that the “New World” really wasn’t new to millions of people. It also teaches about the civilizations that lived in America before European colonization.
How it Works:
- First, ask students which European explorers they know. Students may mention explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Hernán Cortés, Francisco Pizarro, or Francisco Vázquez de Coronado (If your students don’t know any, that’s okay! Just share one or two.)
- Second, ask students what these explorers were known for. If they don’t know, remind them that Christopher Columbus is often credited with “discovering” The Americas.
- Next, define the Age of Exploration as a period in European history of extensive overseas exploration. Show a current world map and some of the explorers’ routes (this map is a great reference).
- Next, explain that although these explorers are famous for “discovering” the New World, millions of people already lived in the Americas before European contact.
- Show students the video.
- After, ask students to share what they learned.
- Finally, students reflect on the following questions: Did Columbus (and other European explorers) really discover the Americas? What is the effect of the perception that they did? What else do you want to know about the Age of Exploration?
Looking for more Age of Exploration videos? Check out my list of Age of Exploration videos for students.
Introduce the Unit with a Historical Picture Book
Disclosure: The book link is an Amazon affiliate link. This means that I may earn commissions for purchases made by clicking the link.
When it comes to teaching history, textbooks can often feel dry and the large amounts of text can be overwhelming for students. Historical picture books bring history to life and help teachers address difficult concepts in age-appropriate ways.
Encounter tells the story of a young Taíno boy who experiences the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s an eye-opening story that provides a more personal view of this historical time period.
How it Works:
- Before reading the book, ask students what they imagine Indigenous Peoples thought of European Explorers.
- Next, explain that this book is written from the perspective of a young Taíno boy who lived in America before European contact. (The Taíno lived in what is now called the Caribbean.)
- Read the book together as a class, pausing to discuss the main character’s feelings throughout the book. How did he feel about the newcomers at the beginning of the story? How did other characters feel about them?
- After reading, review what happened to the main character and how his feelings changed or stayed the same throughout the story.
- Explain to students that the Age of Exploration involved many groups of people, including Indigenous Peoples. This time period changed life for these people in a significant way.
Click here to check out more of my Age of Exploration picture books for kids!
Introduce the Unit with a Song
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye
This last idea is one your students are sure to love. Songs can be a wonderful way to connect with a historical time period by analyzing melody and lyrics.
Although “Ain”t No Mountain High Enough” is a modern song, it can definitely be applied to help your students learn about the Age of Exploration.
How it Works:
- First, ask students to share ideas about why Europeans started exploring during the Age of Exploration. (Sample responses: to find wealth, to spread Christianity, to find new trade routes, to bring glory to themselves and their country, etc.)
- Explain that many Explorers went to great lengths to find what they were looking for. For example, They traveled great distances, faced dangerous conditions, and left their loved ones for years.
- Before listening, remind students that this song wasn’t written about the Age of Exploration. However, ask them to think about how this song could be applied to European explorers.
- After listening, allow students to share their thoughts. Students may come up with some of the following ideas:
- The chorus of the song goes “ain’t no mountain high, ain’t no valley low, ain’t no river wide enough, to keep me from getting to you”. These lyrics could apply to the obstacles that Europeans like Columbus were willing to go through to get gold, riches, and glory.
- To explore the Americas thoroughly, explorers encountered various landscapes like mountains, rivers, and valleys that are mentioned in the song.
- Another set of lyrics from the song says “No matter where you are, No matter how far”. This could be connected to the distance Europeans traveled and how their actions negatively affected Indigenous Peoples.
More Resources for Teaching about the Age of Exploration
I hope these ideas will help you introduce your Age of Exploration unit in an engaging way!
If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in my 3-week unit about the Age of Exploration. Included in this unit you will find a helpful introductory PowerPoint presentation, engaging simulations, ready-to-print student worksheets, and an easy-to-use study guide and assessment to check student knowledge. I created this unit to help you and your students love learning about the Age of Exploration!
- Age of Exploration Unit
- Ultimate Guide to teaching the Age of Exploration
- Age of Exploration Primary Sources for Students
- 7 Age of Exploration Videos for Kids
- Age of Exploration Children’s Books