Lesson Plans


  • Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, and Zheng He | Early Connectors

    During the Middle Ages, very few people are documented as having traveled to unknown lands. Yet three remarkable explorers from different parts of the world did just that. Marco Polo of Venice is probably the most famous overland traveler of all time; stories of his journeys first introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China. Ibn Battuta of Tangier is known as the greatest Muslim explorer in history; he traveled over 75,000 miles to nearly every Muslim country in the world. Zheng He of China commanded an enormous fleet of ships and journeyed to 30 countries throughout Asia and Africa. Through several primary source activities and short videos, students will understand the significance of all three explorers and how they contributed to the spread of different cultures and ideas across the world. 

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Age of Encounter | Explorers and Navigators

    By the late 15th century Europe was in the midst of the Renaissance, the cultural rebirth that had followed the Middle Ages. This same period was also the Age of Encounter, a time when explorers from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and England set out to find easier trade routes to China and India. This time of exploration was led by such navigators as Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, Vasco de Gama, Amerigo Vespucci, Ferdinand Magellan, and Francis Drake. These men believed they were the first Europeans to encounter the New World, though historians have since shown that the Vikings reached the continent nearly 500 years earlier. These voyages during the Age of Encounter produced contact with native peoples that would prove to have devastating effects on these populations, and connected various countries in ways that would transform the world.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Eric the Red and Leif Ericson | Explorers and Settlers

    Though it was long believed that in 1492 Christopher Columbus was the first European to reach North America, we now know that about 500 years earlier the Viking explorer Leif Ericson had already set foot upon its northern shores. Even more remarkable, Leif Ericson’s arrival in North America was the culmination of 200 years of Viking exploration and settlement in the North Atlantic. Leif Ericson’s father, Eric the Red, had explored and established a settlement in Greenland in the year 985 and it lasted 500 years. Through two primary source activities and a short video, students will understand the achievements and significance of these Vikings’ explorations and discovery. 

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • North America’s Great Waters | Explorers and Traders

    Although France had been slower than Spain and Portugal to develop an interest in the New World, by the 16th century French explorers had begun to search for routes to the Pacific Ocean and to claim North American settlements for France. Samuel de Champlain, known as the father of New France, founded the first two permanent French colonies in North America: Port Royal in 1605 and Quebec in 1608. He was also the first European to see the Great Lakes, which he claimed for France. In 1673, Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette set out on a four-month voyage to explore the length of the Mississippi River, traveling thousands of miles through the interior of North America. Their journey helped establish the first European settlements around the Mississippi. In 1679, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle led an expedition down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. He claimed the vast region surrounding the Mississippi River and its tributaries for France, naming it Louisiana after King Louis XIV. Through two primary source activities and three short videos, students will understand the significance of these French explorations of North America’s Great Waters.

    Grades: 3-7,13+
  • Meriwether Lewis and William Clark | Explorers and Soldiers

    Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the U.S. Corps of Discovery on an historic expedition across the uncharted western lands of North America in the early 1800s. Tasked by President Thomas Jefferson to map the territory, discover its flora and fauna, and establish friendly trade relationships with native tribes; Lewis and Clark journeyed more than 8,000 miles for two years, from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean. Their discoveries directed the future course of American exploration and expansion. Through two primary source activities and a short video, students will understand what this expedition meant for the future United States of America.

    Grades: 3-7,13+