October 12th Columbus Day

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TSWBAT analyze different accounts of Columbus' landing in the Americas while comparing and contrasting these opposing points of view.

Big Idea

Man of courage, reprehensible bad guy, or both? This may not settle the debate, but it's good to have the conversation.

Warm Up

10 minutes

Columbus Day is not the holiday it once was.  Awareness of his treatment of native people upon Columbus' landing in 1492, upsets and angers those who are not in favor of him having his own day at all.  It's not at all uncommon for Columbus Day parades to experience peaceful protests.

Christopher Columbus first stepped foot in San Salvador over 500 years ago, yet the details of this landing spur on debates that flare up year after year.  It is a topic rich in conversational possibilities. 

In 5th grade, we're well past the Exploration and Columbus unit by October 12th, so a lot of background is not necessary if you're in the same situation. 

Regardless, begin with questions (samples below) to refresh everyone's memory and write answers stemming from a COLUMBUS heading on the board. Columbus Facts on Smart Board

-What made Christopher Columbus different from other explorers of his time?

-For which country did Columbus sail?

-What did Columbus' crew think of him and come up with some adjectives they may have used.

-On what island did Columbus' three ships land?

-What was the authoritative action he took once on the shore?

-How did he treat the native people he came across?

Questions such as these will put the students back in the Columbus frame of mind and lead you to the main activity...the reading of two distinctively different books.


30 minutes

This is a lesson to compare different points of view on the landing of Christopher Columbus.  The method of comparison and contrast is reading two books on the subject.

I read the typical children's book about Columbus first: A Picture Book of Christopher Columbus, by David A. Adler It's an upbeat retelling of the story most kids learn by first grade.  Crew isn't unhappy; Natives are pleased with his arrival and return to Spain with him without incident, etc.  The kids aren't aware that they're about to experience Columbus from another point of view. 

Cue the second book, Encounter, by Jane Yolen  This is a powerful historical fiction picture book written from a native boy's point of view.  He is fearful of the strangers who seem to come from the sky, but is soon captivated by their gifts, beads and other things.  He quickly returns to his original intuition, but not soon enough to avoid capture as Columbus and his crew head back to Spain.

The next step is the reliable Venn Diagram or Double Bubble organizers.  The two books have provided plenty of information in which to compare and contrast Columbus' Landing.  I let them work on the comparisons briefly on their own allowing the kids to discuss as they write.  This is because the books are read just once and it's not always easy to retain information with a single read-through.  Soon enough, we come together as a class and I take suggestions for the similarities and differences and transfer them to the Venn Diagram on the board.

With the CCSS it's been a great excuse to really hit the standard of RI.5.5 consistently.  I'm confident that this is a skill they'll become experts at before we even get to the middle of the year.

An interesting article you may want to paraphrase or share with the kids, is from an online subscription called "History 4 Kids".  The link used for this activity is called "Columbus View of Native Americans blog entry," but the link will also take you to other worthwhile history areas, as well.


20 minutes

To close out this lesson on Columbus Day, I show the kids two different point of view videos.  It is a good way to round out all of the discussion that's come from the point of view picture books.  

The first video is actually a trailer for a documentary on PBS called, "The Magnificent Voyage of Christopher Columbus."  I like it because it presents Columbus and the world as it was when he tried to sell his revolutionary idea of sailing west to European nobility of his time.  It is short at 1:18, but gets across the idea that Columbus was out there doing what he thought best.


The second video is called, "Columbus Day Native American Perspective," and is also brief at 1:58.  It's an interesting interpretation of how Columbus' discovery of the Native Americans has affected these people since that time.  Its message is clearly stated by a Navajo narrator who evenly compares America as the native people's house, and the entry of Europeans as visitors who have taken over with only afterthoughts about their hosts.  This was a video originally prepared for an event having to do with an apology to the native people in 2012, but that can be a catalyst for even more discussion.


The Columbus video is a factual one, not an emotional one as with the Native American video, so they are not the best to compare.  The message I want the kids to take away from both, however, is that Columbus was an adventurous man of his time trying to solve a European issue in a unique way.  The Native Americans have strong feelings about how his actions altered the lives of their many tribes and nations.  Much discussion will come from these, and can also be related back to the picture books.