The True Story of Christopher Columbus

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SWBAT analyze two nonfiction passages on Christopher Columbus to determine facts and author's bias and its influence on the readers

Big Idea

We need to evaluate what is fact and what is opinion to determine the truth

Creating the Purpose

5 minutes

I like to open with a KWL questioning session to ask students who Christopher Columbus was. Most know he is known as the person who discovered America, but probe more to ask “Why did he come here? What was he looking for? “Did he bring anyone else with him on his trip? How long did he stay in America? – this gets them realizing that there is not much that they know about this person except from their previous years of basic understanding from the holiday.

Now I tell them – “There are experts that say that he was not the one who really discovered America, and actually he never even landed on our soil” – (this opens their mind to learning and gets them curious about the unfolding drama coming up)

Option to watch this video now:


Then I open with the objective – today we are going to evaluate two different articles on Christopher Columbus to see if we can determine what is factual information and what is author’s bias or opinions.

Guiding the Lesson

15 minutes

I first want to make sure they can distinguish between fact and opinion and understand that the word “bias” means author’s point of view – and that they can identify key words/phrases that signal both. To do this I projected a few statements on the board (or you could use chart paper) and have them read them first with me - you could also have them reference their opinion key word sheet here and have them tell or write a fact sentence and an opinion sentence. 

I then tell them we are going to practice our fact/opinion skills (we compare this to practicing for a big game) so that we can use it to identify facts and opinions/ bias (interject this word to build familiarity) in the CC pieces. Examples are below:

In 1856, Sir Hawthorne stated he felt there should be a law allowing people to protect their property from trespassers. (factual statement - provable) In 1857, Sir Hawthorne demonstrated disrespectful treatment towards a young lad who innocently walked across his property. (opinion-biased words- disrespectful/ innocently)  

As soon as they get it I tell them we are ready for the “Big Game”piece… You can pass out the handouts here or read as a whole from your projector. Read the first paragraph of the page titled” Christopher Columbus” – I read this first because I don’t want to influence their beliefs that facts may be incorrect until they understand the traditional story.

I do a think-aloud to show how I evaluate the facts (provable) and opinions (debatable) in the first paragraph. I tell them we will underline opinions/opinion words in red and identify the facts in blue.  I don't really want them to underline the entire passage so you can either teach them to identify facts -dates, provable information or places or do as I did because there were so many and just bracket the paragraph in blue as a primarily fact paragraph.

Think through each part taking your time helps them to better assess the parts of the sentence rather than just thinking about the big idea and evaluating that as a fact or opinion. This article proved to have some difficult vocabulary and as we went along I needed to remind them of the context clue skills we use while reading - another option might be to read it all through once and use think-aloud to define and build understanding of each paragraph - you want the rigor but also the understanding to complete the task so feel free to use a simpler piece if your students need to. 

I go through the first 3 paragraphs asking for their help and opinions of what I or peers identify – fact questions are  - Can it be proven? Where would we find this proof? Does everyone feel this way/ believe this way? Who might not agree? and then have them break into small groups to do the last paragraphs. 

I practice the same red/blue underline strategy with them on the first two paragraphs.

Here I like to have them continue in partnered groups identifying facts and opinions in this article and rotate around to check for understanding.   



Independent Practice

15 minutes

I have students complete the same steps with the second passage “Just Where Was Columbus” using the same red/blue evaluation process independently. (they can find more opinion words in this piece) You can still partner those who are struggling or are struggling readers. 

I then have them respond to the focus question - Which article proved to be more factually based? Why, what evidence in the text supports your opinion?

Closing the Loop

15 minutes

I end by having students complete the evaluation of both articles for elements of facts vs opinions and then we come together to share our opinions and the evidence we found. Another great time to teach stronger-weaker evidence!