Who Really Discovered the Americas?

102 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT...evaluate historical accounts of Christopher Columbus's voyages to determine if he was the first person to discover America

Big Idea

We can use research to compare and contrast different sources of information on a subject

Creating the Purpose

5 minutes

I like to open with a question for them to evaluate to refresh their knowledge of yesterdays information by asking - "Who can tell me why we celebrate Columbus Day?" (this year we've had a lot of controversy about this in the news). I also prod them further by asking "Why is this such an important holiday?" and "What makes a day a holiday?" (most students can't really answer why this we have holidays but this gets their interest in what's coming next)

Then I give them the objective and share that today we will compare and contrast the two different articles we read yesterday about Christopher Columbus to evaluate if we agree or disagree if Christopher Columbus really discovered America and if we should celebrate this holiday.   

Guiding the Learning

15 minutes

Before I have students take out their passages again, I like to activate their prior knowledge and review what they "proved" to be fact-based and opinion-"biased" statements in the Christopher Columbus articles. (I want them to learn that most of what was stated is based on facts but that good readers evaluate author's perspective (bias) along with the source of the article for how concrete the facts are)

This is where I need them to understand where Columbus came from and where he ended up on all of his voyages - so you can either pass out maps and have them trace the routes or project maps and have them follow along with you. (depends upon your lesson timing)

Passages are compared and the debate begins! To offer a good argument we first need to get the true facts about the subject and then back up what we say with evidence (builds value in the next assignment) 

This is where I introduce (reintroduce for some) the compare/contrast chart. Still early in the year so I frontload the questions prompts I want them to respond to. I answer the first similarity with them and we search for the strong facts/ evidence that support the claim we want to write in the fact boxes.

This lesson varies, so sometimes I need to do a second or even a third section to get students understanding how and where to find the evidence for each in the text.

As soon as they get it let them work independently to identify the rest and respond to the final question       

Independent Learning

30 minutes

I let them finish their worksheets and move struggling students into partnered or small groups to complete the research. Some struggled with identifying the strongest debate in the passage because of lower reading ability - I had the groups share orally and in writing to help with this

I set the timer for 10 minutes (and adjust to 15 if needed) to give everyone time to complete the graphic organizer.

I then I have them respond to the focus question with their opinions on whether or not the facts justify the holiday. Having the discussions earlier helped the ELL and struggling students complete this section. I give around 10 minutes for this because of a lack of classroom time but a longer time slot would be better to encourage strong persuasive responses.    


Closing the Loop

10 minutes

This is important because this is where students get the opportunity to debate what they feel with their evidence from the text on whether or not we should celebrate the holiday (per the facts given). If I notice an equal split in those who agree and those who disagree I have them take sides and conduct a group debate with each side bringing up a topic and the other disagreeing with evidence. I'm usually the judge and jury:) and I decide which gave the better argument - winner goes out first to lunch or gets a treat!

This time we charted their responses and had the class decide which presented the better argument.

Be warned that if the argument goes toward the holiday being not justified - you need to have an alternate plan for this holiday (we even renamed it Lief Erikson Day one year and followed the voyage in reading writing and math)   

Higher learners can be challenged to come up with more evidence for each side of the debate and glue their evidence on a chart paper to determine the consensus of more than one academic source - it's a great way to teach research skills at the same time.

Finally end with giving a positive to Christopher by asking -Textbooks have stated that Christopher Columbus opened the door to travel to the New World. - What are your thoughts on this? (this gets them back to thinking about the purpose of this unit -the benefits we gained from each exploration)