Evaluating the Age of Exploration – A Primary Source Driven Investigation

This post contains a lesson plan for teaching students about the European Age of Exploration. The Wikipedia entry on the Age of Exploration is pretty comprehensive, so I would recommend checking it out first (Age of Exploration WIKI).  If your course covers the development of colonies in North Africa and the New World and the mistreatment of enslaved Africans and Native Americans, I would recommend taking a look at the primary sources in this coursepack.  This lesson is primarily designed around getting students to look closely at primary documents, evaluating them for perspective and bias, and then writing an analytical essay exploring a topic of their own choosing, following a Central Historical Question;

        “In what ways did European societies use their legal and religious belief systems to enslave other European, African, and/or Native American societies and to conquer other nations? Describe their justifications and rationale for slavery and conquest. What does sugar have to do with it? What were the reasons behind the conquest of the Americas?”

The coursepack contains primary and secondary documents as well as questions sheets to keep students on track. Not included is the scaffolding necessary to help students develop a thesis statement and compose an analytical essay – since the methods for teaching this type of writing are so idiosyncratic, I chose to leave them out and let the teacher decide how best to teach essay writing. As such, this coursepack is primarily history driven, even though the summative assignment is ELA related.

Age of Exploration Coursepack

The rough outline of the lesson is as follows –

  1. Slideshow on Age of Exploration
  2. Documentary Video (Documentary)  – anyone know of a better documentary to show?
  3. Read documents 1-9 and answer the relevant answer sheets.
    1. This can be scaffolded for slower readers by only assigning 1A and 1B to more advanced students. Additional differentiation can be achieved by allowed students to read the documents at their own pace. I would review answers only once all of the students had finished a reading; the faster readers could always move on ahead, and then come together with the class during review.
  4. After the necessary number of documents have been finished, assign the Graphic Organizer chart and require the students to find at least 5-9 pieces of evidence in the readings that answer portions of the central historical question. This evidence will help them in developing points for a thesis statement.
  5. After the chart is finished, they are ready to start an analytical essay evaluating the Age of Exploration.

Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions.  I have not developed any specific teacher documents or guidance, but perhaps in the future.

Authors: Jayur Madhusudan Mehta, Parvathy Anantnarayan, and Bradley Mollman



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