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5 Famous Explorers: How to Teach Their Journey

There’s something about famous explorers that gets kids excited about their own ability to explore the world around them. In this article, we'll break down five renowned explorers' lives and expeditions and how you can share them with your class. We'll offer engaging activities and insights to bring history to life along the way.

1. Christopher Columbus: The Pioneer of the New World

Let's start our journey with the man who changed the course of history – Christopher Columbus. Begin by introducing the context of the 15th century. Explain how Columbus set sail in search of a westward route to Asia.



Ship Building Challenge

Have students work in groups to construct model ships using cardboard, paper, and straws. Encourage them to consider the design elements that would make their ship sturdy and capable of long voyages. This activity reinforces teamwork and introduces principles of engineering and design.

Mapping the Voyage

Provide students with blank maps and ask them to plot Christopher Columbus's journey from Europe to the Americas. Have them include key landmarks and discoveries. This hands-on mapping activity enhances geography skills and allows students to visualize the explorer's route.

2. Marco Polo: Tales from the Silk Road

Venture into the captivating world of Marco Polo. This Venetian explorer traversed the Silk Road, connecting the East and West. Discuss the significance of Polo's journey in fostering cultural exchange and trade between Europe and Asia.



Spice Trade Simulation

Transform your classroom into a Silk Road marketplace. Assign students different roles – spice merchants, silk traders, and explorers. Have your students engage in simulated trade. They will learn about the commodities exchanged and the impact of this cultural exchange on both regions.

Spice Tasting Adventure

Create a sensory experience by organizing a spice-tasting activity. Introduce students to various spices traded along the Silk Road, such as cinnamon, pepper, and cloves. Have them describe the flavors and discuss how these spices influenced cultures and trade during Marco Polo's time.

3. Lewis and Clark: Charting the Uncharted

Fast forward to the early 19th century, and we encounter Lewis and Clark. The pair was tasked with exploring the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. Delve into their expedition, emphasizing their challenges and the importance of their discoveries for westward expansion.


Interactive Expedition Journal

Have students create interactive expedition journals with pop-up elements or fold-out maps. In these journals, they can document the challenges faced by Lewis and Clark, the landscapes, and the native tribes they encountered. This combines artistic expression with historical understanding.

Nature Walk and Specimen Collection

Emulate the naturalist aspect of Lewis and Clark's expedition by organizing a nature walk. Ask students to collect and categorize specimens. Encourage students to observe and document flora and fauna, like Lewis and Clark did during their journey.

4. Ferdinand Magellan: Navigating the Globe

Embark on a global journey with Ferdinand Magellan. This Portuguese explorer led the first expedition to circumnavigate the Earth. Explore the concept of navigation and the challenges Magellan's crew encountered during their voyage.



Compass Rose Creation

Have students create a compass rose, learning about cardinal directions and navigation. Extend the activity by discussing how Magellan used navigational tools and the stars to guide his expedition. This reinforces both artistic and scientific skills.

Create a Miniature Globe

Engage students in a hands-on activity by having them create miniature globes. Provide templates or guides for continents, and let them color, label, and assemble their globes. This activity reinforces geography skills and helps students understand the vastness of Magellan's journey.

5. Sacagawea: A Guide Through the Wilderness

Shift the focus to an often overlooked but indispensable figure in exploration – Sacagawea. As a Shoshone woman, she played a vital role as a guide and interpreter for Lewis and Clark. Highlight her contributions and the challenges she overcame.



Sacagawea Story Quilts

Encourage students to express Sacagawea's story through art by creating story quilts. Each quilt square can depict a significant event from her life. This activity enhances artistic skills and fosters teamwork and a deeper understanding of Sacagawea's historical role.

Storytelling through Artifacts

Encourage students to create artifacts that represent Sacagawea's life and contributions. This could include drawings, sculptures, or even written descriptions of objects that symbolize her role. Display the artifacts in a classroom "museum" setting. Have students explain the significance of their chosen items.

Navigating History's Seas Together

Teaching the journeys of these five explorers offers a dynamic way to engage students in history. Incorporating interactive activities makes the content relatable and encourages critical thinking and creativity. So, set sail with your students, exploring the world and its rich history.

Written by Brooke Lektorich
Education World Contributor
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