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Why the Exploration of North America?

Lesson: Why the exploration of North America?

Author:  Esther Ting

Grade: 5

Drama Standard

TH:Cr.1.1.5. c. Imagine how a character’s inner thoughts impact the story and given circumstances in a drama/ theatre work

Social Studies Standard

Objective 1 d. Determine reasons for the exploration of North America (e.g., religious, economic, political). 


Students will be able to determine the reasons & challenges for the exploration & colonization of North America and the impact of character’s thoughts in a story by making decisions on the exploration of North America as explorers.


  • 6 pieces of information of France’s, England’s, and Spain’s exploration (refer to supplements below in lesson)

Step 1 – Hook (5 min)

  • Hide the information about the reasons the countries (France, England, Spain) went to explore the America (6 pieces of paper) in the room before the class enters.
  • Introduce the class to the idea of the “Golden Age of Exploration.'  Invite the class to imagine we are explorers from an imaginary European country going to a small unknown island by Europe. On the island, there is information about the exploration the European countries did. Tell them that we are going to find the information to help us decide if we want to go on a long exploration to America.
  • Ask the class to put on their explorers’ outfits (such as jacket, a hat, a pair of boots, etc.). Ask them what the explorers would bring with them to help them navigate (such as binocles, map, compass, etc.). Get on the ship together and land on the island. After the landing, the class go around the classroom and find the information (the papers).

Step 2 – Finding out the reasons (8 min)

  • The students with the information of the same country would form a pair. As a pair, the students read the information.
  • Partner A justifies the reason to explore and colonize North America. “Within each pair, I know one of you have a religious/business background, you are either a missionary or a trader. Tell you peer explorer why the reasons listed on the paper are justified according to your professional knowledge.”
  • Partner B can ask questions to find out more through Partner A.
  • Step out of roles. As a whole class (in a circle), share what information they have learned from the paper and their peer explorers. Invite the class to think about how the information they obtained would affect their decision to go on the navigation to North America.

Step 3 – Meeting with the queen (10 min)

  • In the palace, the explorers are meeting with the queen to answer her questions she has about sending a group to exploration. She will also answer questions about what the royals could do to support this trip and help solve some possible problems. “When I put on my hairband, I will be the queen.”
    • I want to strengthen my country through expansion. I also need more natural resources.
    • Many businessmen and religious groups have told me about the benefits. I would like to know what challenges might have.
    • I know some of you here have family members or friends experienced the exploration to the North America before and they had some obstacles. What happened to them?
    • What do you need from the royals to support you?
    • The businessmen here, tell me if the (goods)worth the risk?
    • What would be the cost to colonize? What human resources/materials would I need? Would the Native Americans obey my rules?
    • Should I send you to the exploration? Should I colonize the people there?
  • Step out of role. “Now that you have met with the queen and you know your character better. Do you want to join this exploration? Why?”

Step 4 – Voting (2 min)

  • On the whiteboard, draw a shore. The other side of the wall is defined as the inner part of the land. On a spectrum, the students decide how much they would like to go on this exploration. The closer they stand to the whiteboard, the more they want to go. The farther they are from the whiteboard, the less they want to go.
  • Divide the class into two groups according to their desires. The ones who want to go the most will be in one group. The rest will be on the other group.

Step 5 – Decision Alley (5-7 min)

  • Step out of roles. Let’s say the queen of the country decided she would send a group of elites to go to the exploration to America. The queen needs a group of sailors to go with the explorers.
  • In roles: half of the class will be the king’s explorers (who support the exploration), the other half of the class will be the family members of the sailors (who know the danger of going to the exploration and the possibility for the sailors to stay in the place the land on if it is colonized). The two groups make an alley. A student will be the head of the sailors, who has the authority to decide if the sailors would join the exploration. He/she walks down the alley while the students give reasons of going or not going to the exploration.
  • After walking down the alley, the student points out which side is more convincing for his/her character and why. Invite him/her to ask a question to the group. If he/she does not have the question, the teacher asks “If the sailors go to this exploration, is there a way you could fix (a challenge)?” Have both groups answer the question using the same method.
  • If time allows, the teacher raises another question and invite another student to walk the alley.

Step 8 – Packing and Loading for the navigation (5 min)

  • Let’s say a group of sailors is willing to go on this exploration. As a whole class, decide what do we need on the journey. Pack and load them onto the ship (place a few blocks/the ship by the whiteboard/the shore). Bring the resources the queen promised to gives. Bring personal items your characters would carry all the time.
  • Tell the families and friends on the shore why you have decided to go on this journey after all. Say goodbye! Off we go!



  • Merchantilism – a nation’s power is based on its wealth
  • France found a great amount of furs on North America. The French traded with the Indians for furs that they then took back and sold in Europe because people were willing to pay a lot of money for furs in Europe.
  • France wanted to find the Northwest Passage to Asia.
  • France was a Catholic nation and committed to expanding Catholicism around the globe.
  • Example: Samuel de Champlainmade great strides for French exploration of the New World. He explored the Caribbean in 1601 and the coast of New England in 1603 before traveling farther north. In 1608 he founded Quebec, and he made numerous Atlantic crossings as he worked tirelessly to promote New France. Unlike other imperial powers, France—through Champlain’s efforts—fostered especially good relationships with native peoples as they expanded westward. He learned that becoming friendly with the native people was essential to successful trade. Champlain explored the Great Lakes, Hudson Bay, and eventually made it to the Mississippi River. The French made an alliance with the Hurons and Algonquians; Champlain even agreed to fight for them against their enemy, the Iroquois.


  • Merchantilism – a nation’s power is based on its wealth
  • The English colonized North America for several different economic reasons. Basically, they found goods that had a market in Europe.  The English that settled New England found timber that was great for building ships.  The English that settled the middle colonies of New York and Pennsylvania found good farmland that was great for growing food that could be sold in Europe. Finally, the English that colonized the southern colonies found that area was good for growing cash crops like tobacco.
  • England wanted to find the Northwest Passage to Asia.
  • Colonists from England like the Puritans wanted to escape persecution they were experiencing in England.The Puritans settled in New England and attempted to create a religious utopia where everyone would live by Puritan rules based on the Bible.
  • Example: On Hudson's final voyage from England in April 1610 to find a northwest passage through the North American continent, he found a large body of water that he thought was the Pacific Ocean. However, it was only a large bay, later to be named Hudson Bay. Hudson continued to sail down the Canadian coast until he hit the southern point of Hudson Bay at James Bay and found there was no western passage. The ship was stranded in James Bay over the winter by harsh weather. Tensions ran high and some of the crew members grew hostile. By June 1611, the ship was able to start the journey home. On June 22, 1611, the crew mutinied, put Hudson, his son, and several other crewmen in a small boat, and left them in Hudson Bay. No one knows what happened to them. It is assumed that they died soon after that.


  • Merchantilism – a nation’s power is based on its wealth
  • Spain found a lot of gold and silver when they conquered the Aztec and Inca Empires in North America.
  • Spain sent missionaries to North America to convert the Indians to the religion of Spain and teach them the arts of civilization.
  • Example: Juan Ponce de León is known for his search of the fabled Fountain of Youth, which is supposedly how he discovered Florida. The truth of the matter isn't nearly as exciting: Ponce de León and the Fountain of Youth weren't linked until after his death.

Ponce de León was a Spanish explorer who led the first European expedition to Florida and who first sailed to the New World on Christopher Columbus' second voyage in 1493. Nine years later he was working in the island of Hispaniola when he landed a promotion to the station of frontier governor of a new province in recognition of his success in helping to crush a native rebellion. In 1513, he led his first trip to Florida, an area that he named. In 1521, Ponce de León sailed back to Florida to help firm up his claim. After landing in the Sunshine State, Ponce de León, his crew, and the group of colonists whom he had led were attacked by native warriors. It's believed that Ponce de León took a poison arrow to the leg. He was able to make it back to Cuba, where he died of his wounds in 1521.


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