Digital History>eXplorations>The World Before 1492

Teacher Resources

This page contains specific resources developed for teachers using this Exploration.

Entire Unit | History Quiz | Zheng He | Timbuktu | Cahokia

Focusing Event for Entire Unit:

Brainstorm with the class things they know about ancient civilizations (location, religious beliefs, rituals, artifacts, contributions)

This can be done in multiple ways:

1. Sticky notes with students writing individually on a limited number of post-it notes, categorizing, posting with others eventually contributing to a class fact storming map
2. Inspiration Software: electronic concept map
3. Chalkboard, whiteboard
4. Preprinted graphic organizers to fill in

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Exploration 1: Check Your Knowledge

Accessing Prior Knowledge

1. Ask the students to take a few minutes and see how many questions they can answer on the Check Your Knowledge tab. You could first treat the questions as a non-graded pop quiz (5 -7 minutes) and spend most of the time discussing the answers (opens in a new window). Pay close attention to the closing statement and use it as a rationale for doing the exploration.

2. You could also allow students to find the answers using key websites.

Resources for Inventions and Inventors

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Exploration 2: Zheng He

Focusing Event:

Look at the pictures of the two ships on the Zheng He exploration page or click the picture to the left.

Without any directions, have your students make predictions about the ships. Who sailed these ships? Which ship was older? Which ship was part of a larger fleet? What country was each ship from? What is the same about the ships and what appears different? As the students to justify their predictions (What clues guided their predictions? Are their predictions based on prior knowledge?).

Read as a class the Essential Questions and then allow the students to do some investigating on their own. They should read the selections and follow a few of the links provided in order to be able to complete one of the “Extending the Investigation” activities.

Extending the Investigation:

1. Using the resources below and this printed map, trace the voyages of Zheng He in one color and then use another color to draw the explorations of some of the other early explorers (before 1492). Compare and contrast their voyages. Why do you think the Chinese halted their explorations?

(Outside links will open in a new window; close that window to return to this page)

Map Age of Discovery

Hispanic exploration

The Age of Exploration Timeline

2. From what you learned about the Chinese culture and explorations of Zheng He, what do you think life would have been like here in the United States if Zheng He discovered America before Columbus? Write a brief description of the differences you would expect to find in America today if the Chinese discovered America. Write this description as if it were a diary entry.

3. Investigate the reasons for exploration and discovery. Compare and contrast the differences in rationale between the Spanish, Portuguese, English, Chinese and other cultures. Why did some opt to turn xenophobic while others wanted chose to conquer the world? Is it political? Religious? Cultural?

(Links will open in a new window; close that window to return to this page)

European voyages

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Exploration 3: Timbuktu

Focusing Event:

Mansa Musa

Spend some time looking at the image on the Timbuktu Exploration page or click the picture. Ask the students to analyze what they see in the picture (for example…writing in another language, a king with a crown, a scepter, water, a gold ball etc).

Make predictions about this image. What cultural influences do you see? What would you guess the significance of the image might be? Now introduce the students to the ancient civilization of Timbuktu.

Extending the Exploration:

1. Using the map resources websites on the Timbuktu Exploration page, locate Timbuktu on a map and describe its geographical setting and historical significance.

2. Using the Mansa Musa resources websites listed on the Tibuktu exploration page, identify Mansa Musa and explain his historical significance as you create a biography page for a book called “Famous Kings and their contributions”.

3. Identify the kingdoms that flourished in this region and the trade that Timbuktu took part in.

4. Take a look at the History Channel timeline
and examine the major events in Timbuktu’s history and compare them to what was going on in the rest of the world. What do you think led to Timbuktu’s rise and fall? Create a Multimedia presentation that points out the important historical events that lead to Timbuktu’s rise and fall.

5. Using the resources on the Timbuktu Exploration page, imagine that you are traveling with Mansa Musa on the road to Mecca. Describe the pilgrimage in a letter to your parents including what you see, hear and experience along the road. What was the significance to you of this pilgrimage?

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Exploration 4: Cahokia

Focusing Event: Ancient Civilizations in the Americas

Ask students to look at the images at the beginning of the Cahokia Exploration and try to place them. These are all images of different ancient ruins (or graphic replicas) of ancient civilizations in the Americas. What appears similar or different about these?

Extending the Exploration:

1. Use a software program like Timeliner by Tom Snyder
or Inspiration
to create a timeline which maps the Aztec, Mayan, ancestral Puebloans and Cahokia civilizations. Include important features of the civilization and even images of artifacts found at these ruins.

2. Compare the different cultures of the ancient American civilizations. What were the similarities and differences in religious beliefs, cultural contributions, rituals, and extinction of these primitive people? You can either make these comparisons in a presentation format, webpage, or use the Civilization Comparison Worksheet (Microsoft Word format).


Teacher Video Resources are available on United Streaming
and there is a 30 day trial membership available.

These are the video clips from United Streaming that could be referenced.

  • Great Age of Exploration (1400-1550), The (30:55) FULL VIDEO
  • The Great Age of Exploration: Part One (12:57)
  • The World in 1400 (01:13)
  • The Renaissance (02:18)
  • Trade with the Far East (02:57)
  • Prince Henry the Navigator (01:53)
  • The Shipyards of Portugal (01:23)
  • Exploring the Coasts of Africa and India (00:49)
  • The Slave Trade (00:27)
  • The Voyages of Columbus (01:49)
  • The Great Age of Exploration: Part Two (13:11)
  • Columbus's First Voyage 1492-1493 (02:12)
  • Columbus's Later Voyages (01:27)
  • The Conquests of Mexico and Peru (01:51)
  • Exploration and Colonization (02:09)
  • Assessing the Great Age of Exploration (01:08)
  • Video Quiz: The Great Age of Exploration (02:42)

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