Digital History>eXplorations>Columbus & the Columbian Exchange

Teacher Resources

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

Entire Unit | Who Was Columbus? | Mapping | Columbian Exchange

Focusing Event for Entire Unit:

Web search for pictures of Christopher Columbus

1. First, ask students (individually or in small groups) to search for alternate images of Christopher Columbus.Assign a different search engine for each group of students:

Dog Pile:
All The Web:

2. Print the pictures the students find for a Columbus Gallery and hang them on the wall.

3. Ask students to choose the most ‘correct’ representation of Columbus and justify why they chose that representation.

4. Compare choices and discuss student reasons for their choices.

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Activity 1: Who was Christopher Columbus?

After students have researched and written their biographies of Christopher Columbus have them refer to these and other encyclopedia biographies of Columbus.

Discussion questions:

  • What their biographies leave out about the life of Christopher Columbus?
  • What are the similarities presented in the articles on Columbus?

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Activity 2: Historical Maps as Window into the Past

Just as these maps evolved, have the students create a series of maps to their house from school.

Map 1:

Ask students to draw a map to their home using streets but include no street names and no labels and no cardinal directions.

Ask students to share the map with another student and solicit suggestions on how the maps could be improved.

Map 2:

Ask students to change the map by adding all the suggestions.

Ask students to share the map with a different student this time, and ask for more suggestions on how to improve it.

Map 3:

Ask students to complete the map, adding all suggestions.

Ask students to reflect in writing on their thoughts on the final map:

  • Were the suggestions helpful or hurtful?
  • Why do you think so?
  • Why did the students suggest what they did?


Ask students to defend or refute these statements:

  • Mapmaking is a reflection of the person who made the map.
  • The cartographer actually creates the world.
  • The cartographer creates a map for political purposes.

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Activity 3: The Columbian Exchange

Here are some suggestions for mock trials (or persuasive essays):

Exercise 1:

You are charged with the malicious transfer of an addictive substance across international borders.
Defend your introduction of coffee into America.

Resources for caffeine addiction (or use a search engine to search for "caffeine addiction"):

Exercise 2:

You are charged with animal abuse because of your introduction of the chicken to the New World.
Defend yourself against this charge.

Resources for chicken farming (or use a search engine to search for "chicken farming broilers"):

Exercise 3:

You are charged with murder because your introduction of smallpox into the New World caused the death of 60% of the native population in a certain village.
Defend yourself against the murder charges and clear your name.

Resources for spread of infectious diseases in the New World (or use a search engine to search for "smallpox"):

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