Social Studies Unit

5th Grade 



Heidi Stafford & Jennifer Daniels

 (Contact: how79@aol.com)

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Background Information

Learning Goals

List of Resources

Children's Books

Unit Activities

Culminating Activities

Lesson Plans

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Background Information


The desire to explore the unknown has been a driving force in human history since the beginning of time. From the earliest documented accounts, ancient civilizations have explored the earth by sea. Early adventurers were motivated by curiosity, the desire of foreign goods, religion, wealth, fame, national pride, and the search for better trade routes, to name a few. These explorers did not sail into the unknown without some idea of their final destination. Although they were searching for a specific land or route, they oftentimes were surprised at what they discovered. Sometimes the country they were seeking was only known in legend or rumor.

The captains of these long and dangerous voyages were not always experienced seamen. They could be merchants, adventurers, soldiers, or even gentlemen of the court. Desire for wealth or political favor were often their only motivations for going. But despite how strong their motivation, these captains needed funding and manpower and could not get underway without support from a very rich benefactor. Most voyages were made in the name of the royal ruler of a particular country. The crewmen who signed on to these long voyages were not the most experienced seamen either, but large numbers were needed to help man the sails and allow for loss of men due to illness.

Little cooking was done at sea. The food carried aboard often consisted of pickled or dried meat and ship's biscuits. Other foods included cheese, onions, dried beans, and freshly caught fish. Without fresh fruits and vegetables, the sailors suffered from a fatal condition called scurvy. Water supply was also a serious problem. Fresh water was the first thing the crew looked for whenever the ships reached land.

The age of exploration was influenced and led by several well-known explorers. One such leader, by the name of Marco Polo, appeared in the thirteenth century, from the powerful city of Venice. His father and uncle undertook their first journey to China by land, where they met the Mongol Emperor and eventually returned to Venice. Several years later they began their return journey, taking young Marco with them (then 15 years old). Their journey took almost four years to complete! When they arrived in China once more, the Emperor, Kublai Khan, was so impressed with them that they stayed in his service for 17 years before returning to Europe with their riches.

The courageous journey of Marco Polo inspired several others to re-establish routes of their own to the riches of the East. The Vikings and Crusaders are very distinguished explorers who joined in Marco Polo's passion for discovery. Magellan, who is known for being the first to sail around the world, is another great leader of the exploration era. Escalante, Dominquez, and Dias had many adventures that are worth studying. Then of course, Columbus found many wonderful things that contributed to what we have today.

The explorers we've mentioned are but a few of the characters whose discoveries continue to influence our world today. The tales of their courageous adventures encourage students to experience the feelings of curiosity, fear, and gratitude felt by those of long ago. These inviting stories and intriguing activities are sure to bring excitement into the classroom!

Here's a great website for more info on Marco Polo: http://marcopolo.worldcom.com

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Learning Goals


* Students will know and understand several motivations for exploration.

* Students will have basic knowledge of the most well-known early explorers.

* Students will know of several modern day commodities that were made possible by the discoveries of the early explorers.

* Students will understand that exploration is still going on today and that they can take part in exploring the unknown.

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List of Resources

 *We have starred our favorite sources!

*1. A Coloring Book of Great Explorers by Eric Tomb. Bellerophon Books, 1993.

This advanced coloring book is filled with drawings of great explorers, genuine art of the times, and informational text along with each illustration.


* 2. Around The World in a Hundred Years by Jean Fritz. Scholastic, 1994.

This book acts as interesting text written in story format. It tells of the many famous explorers who not only changed the map of the world, but left behind stories that no one would want to miss.


3. Book of Explorers by Felicity Everett & Stritan Reid. Usborne, 1991.

This detailed informational book is filled with pictures and tales of ancient travelers, medieval explorers, and brave voyages to the New World.


4. Colonial Life: Settling the New World (VIDEO). Schlessinger Media, 1999.

This captivating video for children highlights key aspects of Colonial Settlements.


5. Ferdinand Magellan. Encyclopedia Americana Online. Grolier, Inc. 2000. http://ea.grolier.com

This article tells of Magellan's early career, voyage around the world, and his achievements as an explorer.


* 6. Hands on History: Explorers by Michael Gravios. Scholastic, 1999.

This teacher's resource book contains projects and activities to help students learn and love history.


7. I, Columbus by Christopher Columbus. Edited by Peter & Connie Roop. Walker & Company, 1990.

This is Christopher Columbus' journal describing his experiences as he explored the New World.


8. Marco Polo. Encyclopedia Americana Online. Grolier, Inc. 2000. http://ea.grolier.com

This article tells of Marco Polo's family and their travels across Asia. It also tells about the book he wrote: "Description of the World."


* 9. Teacher Link. http://teacherlink.ed.usu.edu/TLresources.html

This in an Internet site with excellent resources and lesson plans on exploration.


* 10. Thematic Unit Explorers by Mary Ellen Sterling. Teacher Created Materials, inc. 1992.

This is an excellent source for the teacher. It includes activities and ideas for integration across the curriculum.


11. Our United States- Lesson Review Book, pgs. 10-12. Silver Burdett Ginn, 1997.

This resource is full if activities and educational games to help the students review what they have learned.


12. Our United States- Teachers Manual, pgs. 45-63. Silver Burdett Ginn, 1997.

This teacher's text manual has a chapter on exploration that focuses on important explorers and their motivations. It also helps students understand why a map is an important tool for exploring unfamiliar territory.


13. Young Students Learning Library, Vol. 8. pgs. 888-894. Weekly Reader Books, 1989.

This encyclopedia gives general information about explorers that children can easily understand.

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Children's Books

 *We have starred our favorites!

14. Columbus by Ingri & Edgar Parin D'Aulaire. Dell Publishing, 1955.

This book tells the adventurous story of a man in quest of the treasures of the east. The text and pictures stimulate the imagination and are filled with intriguing details.


* 15. Encounter by Jane Yolen. Voyager Books Harcourt Brace & Co, 1992.

This beautifully illustrated trade book tells of Revisionist history from a Native American's point of view.


16. Exploration and Discovery Bluewood Books, 1996.

This book presents the saga of the great mariners, glorified as heroes and later reviled as greedy invaders, who opened the New World to European exploration.


17. Eyewitness Books Explorer by Rupert Matthews. Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

An extensive and detailed picture book with captions showing explorers, the lands they traveled, the tools they used, and artifacts that were found, from the first recorded expeditions to modern voyages into outer space.


18. Ferdinand Magellan by Isaac Asimov. Children's Books, 1991.

This is a children's book outlining Magellan's voyages and explorations as he traveled around the world. It also includes writing and activities for children.


19. Follow The Dream by P. Sis. Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

This is a children's lit book with illustrations telling the story of Columbus' voyage.


20. If You Were There in 1492 by Barbara Brenner. Bradbury Press, 1991.

Packed with little-known facts, this book tells the truth about everyday life during Columbus's time so vividly that you almost feel you're there!


21. In 1492 by Jean Marzollo. Scholastic, 1991.

This story of Columbus written in rhyme is told with lively humor. The illustrations offer an introduction to a very important event in world history.


* 22. Morning Girl by Michael Dorris. Hyperion Books for Children, 1992.

Morning Girl and her brother Star Boy vividly tell of their rich life on their Bahamian island, and of their witness of the first arrival of Europeans that threaten their peaceful world. A great story for students to see how intrusion would feel from the opposite perspective.


23. Prince Henry the Navigator by Jeannette Nolan. Row, Peterson, & Co, 1951.

This is an interesting storybook of a charming Prince Henry and his life as a navigator.


24. Ten People who Discovered America by Bruce Black. Willowisp Press, 1990.

This book describes the journey of the people who discovered America. They navigated storm-tossed seas, plunged through forbidding forests, climbed towering mountains, and crossed boiling deserts. They faced incredible dangers in search of the new continent that promised untold riches and unending glory.


25. The Age of Leif Erikson by Richard Humble. Franklin Watts, 1989.

This book gives a historical background and traces the journey and challenges faced by those out to discover new lands. The wonderful illustrations will really pull you in.


* 26. The Bee and the Dream by Jan Freeman Long. Dutton Children's Books, 1996.

This is a lively Japanese Folktale about Shin and Tasuke's dreams of a treasure buried in a villager's garden. When Tasuke doesn't have the courage to seek for the treasure, Shin goes instead, and discovers nothing after destroying the villager's beautiful garden! When he returns home, however, he finds that his courage has paid off well. This is a great book to give children the vision of the courage that exploration requires.


27. The Life and Times of Napolean. Curtis Publishing Co, 1965.

This book contains a detailed description of Napolean's life, achievements, victories, and defeats in chapter form. It also includes many beautiful illustrations from Napolean's time.


* 28. The Vicious Vikings by Terry Deary. Scholastic, 1994.

This is a children's novel packed with frightening facts about the Viking warriors and their invasions.


29. The Viking Saga by Chris Molan. Raintree Childrens Books, 1995.

This book tells the stories of the Vikings voyages and settlements of the New World based on the modern translations of the Sagas.


* 30. Turn of the Century by Ellen Jackson. Scholastic, 1998.

This storybook describes, from many children's points of view, what it was like to live during the years of exploration.

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Unit Activities

 *We have placed these activities in a possible chronological order for teaching the unit!



The students will participate in a simulation game in which half of them are treated as a group of Native Americans who already inhabit the Americas, while the others are treated as the explorers who have come to the Americas to inhabit new lands. The roles can be switched at some point to allow all students to feel both sides.

Materials: none

Time: The majority of a school day, throughout all subject areas and activities, reserving time at the end of the day for reflection.



Have the students break up into small groups. Each group is given an era of time (more than one group can do an era). They will be given the greatest explorations of that time. Together they create a timeline using pictures, illustrations, and words. Then each group puts their section of the timeline up in the classroom to create one big timeline. This will give the students a general idea of the events they will be studying throughout the unit.

Materials: large sheets of butcher paper, markers and crayons, old magazine pictures (if you have them).

Time: 15-20 minutes



Students will learn this song which introduces the life of a Viking and will help them to remember Viking facts as they are put to music.

Materials: "Sing Your Way to Easy Teaching" CD by Kathleen Wiley (Music for Kids Series, Copyright 1999), CD player, lyrics for each student

Time: 15 minutes a day for 4 days



If the school library has the rights to this Disney video, you could show it to the class. It is the actual life of one explorer, and the challenges he faced while exploring Antarctica.

Materials: video.

Time: Depending on the amount of video you showed 20-145 minutes.



In this activity or center the students have the chance to identify authentic, time-period objects in a mystery box such as an eyeglass, hour glass, wooden spoon, rope, sail material, flag, small shovel, tools, etc. They are instructed to use only use their hands to feel the unseen object. Have them describe the object to their peers.

Materials: Any listed above, or any other items

Time: 20-30 minutes



Students will compile a checklist of the supplies that would be needed for a certain exploration. They can choose which explorer/exploration they would like to do, but the items on the list must be accurate for the trip taken.

Materials: paper

Time: 45 minutes



The teacher will create a scavenger hunt with clues/directions based on reading a gauge such as a compass. Within their base groups, students will be challenged to find the treasure using the clues and the gauge. They will realize the importance of measuring devises when seeking for new lands, treasures, etc.

Materials: several compasses or other measuring devises, several directional clues, an end prize for the entire class.

Time: 20 minutes/group to compete treasure hunt



This is a decision-making activity to help students realize the risks these explorers faced. As a group, list the pros and cons of a voyage, then have them make a decision and explain their rationale. What was the most important factor?

Materials: Paper and pencils

Time: 1 hour.

(Extension activity: Imagine A Future Frontier

Speculate on the 'new frontiers' available to future explorers. Select one topic such as space, the oceans, the human body, etc. and build a persuasive argument as to why effort and monies should be allocated for its further exploration.)



Students will create a letter of request from Christopher Columbus to the Queen requesting money for his voyage. They must include the reasons for the trip and how the money would be spent.

Materials: paper

Time: 30 minutes



In small groups, students will be assigned an explorer or a topic on exploration. They will research this topic in three different ways: video, interview, or writing. Together they will gather information and become "experts" on their topic. They will then present their knowledge to the class in a creative way such as a letter, poem, video, drawing, song, etc.

Materials: guidelines for project, list of resources or places for students to search.

Time: 1 hr/wk/3wks for group research, 45 minutes for presenting



Students will make a brochure of a place that was discovered by an explorer. The brochure will include why it was discovered, what its attractions and climate are, and why people would want to go there. Illustrations or pictures are required.

Materials: paper, colored markers/pencils, magazines to take picture from.

Time: 1 hour



Individually or in small groups, students will compose a radio announcement informing the world about an explorer's discovery or accomplishment. Encourage the students to create something that will catch people's interest and persuade them to stay up to date with recent discoveries.

Materials: none

Time: 45 minutes



While in groups, students will compose a short jingle about exploration. They may choose a familiar tune or make one up of their own. Together they will come up with lyrics that will share what they have learned about explorers.

Materials: none

Time: 1 hour



Begin by having students put their desks in a circle around the room. The teacher will begin the game by modeling how it works. (i.e. "I'm going exploring and I'm going to take...a compass.") One by one the students will respond in the same manner. This will be a review of what they have learned about items needed for exploration. This activity would also be great for the students to share their ideas about what they would need for modern day exploration.

Materials: none

Time: 15 minutes



This is an awesome resource we have available in Logan. This place is heavily involved in space exploration and gives great tours of the facility and of spacecraft they are making. It would be a great way to show students that exploration is still going on today. If you do not live in Logan, use a resource in your area.

Materials: permission slips, transportation

Time: 2-3 hours, or a good part of a school day.

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Culminating Activities

 *These activities will help you end your unit!


As the unit on explorers comes to an end, the students will work in groups to compile an overall product showing what they have learned. Each group will be given a different topic to present in a creative way for the museum. The topics may include depicting the different explorers learned about by a distinct characteristic, showing the different places the explorers traveled, showing how the explorers found their way, showing the different items the explorers found, etc. Each group will work together to design an exhibit they can display for the museum. The museum will be set up in the classroom or maybe the library. The students will share their exhibits with other classes, and they may have an evening when they invite the parents to come see what they have done.



To show the knowledge that the students have gained throughout the entire unit, students will design a presentation in which they will act out their interpretations of the explorers that they've learned about. They will be split into groups and assigned certain explorers or events. They will work together to design the scripts, backdrops, and costumes. The students may also choose to relate some of their information in various ways between the groups' acts--such as performing a choral reading for the audience, sharing projects or activities they've done, or singing a song that they've learned within the unit. After a day of preparation, the students will have a few days to find costumes or other needed items with the help of their parents. The class will then have a dress rehearsal before presenting their program to other classes. The parents may be invited to attend with the other classes, or the students may opt to present the program a second time for the parents.



Students either work alone (the projects would then be smaller), or work in groups. Each team must come up with their own exploration. They will decide what they are going to discover, how they will discover it, what plan they will use, what they will find when they get there, and who they will take with them, etc. Each question or idea can be completed by a different member of the group, as long as they work cooperatively to come up with the general idea. Each individual project could be expressed in written form, pictures, maps, videos, etc., but a variety is suggested.


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Lesson Plans

* These lessons were prepared as the first two lessons of our unit!

Lesson #1: Introduction to Explorers



Materials Needed:



1. Anticipatory set: the teacher will read the book Encounter by Jane Yolen to the class, after which they will discuss both the Native Americans' and the European Explorers' points of view.

2. The teacher will divide the class into 2 groups and assign one group the role of Native Americans and the other group the role of European Explorers (as in the story Encounter).

3. The students will think within their assigned roles and share with the class what some of their thoughts and feelings would be while in this situation. The teacher will encourage them to actually feel the excitement the explorers felt upon finding their great treasures as well as the fear, curiosity, and confusion that the Native Americans felt as a result.

4. The teacher will explain the assignment by saying "Each of you will receive a blank white postcard. When I say `go', you are all going to create a postcard to send to a person of your choice. Those of you who are in the Native American group will need to portray the thoughts and feelings that you would experience as a Native American on the back side of your postcard in writing, and vice versa for the Explorers. On the front side, you must draw a picture of the things that you are experiencing-- what would this situation look like to a Native American? What would it look like to an Explorer?"

5. The teacher will sketch a model of a postcard on the board and give the students suggestions and ideas for their writing and drawing (ex: "Explorer" students may wish to draw a picture of the newfound land and write of their excitement upon finding many unique treasures.) The students will be encouraged to use creativity, expression, and descriptive words in their writing.

6. The teacher will pass out cardstock and art supplies, say "Go", and allow 25-30 minutes for the students to complete their postcards. While they are working, the teacher will select a few students from both groups to share their postcards with the class during the last 5-10 minutes.






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Lesson #2: Reasons for Exploration




  • Paper cups
  • Vanilla Bean (or extract)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Tomatoes
  • Paper clip
  • Peanuts
  • Pineapple
  • Lined Paper
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Mini Books
  • Chocolate
  • Art Supplies (crayons, markers, etc.)
  • Bell Peppers


1. Anticipatory Set- "Smells of the New World"
  • Students will be arranged in their cooperative groups when they come to cl>
    • Mini Books

    • Chocolate

    • Art Supplies (crayons, markers, etc.)

    he students will then write their guesses on the answer sheet.

  • After a minute or so, the materials monitors will rotate the cups. The teacher will collect the cup from the last group and give the first group a new cup until all the groups have been able to smell each cup.
  • The students will then discuss what they thought was in each cup, and the teacher will identify the actual item to see which group had the most correct.
  • As a class we will discuss why these items make up some of the reasons for exploration.

2. Next, the teacher will ask the students: "What are some other reasons why people would go exploring?" The teacher will write the students responses on the board.

3. The teacher will then expand on the students' list by addressing and discussing other reasons for exploration that may not have been mentioned, such as: 1) Curiosity, 2) Wealth, 3) Fame, 4) National Pride, 5) Religion, 6) Foreign Goods, 7) Better Trade Routes.

4. Ask the materials monitor to pass out the prepared mini books to each student. The teacher will instruct the students to design a mini book that portrays the reasons for exploration. The teacher will also explain the criteria: each book must include a title page, a separate page for each reason that will include an icon representing that reason, as well as a complete sentence describing that reason.

5. To get students started, the teacher will model what one page of the mini books might look like.

6. Allow students the remainder of the class time to work individually on their mini books.






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