Materials: Copies of excerpts from Christopher Columbus’s diary, copies of “A Description of New England” (or laptops for all students), paper, pens, pencils.

Objectives (based on the North Carolina Standard Course of Study):

  • The student will demonstrate increasing insight and reflection to diaries of early explorers by:
    • Elaborating upon a significant past episode from the student's current perspective.
    • Projecting the student's voice in the work through reflective interpretation of relationships to people and events.
    • Writing for a specific audience and purpose.
  • The student will reflect and respond expressively to texts so that the audience will:
    • Discover multiple perspectives.
    • Investigate connections between life and literature.
    • Explore how the student's life experiences influence his or her response to the selection.
    • Consider cultural or historical significance.
  • The student will demonstrate the ability to read, listen to and view a variety of increasingly complex print and non-print expressive texts appropriate to grade level and course literary focus, by:
    • Selecting, monitoring, and modifying as necessary reading strategies appropriate to readers' purpose.
    • Identifying and analyzing text components (such as organizational structures, story elements, organizational features) and evaluating their impact on the text.
    • Providing textual evidence to support understanding of and reader's response to text.
    • Demonstrating comprehension of main idea and supporting details.
    • Summarizing key events and/or points from text.
    • Analyzing and evaluating the effects of author's craft and style.
    • Identifying and analyzing elements of expressive environment found in text in light of purpose, audience, and context.


Part I: The Diary of Christopher Columbus


1. Distribute Post-It Notes to students. Each student should receive one note.

2. Ask students to write one image or idea in response to this question: “What do you think early European explorers first saw when they reached America?”

3. Once they have finished writing, ask students to post their notes on a white board or chalkboard in front of the classroom.

4. Randomly choose notes and read them aloud. If patterns seem to emerge, group them and label them. For example, some students may have written about people, others may have written about nature.

5. Ask students to discuss what they know about Christopher Columbus. Hold a brief conversation about his history and impact on America. Then, explain that what we know about Columbus mostly comes from the diary he wrote while on his journey.

6. Distribute excerpts of the diary from Fordham University, or ask them to visit the site itself: Diary of Christopher Columbus. Use as much of the diary deemed necessary and appropriate for your class’s needs.

7. Ask students to skim the diary silently for a moment and to report any initial observations.
8. Then, read the excerpts aloud or ask students to read them aloud while writing one question and one observation in the margins of the paper or on a separate sheet.

9. After reading, ask students to share observations and questions. These should be the basis for a class discussion. If the following questions are not addressed, they can be used for further discussion or a short quiz:

  • For whom did Columbus write his diary? Why is this significant?
  • What is his attitude towards this audience? How do you know?
  • What conflict prevented Columbus from traveling to the east for spices?
  • What do you notice about his writing style from the first entry? Why do you think he writes this way?
  • Why did the rudder of the Pinta become loose on Monday, August 6? What does this incident indicate about the journey?
  • What is significant about the crew’s observation of September 14?
  • Why do you think some journal entries are shorter than others?
  • Do you notice a pattern to Columbus’s entries? What seems to be most important to him?
  • Is there another form in which Columbus could have written his information? Letters? Novels? How would this have impacted history?

10. Ask students to take out a sheet of paper and a pen or pencil. Ask them to reflect on their first day of school or the first time they visited a new place – a vacation, a move. Assign a 20-minute free write (or more, depending on your students’ needs and class time) on the topic chosen.

11. When the free write is over, ask for volunteers to share what they wrote. Emphasize the feelings of newness and excitement or even fear at visiting a new place.

12. Collect the writing for a grade.

Part II: A Description of New England

1. Return the free writing from the previous assignment to students, with comments.

2. Give a brief overview of other explorers who visited America, using a basic time line like the The Mariner's Museum Exploration Timeline

3. Ask students if they have heard of Captain John Smith. Explain that he was a British Admiral who helped establish Jamestown. According to legend, he had a relationship with Pocahontas.

4. Explain that like Columbus, Smith kept a journal of his observations of America. Distribute copies of "A Description of New England." The full text begins on page 12, but some of the introductory material is also of interest. This lesson only encompasses pages 1, 2, 3 and 12-17.

5. Read the overview on Page 1 aloud or ask for a student volunteer, pointing out that Smith was the first to coin the term “New England.” Briefly compare/contrast Smith to Columbus.

6. Ask students to read the Table of Contents on Page 2, discussing the intended audience for this work. Ask students how they think this intention might affect the content of the document. Compare/contrast to the purpose of Columbus’s diary.

7. Page 3 contains a note on the differences in language and a table of location name changes. Ask students if they know of any cities or countries that have undergone name changes.

8. Skip to the text on page 12, asking students to keep in mind the language differences noted on Page 3.

9. Distribute the “Questions for ‘A Description of New England.’”

10. Begin reading the text aloud, ask for a student volunteer, or ask students to read silently, depending on the needs of the class. Students should complete questions while reading.

11. After the reading is complete, hold a brief discussion about the material. Ask:

  • What were Smith’s impressions?
  • What did he seem to value most?
  • How do you think this document has helped us understand the history of New England?
12. Explain that students will be responsible for an essay in response to these readings, much like the free write on Day 1. Students are to take a walk in their neighborhood or to visualize a place they have been and create a diary for future generations. Guidelines are explained in “Exploration Diary Assignment.”

DAY 1 - The free-write may be submitted for a grade. Students may also be graded for participation in class discussion. DAY 2- Q&A, Exploration Diary
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