Age of Exploration Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

You won't have to cross the ocean for good ideas on how to teach about the Age of Exploration with this lesson plan! Including resources from, this lesson will make sure your students understand the significance of the New World.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to complete the following:

  • Understand the events of the Age of Exploration
  • Compare and contrast motivations of Europeans to explore the New World


40 minutes, plus 40 minutes for the activity

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Key Words

Have students pay special attention to the following terms during the lesson:

  • Age of Exploration
  • Prince Henry
  • Mundus Novus
  • De Soto
  • Coronado
  • Columbian Exchange


Before starting this lesson, set the stage for the students. Discuss the Renaissance and what that meant for Europe. Also, remind students that in 1453 the Turks captured Constantinople, which meant that the usual route to the spices of the East was threatened.


Watch the video lesson The Old World and New World: Why Europeans Sailed to the Americas, paying special attention to keywords. Also, pause the video at the following points for discussion:

  • 1:55 - Look at a map of Europe. Where's Portugal? Why do you think that Prince Henry was so interested in Exploration? Also, remember that the Moors were being kicked out of Iberia by the Spanish - do you think having such a strong neighbor with nothing to do helped to motivate Henry?
  • 2:53 - What motivated Europe to convert people to Christianity? Do you think that the rising power of the Ottoman Turks (remember, they just conquered Constantinople a few decades before) had something to do with it?
  • 6:12 - Take a minute and make a list of goods transferred as a result of the Columbian Exchange. After you've listed goods, then list diseases. Encourage students to do the same. (As a friendly reminder, the only disease that purely came from the New World to the Old World was Syphilis, although it was the first time that many Europeans were exposed to Malaria). Then ask students to discuss if it was really an Age of Exploitation or an Age of Exploration.

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