California Missions Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Spanish missions play an important role in California history. With this lesson plan, your students will read and research this history, then apply that through a fiction-writing exercise.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain the Spanish mission system
  • Identify several important mission churches in California
  • Demonstrate empathy with historical actors


90-120 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.


Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.



  • Project an image of a mission church on the screen. Ask students if they've seen something like this before, and what it is. Explain that this is a mission church, the structure most associated with Spanish religious outposts called missions, designed to spread Christianity into new areas.
  • Distribute copies of the lesson California Missions: History & Locations.
  • Divide the class into small groups. Students will read through this lesson in their groups, with one person in the group reading aloud at a time, switching every paragraph.
  • Using this method, have students read through the sections ''Colonialism'' and ''Missions''. Pause here and discuss this information.
    • How do you think the Spanish got Native American people to come to the mission church or mission land? What incentives do you think they provided? What other tactics do you think they used?
    • How did the Spanish justify colonialism? What role did missions play in this?
  • Have students continue reading the lesson in their groups, working through the remaining sections. Discuss this information.
    • How do you think the role of missions as trading centers influenced their success? How did this serve to create a new way for Native Americans and Spaniards to interact? Do you think this provided more incentive to Native Americans to join a mission?
    • Missions were often built long before a large number of Spanish colonists arrived in an area. How do you think missions paved the way for the later arrival of colonists? How did missions help establish colonial infrastructure? Is this a different way of implementing colonialism than what we've seen in other areas?
    • What impact does architecture have? How did the physical transformation of space by adding Spanish buildings signify the political authority of Spain?
  • You may test student understanding with the lesson quiz.

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