North American Exploration Activities for High School

Instructor: Heather Jenkins

Heather has a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in special education. She was a public school teacher and administrator for 11 years.

As your students learn about the early history of America, consider having them study North American exploration. Use these activities to help students understand the motivations and achievements of early North American explorers.

Across the Atlantic

The majority of your students know a few things about Christopher Columbus; however, they're probably less familiar with most of the other explorers of North America. When students learn about North American exploration, they can understand the motivations and obstacles faced by explorers venturing into the New World. Additionally, students can understand how the influence of different countries impacted the history and culture of various locations in North America.

Let's look at some activities to help students learn about North American exploration.

Live Action Timeline

Have students act out specific events to create a live-action timeline of the exploration of North America.


  • Timeline of North American exploration

Teacher Directions

  • Show students a timeline of North American exploration. Review major events in the exploration of North America, such as the voyages made by:
    • Christopher Columbus
    • Ponce de Leon
    • Francisco Coronado
    • Hernando de Soto
    • Henry Hudson
    • Jacques Cartier
    • John Cabot
  • Discuss where each explorer traveled to in North America and what they discovered.
  • Divide the class into small groups and assign each group a specific event from the timeline.
  • Students should create a skit to act out the event.
  • When finished, have groups present their skits in chronological order to create a live action timeline of the events in North American exploration.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think was the most important event in the exploration of North America?
  • Why do you think explorers were willing to risk their lives to discover new lands in North America?

Explorer Journal

Students will write journal entries to reflect the motivations, obstacles, and achievements of explorers venturing into North America.


  • Chart paper
  • Markers
  • Maps of explorers' voyages to North America

Teacher Directions

  • Show the class maps of various explorers' voyages to North America.
  • Discuss the motivations, obstacles faced, and achievements for each explorer. Record this information on the board in a chart.
  • Divide the class into pairs and provide each pair with chart paper and markers.
  • Each pair will be assigned one of the explorers. Pairs should create three journal entries on their chart paper to reflect the time periods of before, during, and after the explorer's journey to North America.
  • The journal entries should be written in the first person and the motivations, obstacles, and achievements for the explorer should be evident throughout each pair's journal entries.
  • When students are finished, have them present their journal entries to the class.

Discussion Questions

  • Would you have been an explorer to North America? Why or why not?
  • What were the common motivations and obstacles that the explorers of North America faced?

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