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Maps101 Explores the Americas

Posted on November 06 2022

Maps101 Explores the Americas


Dear Educator,

Until Christopher Columbus sailed to find a shorter route to Asia and discovered the Americas in the process, Europeans did not know there was far more land on Earth. The discovery of this so-called “New World” led to colonization of land that was abundant with natural resources. Europeans had numerous reasons for colonizing. Many were financial, and the possibilities the Americas offered were great. This week, Maps101 looks at Columbus and other explorers, like Cortes; examines the Age of Exploration; and analyzes the role of Spanish conquistadors. We also take a look at the legacy of the Columbian Exchange.

To start, assign students this GNN article to read in class. It would make an excellent Bellringer activity, as students get settled. Students will learn how the spice trade affected the discovery of the Americas, the Portuguese role in exploration, Columbus’s voyage, and the Treaty of Tordesillas, among other topics to get students familiar with the main themes. Use the questions in the Supporting Materials as discussion starters.

Our interactive Field Trips provide a visual, engaging way to learn more about a topic. This Field Trip focuses on Columbus and his voyages. The points of interest each have an image and accompanying text. They are also linked to their location on a map, to help students with geographic knowledge and mapping skills. Divide the class into groups based on the number of point-of-interest topics, and have students conduct further research on their topic. They can also pick supporting art or images to accompany their research. Students should present their findings in class.


Another map of interest regarding European exploration is this map of routes between 1487 and 1531. Project the map on the board. Point out the map key, and make sure students understand how to read the information in the key. Students can make a chart of Portuguese and Spanish explorers and then compare the two. Encourage students to interpret the information on the map and conduct further research as needed to make the comparison.


GeoInquiries use dynamic, layered maps with activity questions and instructions, to help students learn about their world. This activity provides a unique experience addressing Portuguese and Spanish exploration of the New World. Complete activity instructions help students engage with the layered map to answer questions and evaluate the topic of Early European Exploration.


For further enrichment, students may be interested to learn more about the explorations done by Hernan Cortes. Assign this GNN article to extend the discussion on Columbus and exploration of the Americas. After all, Columbus was not the only explorer to turn their attention to the New World and the riches—or potential for wealth—there.


The legacy of Spanish explorers, also called conquistadors, is complicated. This GNN article delves into an analysis of the effects of the Age of Exploration on the Americas, providing further analysis and enrichment.


Finally, project this map of the Columbian Exchange on the board and explain that prior to the discovery of the Americas, these goods were not available in other parts of the world. Trade opened up globalization for the first time. Have students note which goods were exchanged and have them research to learn more about these goods, including their value, uses, and purpose.


We hope you have enjoyed this focus on the exploration of the Americas with Maps101. The featured resources above will give you an idea of the type of content available with your subscription. We hope your weekly tour of topics in the GeoJournal helps not just inform you of themes you can focus on throughout the year, but that it also draws your attention to content you may not have realized is available. Happy hunting for more content that benefits your class this school year. And don’t forget to favorite to save what you use often for easy access.

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