Submitted by: Stephanie Moorman

Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8

In this lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 3-5, students use BrainPOP resources to explore the reasons Columbus set sail for the New World. Students then investigate the effects that the “discovery” of the Americas had on both the Natives living there and the Europeans who came to the New World. Students also discuss, brainstorm, and write about their new learning, pulling from prior knowledge as well as the content in two BrainPOP videos

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Learn the reasons Columbus set sail for the New World.
  2. Explore the effects the "discovery" of the Americas had on both the Natives living there, as well as the Europeans who came to the New World.
  3. Discuss, brainstorm, and write about their new learning, pulling from prior knowledge as well as the content in the two BrainPOP videos.



Columbian Exchange, cause, effect, positive, negative; profit; native; controversy; humane; descendant; heritage; adapt


Watch the two videos ahead of time. The Christopher Columbus video will set the stage for all the reasons why Europeans set out to discover new lands. The Columbian Exchange video then goes into detail about how their discovery effected all people (and the world thereafter) involved. Also prepare a blank Cause and Effect Chart prior to the class discussion. This can be done on chart paper, an interactive whiteboard, or even using a chart from BrainPOP Educators' Graphic Organizers.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Discuss with students any prior knowledge they have about European exploration of the New World. Have them brainstorm any ideas with their partner, and then have them share out to create a whole class chart.
  2. Tell students that they will watch two short movies about the causes and effects of one pivotal moment in world history, the "discovery" of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. Have them create a Cause and Effect Map, with the event "Columbus discovered the Americas" in the center of the map. You can see examples of the cause and effect map here.
  3. Play the first movie, Christopher Columbus. Guide students to finding the things that lead Columbus to leave on his voyage of discovery. Sample answers could be that he wanted fame and fortune, he wanted to find a faster route to Asia, or he wanted adventure. All of these reasons are the causes for his actual discovery. If needed, use the Worksheet and/or the interactive Quiz to help build background knowledge.
  4. After watching the video, have the students first discuss with their partner the ideas they input on their Map as causes for Columbus to venture out, then create a class map.
  5. The second video, Columbian Exchange, will then outlay the effects of this one discovery. Have the students watch the video, looking for all of the positive things that occurred, as well as the negative things. They should divide their Effects section of the Map into those two categories. You can project the Christopher Columbus Graphic Organizer for the class to see if you want to generate a whole-class discussion on this and record students' ideas.
  6. After the movie, discuss how Columbus' voyage effected everyone in the world. As them key questions such as: Why was the exchange so deadly to the natives? How were the Europeans able to take control so quickly and easily? Where there any negative effects for the Europeans? How did this effect the future?
  7. Finish the class Cause and Effect Map by inputting the students' suggestions of the positive and negative effects of this exchange.
  8. Using their Cause and Effect Map, the students should now be able to write an essay detailing all of the reasons Columbus set sail, the positive effects of his journey, and the negative ones. Make sure the students are using key details they gained from watching the two videos.

Extension Activities:

I have pictures of the actual Thinking Maps I used with my class in this lesson on my blog post Brainpop + Multi-flow Map = Perfection!. You can see the cause/effect map described in the procedure. It will make it a bit easier to understand the set up of the Cause and Effect Map. You can find more upper grades teaching ideas throughout my blog, Teaching in Room 6.