Christopher Columbus Unit Study

In this unit study you will learn about Christopher Columbus and his journey to America. You will also learn a little geography. You will learn about the different landforms including peninsulas, islands, and mountains. This unit study is geared for elementary students and planned as a 1-2 week unit. There are 6 days worth of lessons this can be done in one week or stretched out over 2 weeks.

The book used for this unit study is Columbus by Ingri & Edgar Parin d'Aulaire

Required books for Christopher Columbus Unit Study

Edgar Parin D'Aula...
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Day 1

1. Read pages 4-13 in Columbus.

2. Discuss what we have learned about Columbus so far.

  • Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy.
  • He lived over 500 years ago.
  • He believed the world was round and not flat.
  • He left his father's house at 13 to become a sailor

3. We have learned that Columbus is from Italy. Can you find Italy on a map? What does Italy look like? In the story of Columbus, Italy is described as a boot. Do you notice that Italy is surrounded by water on 3 sides? Italy is a peninsula.

4. Vocabulary:

Define Peninsula

Peninsula: A peninsula is a body of land that is surrounded by water on three sides.

Peninsula is one type of landform.

Define Landform.

Landform: A description of the Earth's shape and origin

As we continue to read the story of Columbus we will discuss other types of landforms.

5. Make your own peninsula

Salt Map of Italy
Supplies: flour, salt, water, and paint


  • Make an outline of Italy on poster boards (or paper). Make sure to include the surrounding water.
  • Mix 2 parts flour, 1 part salt, and 1 part water into a dough.
  • Shape dough to form your map.
  • Place dough on aluminum pan and bake at 300° for 1 hour.
  • Allow to cool.

6. The story of Columbus is a biography of Columbus's life. A biography is an account of a person's life written by another person. Pick a member of your family and write a biography of his or her life. Make sure to include when and where they were born and other details of their life. Make a title for your story and include a cover page with drawing of the person your biography is about.

Day 2

1. Read pages 13-21 in Columbus.

2. Discuss the following:
What country did Columbus first sail for? (Portugal) Columbus believed he could sail across the Atlantic Ocean to Asia, but he needed ships and men to do so. He requested the help of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Pretend you are Columbus and write a letter to the king and queen requesting their help. Include what supplies you are requesting (food, water, ships, etc.) and three reasons why they should help you.

3. In your reading, you have read about several places thus far. Can you name some of them? Find Portugal, Spain, Asia, and the Atlantic Ocean map.

3. Get out your salt map from yesterday. Paint your salt map now that it is cooled. While painting your map review the terms peninsula and landforms. Discuss all the different landforms you can think of.

Day 3

1. Read pages 22-30 in Columbus.

2. Columbus left the port of Palos, Spain on August 3, 1492. He took three ships. Can you remember the names of the ships? (Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria) Which ship was the smallest? Which ship was the largest? Which ship was the fastest?

3.Columbus kept a logbook of his travels. He recorded the date and how many miles he traveled. The crew on his ship was hungry, scared, and ready to go home. Pretend you are a member of Columbus's crew. Write a journal describing what you have seen and how you are feeling.

4. Make a replica of the Nina, Pinta, or Santa Maria. (If you have more than one child, have each make a different ship.)

Supplies: 2 liter plastic bottle, glue or tape, construction paper, piece of styrofoam, and wooden skewers


  • Cut your plastic bottle in half lengthwise.
  • Cover your bottle with brown construction paper.
  • Glue a rectangular piece of styrofoam to the bottom of your bottle.
  • Cut out 3 triangles out of your cardboard to make the ship's sails.
  • Cut two small slits in your sail to slide your skewers through.
  • Slide the sails onto the skewers. Glue or tape may be necessary to secure them in place. Insert the skewers into the styrofoam to hold in place.
  • Decorate your ship as desired.

Day 4

1. Read pages 31-37 in Columbus.

2. On October 12, 1492 Columbus and his crew finally find land. Were the people of this land Chinese as he had expected? He called these people Indians because he thought they must be from India. He named the island San Salvador. Find San Salvador on a map (hint: it's part of the bahamas). Find India and China on a map. Is San Salvador close to India or China.

3. Columbus expected to find gold and treasures in the new land, but there was none. How do you think Columbus and his crew felt?

4. Columbus and his crew must have looked very strange to the Indians. People from different cultures often look strange to others. Write a short story about someone visiting you from a far off land. Make a title for your story and include a cover page with pictures.

5. San Salvador is an island. An island is another type of landform.

Define island

Island: a body of land completely surrounded by water.

5. Make an island snow globe.

Island Snow Globe
Supplies: Sculpey modeling clay, baby food jar, and glitter


  • Build a mound of clay onto the lid of the jar. Twist the lid in place to make sure it fits properly before making your island
  • Design your island as desired. You may add a tree or other features to your island.
  • Build a base on the outside of your jar lid with modeling clay. This will hide the lid and provide a base of support for your island.
  • Bake the lid of your jar with your modeled island according to the instructions.
  • Once thoroughly cooled add water and glitter to your jar, place the lid on the jar and close tightly.

Day 5

1. Read pages 38-43 in Columbus.

2. Columbus sailed from San Salvador on to Cuba and then to Haiti. Find Cuba and Haiti on a map. Cuba and Haiti are what type of landform?

3. Can you remember which ship crashed?

4. Columbus was looking for gold on the islands. The Indians told him there was gold in the mountains. Mountains are another type of landform.

Define mountain.

Mountain: a high, raised part of the earth's surface, higher than a hill

5. Make a mountain of your own.

Mountain cake
Supplies: rectangle cake pan, 1 glass oven-safe mixing bowl, 2 boxes cake mix (or you can use your own recipe), green frosting, oreo cookies, and whipped cream.


  • Mix 2 cake mixes according to the recipe. Divide evenly and pour into your rectangle pan and your glass mixing bowl.
  • Bake according to recipe's directions. (work on #6 below while waiting for cake to cook and cool.)
  • Once cooled flip your cake in your glass mixing bowl on to your rectangular cake.
  • Frost the rectangular portion of your cake with green frosting.
  • Frost the mountain part with chocolate frosting.
  • Crush up Oreo cookies to crumble on your mountain. For a snowcapped effect top your mountain with whipped cream.

6. While waiting for your cake to cook and cool off work on the following writing assignment When sailing back to Spain, Columbus feared his ship would go down. He wrote a report of his travels and sealed it in a barrel. The barrel was never found. Pretend you found the barrel. Write a newspaper article about your amazing discovery. Include drawings for your newspaper article.

Day 6

1. Read pages 44-to the end of the story in Columbus.

2. Discuss the following. Columbus made 3 more trips to find the East. He found many beautiful islands, but did not find Asia or the treasures he was seeking. What happened when they returned to Hispanolia? Were the men kind to the Indians?

3. Columbus found the continent of South America on his third trip. Find South America on a map.

4. Columbus sailed back to Hispanolia and was arrested. The King and Queen released him and he sailed for a 4th trip to sea. Columbus is shipwrecked in Jamaica and stays there for a year before being rescued.

5. Columbus went home to Spain and spent the rest of his days at home.

3. Read the poem "In 1492 Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue". Write your own poem about Columbus.

In 1492

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.

He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.

A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.

Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.

Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.

Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.

October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!

"Indians! Indians!" Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.

But "India" the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.

The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.

Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he'd been told.

He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.

The first American? No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.