Here Be the Dragons

A little dramatic of a title, huh?  Well, since we are studying early exploration, I thought it fitting.  :)

We have moved into our unit on Early European explorers and this time around I thought I would start off a bit general before we moved into specific explorers.  So we did two things to introduce the era that I thought I would share with you.

Reasons for Exploring Flipbook

We started out by reading an informational article about the various reasons WHY explorers would venture out into the new land.  There were basically 5 reasons:  seeking adventure, the lure of gold, searching for spices, gaining new land, and to spread Christianity.  We found information in our article (though if you read this post a few days ago, you will know that there was little bias to be had in that article!) and in our social studies text.  Then, each of those five reasons became one flap on our flipbook.  The students summarized each section, finding key words, and then wrote the information in their own words on the flipbook. This really turned out to be a great, general intro to the unit.

Here is a close up view of one of the inside paragraphs once you lift up the flap
Sea Monster Map

Since we were talking about generalities, we discussed how many of the Europeans at the time believed the world to be flat.  They thought that if you sailed out far enough, you would no doubt encounter sea monsters of all kind.  Because of that, early cartographers would draw monsters (which we discussed were most likely inspired by real sea creatures, mixed with the "telephone" nature of sailors' stories.)  We also discussed how this was used to instill fear in people as well, so as to not encourage them to venture out too far.

I showed them the Carta Marina and we looked at the monsters on there.  If you do a simple google search, many pictures will come up.   There is also quite a bit of information if you google "Here Be the Dragons" (a phrase that appeared on one map that now has become synonymous with unknown territories and the era)

She chose to make her monsters huge!
Then here is where it got fun.  The students traced the known world of long ago.  (so basically Europe, Asia, and Africa)  Then, in the open space they had on their maps, they had to draw 5 sea creatures that they envisioned would have been around.

Afterwards, they then needed to write descriptive paragraphs of those monsters.  What would they do if a human was encountered? What made them special?  Why were they to be feared?  The students really got into this and were able to let their creative juices flow!   Click here to access the recording sheet we used.  It isn't anything special, but it is already made for you ;) 

Now, we are moving into actual explorers and their contributions (and the Walking Classroom actually is great for this...there are four podcasts on different explorers so we have already started listening to them!)

What do you do to introduce the Age of Exploration?


  1. This is awesome! We are starting our Age of Exploration unit on Monday and I will be borrowing some of your ideas.Thanks for sharing! Lattes and Laughter

  2. What an awesome project! It makes me miss teaching social studies!

  3. These ideas are FABULOUS!!!! We just finished our early explorers unit, so I am totally filing these for next year. I love the MAP idea. My kids loved learning about the map makers and we investigated a lot of early maps at the start of this unit. They had so many questions about them and were so intrigued at the thought of map makers drawing in sea monsters and even flags for lands claimed. I loved that you had your kids create their own maps, and then creative writing to boot?! You're a genius! :)

    YoungTeacherLove 5th Grade Blog

  4. We do a seven reasons for exploration mini-book. Our reasons are curiosity, fame, wealth, better trade routes, religion, foreign goods, and national pride. I blogged a little about it {here}. I used to have them do a made-up map with sea monsters on brown construction paper, and then fold it into a pouch to hold our timelines, but doing that with three sections instead of two just seemed overwhelming to me. Also, the middle school that I'm in now doesn't seem to have a lot of construction paper like my intermediate school.

    Looking forward to reading more!

    Fifth in the Middle

  5. this is awesome Stephanie!!! Thank you!!

  6. Hi Stephanie!
    I see that you are teaching explorers! We just started blogging and we are holding a weekend giveaway. If you comment on our blog, you can get an item from our TPT store for free! We have the perfect unit for teaching explorers! It's an Integrated Language Arts and Social Studies pack for the book Encounter. Have you heard of the book? We loved teaching the unit and the kids loved it too!! Please stop by our blog if you have a chance and grab your freebie! It doesn't have to be the Encounter pack of course, but since I saw this post it made me think of it!

    Amanda and Stacia
    Collaboration Cuties

  7. Wow,a lot of work was put into this! Way to go!

  8. I love your ideas and I know my fourth graders will too. Thank you.

  9. Thanks everyone! Glad you liked the ideas :)

  10. With all the awesome ideas linked up to Fifth in the Middle, I am super excited for my explorers unit! Can you lead me to a non-fiction article that discusses the reasons for exploration? I am having a hard time finding one and our book doesn't say much about the reasons why. I would like to start off with that. Thanks!

  11. Would you mind sharing the article you use at the beginning of your unit? Always looking for good text at a 5th grade level. Thanks!

  12. Love your ideas- I;m always looking for a non traditional way to introduce grade level topics to my students with special needs. Is there an article/text that you used to start things off

  13. Love this idea! I was wondering if you had any suggestions for articles to use for the reasons of exploration? I am struggling to find some good information for them.Thanks!

  14. Would you mind sharing the article you use at the beginning of your unit?

  15. Could you email me the article you used? Thanks! :)

  16. Hi there! I used your Carta Marina Map activity at the end of our explorers unit and my kids LOVED it! I was just wondering if you have/had a rubric you used to grade it and if you could share that?
    Thank you in advance!

  17. Hi - I used this activity last year and it was great! I cannot believe I did not make a hard copy of the explorers article. My computer died and I lost it. Would you be able to email me a copy?
    If you can I would be grateful!


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