In 1492, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue

In 1492, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue

by Judie Haynes

Help your English language learners understand the role that Columbus played in American history with this thematic unit for Columbus Day.

Over the past few years Columbus' place in the history of the United States has been disputed. Regarded a hero by the European conquerors of the 15th Century, Columbus was not a hero to the Native Americans already living in the New World. Despite the politics of the situation, Columbus' feat was a major event in the history of the world. I like to teach a short unit about Columbus to my English language learners so that they understand what they see and hear around them on Columbus Day.

Lesson Topic

Columbus Sails to the New World

Grade/Proficiency Level

Grades 2-3 advanced beginner to intermediate ESL; Grades 4-8 beginning ESL

TESOL Goal and Standard

Goal 2, Standard 2 - To use English to achieve academically in all content areas: Students will be able to use English to obtain, process, contruct, and provide subject matter information in spoken and written form.

Goal 3, Standard 1 - To use English in socially and culturally appropriate ways: Students will use the appropriate language variety, register, and genre according to audience, purpose, and setting.

Content Concepts/Skills

Understanding explorers; developing map skills


Book about Columbus; Map of World; PDF files


Indies,explore, ship, Nina, Pinta, Santa Maris, Espanola,

Instructional Sequence

Columbus Day is an excellent opportunity to teach your English language learners (ELLs) basic place names on a world map or globe in English. It also helps build a foundation for future units on Thanksgiving.

1. Teach the vocabulary of the Columbus using a simple book with lots of pictures. If necessary, tell the story in your own words. I use "Christopher Columbus" by Carol Greene.

2. Have advanced beginning or intermediate ESL students read the Columbus Fact Sheet. Review the story using the Columbus Story Star.

3. Have students track Columbus' first voyage. You can find colored maps at The Columbus Navigation Homepage.

4. Download free Columbus Day Activities at Family Education Columbus Day Printables.

5. Have Gr. 6-12 intermediate students explore the controversy over Columbus. Research articles on the internet and chose one that is at the English language level of your students.

Activities for Beginners

After you have paraphrased the story for your beginning students, have them try one of the following activities:

Activity Downloads

Note: To view the classroom activities, you must have Acrobat Reader intalled. Acrobat is a free application available from Adobe Systems.

PDF fileColumbus Fact Sheet (2k .PDF)

PDF fileColumbus Noun Activity (6k .PDF)

PDF fileColumbus Story Star (94k .PDF)

PDF fileColumbus Puzzle (2k .PDF)