Exploring the Great Explorers!

by Rachel Stepp, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!!

How was America “discovered” by the European world? Who sailed across the dangerous seas? How do we know what all they did? These are questions that your students might ponder when learning about the early explorers.

To help keep details straight and minds interested, students can keep an explorer’s journal. To complete this journal, students will need a composition notebook, glue, and large brown paper bags (like the ones used at grocery stores). First, students cover the front and back of their journals with the brown paper bag using glue. They can tear the edges of the paper bag to make it look more rustic and antique.

Once students have their journals created, it’s time to determine the content that will go inside them. Here are some options:

Explorer’s Journal Ideas

  • Taking Notes. 

Students can keep notes, research, and facts in the journals. This makes note-taking fun and relevant!

  • Keeping a Diary.

To make note taking even more creative, students can use their journals as an explorer diary. Each time the class studies an explorer, they use a page to record important information like dates, voyages, discoveries, and country of origin.

Then, on the next page, students write in the journal as if they were the explorer, including inferred emotions, but with a factual and believable context. They can elaborate on the facts, sharing, for example, how they felt when they discovered something new or how they survived the cold weather.

  • Writing Letters.

Students may also use their journals as a record of letters written between the explorers and their home countries. Students can write letters to their home country’s kings and queens to update them on their progress, and the rulers can write back with instructions, advice, or congratulations on discoveries.

  • Organization of Handouts. 

As more information is added to the explorer’s journals, students can glue in maps, worksheets and hand-outs. Maps can mark an explorer’s discoveries, and student-drawn illustrations can portray the explorers in action–transforming the notebook into an engaging scrapbook.

If you want a fun idea for exploring the explorers but don’t want to commit to a daily journal, try creating wanted posters or certificates of achievement for the explorers. (For example, a student might want to congratulate Juan Ponce de Leon on his discoveries in Florida.) Students can even present their awards to classmates dressed in costume!

However you decide to incorporate journals, one thing is certain: when students participate in hands-on learning, they will be more likely to remember (and enjoy) what they learn. Bon voyage!

Additional Resources

For more materials on the explorers, check out: 

For lesson plans and worksheets:

For teaching materials, maps and reproducibles:


1 Comment

Filed under Academic Success, Activities, Art, creative writing, Social Studies, Writing

One response to “Exploring the Great Explorers!

  1. I really liked your idea of writing letters back to the home country. It made me think about writing a letter to the explorer himself too. Maybe older students in the school (or a teacher) could write back a postcard answering questions or commenting on the letter.

    Great ideas!