Social Studies - 2018-19

USI.4a - European Exploration

The student will apply social science skills to understand European exploration in North America and West Africa by 

a) describing the motivations for, obstacles to, and accomplishments of the Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English explorations;

Blooms Level: Remember

Adopted: 2015


Big Themes/Concepts: Exploration, Conquest, Patterns, Resources, Scarcity, Exchange, Competition, Supply & Demand, Power

Religion impacts people’s actions and attitudes.

The arrival of new cultures impacts existing cultures. 

European countries had many reasons to send explorers to new lands. 

Explorers changed Europeans’ views of the world. 

Trade, cultural exchanges, and conflict can result when explorers reach new lands. 

The Age of Exploration had positive and negative effects on Europeans and on native peoples. 

Exploration has had a profound effect on world history. 

Events in history can be looked at from multiple perspectives.


Major European countries were in competition to extend their power into North America and claim the land as their own.

What happens culturally and socially when different groups meet for the first time?

Why did European countries compete for power in North America?

What were the obstacles faced by the explorers?

What were the accomplishments of the explorations?

What regions of North America were explored and settled by France, England, and Spain?

What regions were explored by Portugal?

Why are explorers important in history? 
What caused the Age of Exploration? 
What ideas and discoveries made exploration possible? 
Why did certain individuals want to become explorers? 
What are some things explorers did in the new lands? 
What problems did European explorers face? 
What were the effects of exploration on Europe, Africa, and the Americas? 
How did explorers contribute to people’s knowledge of the world? 
Which explorers have had the greatest effect on history? 
What were the similarities and differences between the native peoples and the Europeans? 
How did exploration affect the lives of native people? 
Why is the Age of Exploration considered a turning point in history?


Motivations for the explorations

  • Economic—Gold, natural resources, and trade
  • Religious—Spread Christianity
  • Competitions for empire and belief in superiority of own culture

Obstacles to the explorations

  • Poor maps and navigational tools
  • Disease and starvation
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Lack of adequate supplies

Accomplishments of the explorations

  • Exchanged goods and ideas
  • Improved navigational tools and ships
  • Claimed territories (see countries below)
Regions of North America explored by Spain, France, and England 
Spain: Francisco Coronado claimed the Southwest of the present-day United States for Spain. 
France: Samuel de Champlain established the French settlement of Québec. Robert La Salle claimed the Mississippi River Valley for France. 
England: John Cabot explored eastern Canada. 
Regions explored by Portugal
The Portuguese made voyages of discovery along the coast of West Africa.

Identify and interpret primary and secondary source documents to increase understanding of events and life in United States history. (USI.1a)

Interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives. (USI.1d)

Analyze and interpret maps to explain relationships among landforms, water features, climatic characteristics, and historical events. (USI.1f)


West Africa, motivations, obstacles, accomplishments, Spain, France, Portugal, England, explorer, empire, navigation, territories, Francisco Coronado, Samuel De Champlain, Quebec, Robert La Salle, Mississippi River Valley, John Cabot, Canada, American Indians, New World, trading post, Christian religion, farm tools, West Africa, Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Sahara desert, Niger River, Portugal

Vocabulary Sheets

Updated: May 16, 2018