Activity 2: Europe before Columbus’ contact with the New World


  • To help students understand that “impact” questions such as the Essential Question imply a need to understand what happened before an event (the causes) as well as what happened after an event (the effects). Historians also often try to interpret historical actors’ motivations from information in the historical record, and this activity gets at those motivations. 


  1. Preconceived notions
  • Students gather in their small groups, and generate their preconceived notions about the Atlantic world using the Notetakers below. Responses are debriefed as students share in class.
  • I asked: How do you know this? What evidence do you have to support your thinking? TC_Bubble
  • I project population estimates on overhead, asking students how accurate they were and if the estimates cause them to change some of their preconceived notions about what life was like. TC_Bubble
Europe New World
Activities of people

How are they similar? How are they different? .

Population Predictions
British Isles
Taino peoples (living in Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, the Bahamas)

Student Responses : Here is an example of students’ preconceived notions of the Atlantic world in 1491.

    1. Notes on the People of the Americas and the European World             circa 1491.

  • Lecture: People of the Americas. Students take notes as I lecture about the native American populations. TC_Bubble
  • Lecture: Notes on European World circa 1491. Students take notesTC_Bubble on as I lecture about the impact of political, social, and economic changes taking place in Europe that would have motivated different European powers to colonize.TC_Bubble
  • Students engage in discussion: Students are asked—
    • How does this information support, extend, or contest what you already understand?TC_Bubble

Students are assigned the Zinn text for the next day. Prior to reading, they are asked to answer the following questions. Here are the questions,TC_Bubbleand here are some examples of student responses.