Columbus: Hero or Villain?
Francis Howell Middle School

In this lesson, students analyze a variety of sources in order to determine for themselves whether or not Columbus should be considered a hero or a villain.

Students will:
  • identify facts about Christopher Columbus as well as his opinions and observations of the native peoples he encountered
  • analyze information from various sources to determine whether or not Christopher Columbus was a hero or a villain.
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen (Chapter 2, “1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus”)
  • Classroom set of Handout: Columbus Journal Entry
  • Classroom set of Handout: Columbus Essay Prompt
  • Have students create T-charts in their notes titled “Columbus: Hero or Villain?” Students may use prior knowledge and their textbooks to add information to their charts. They should be sure to include information on the Columbian Exchange and the Atlantic Ocean becoming a bridge rather than a barrier.
  • Have students read a primary source on Christopher Columbus. Ask students to read the excerpt on the handout and respond to the questions. Discuss with students Columbus’ attitude toward the native peoples he encountered and their attitudes toward him.
  • Share and discuss information with students from Chapter 2 of Lies My Teacher Told Me.
  • Play the Human Graph game. In the four corners of the room tape signs that say the following: Agree, Disagree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree. Read each of the following statements and have the students move to the side of the room that would best fit their response.

    • Europeans had advanced technology as compared to indigenous peoples.
    • The world, overall, benefitted from Columbus’s explorations.
    • Columbus did more harm than good.
    • The times brought the change, not Columbus (in other words, someone else would have made the discovery if Columbus hadn’t)

  • Provide students with the handout Columbus Essay Prompt
  • Have students follow the instructions on the handout in order to help them write an essay in response to the question, “Was Columbus a hero or a villain?”
Collect student handouts and essays and assess.