ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

Explorers’ Experience

Learn about routes traveled by World Explorers.


Key Staff

Classroom Teacher

Key Skills

Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing


Students will have the opportunity to learn about world explorers by researching facts and information relating to the routes traveled. Each student will be assigned a famous explorer to research and then share with the class what they have learned. They will learn and discuss what motivates people to want to discover and explore new places. Ultimately the students will learn how to create a papier-mâché relief map that represents the route traveled by each world explorer.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Discuss the concept of exploration.
  • Locate information and specific facts on a pre-assigned famous explorer.
  • Learn about the route traveled by the explorer.
  • Create a relief map that represents the route traveled by the explorer.

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Research
  • Reflection

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Internet Access
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

  • Teacher should have a basic knowledge of the most famous world explorers. A handout is provided, which lists many well-known world explorers the students can use in their research list of explorers.
  • Teacher should review the instructions on making a papier-mâché map, using the instruction sheet provided in this lesson 'Making a Papier-Mache Map'.

Prior Student Knowledge

  • General knowledge of world geography and maps
  • Basic research skills 
  • Basic computer skills

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer Lab
  • Laboratory Space


  • Individualized Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


  • Provide a table that can hold the relief maps while they dry.
  • This project may take two days to complete since it takes time for the papier-mâché to dry completely.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



Students will discuss the concept of exploration. They will research a world explorer and prepare maps of the routes traveled. Students will create a papier-mâché relief map to represent the explorer’s journey.


1. Ask students how they find their way around an unfamiliar place. (a new neighborhood, a shopping mall, a school building, etc.).

2. Elicit that maps help people to find their way through unfamiliar territory. Point out that we use maps today to help us drive to new destinations. If possible, show the students the Google Maps website and demonstrate making a map from the school to another location, such as a student’s home.

3. Ask students what would happen if no map existed of a large area (whether it is a neighborhood, a state, or a body of water).

4. Ask them to consider whether they would venture out into uncharted territory. Explain to students that throughout history, certain individuals went into areas that had not been mapped or surveyed by anyone else in their culture.

5. Define the word "explorer" and review the Vocabulary Handout.

Build Knowledge

1. Explain that explorers did not know what, or who, they might find on their journeys. Still, they were motivated to set out across vast expanses.

2. Explain that explorers had many motivations for their endeavors: searching for riches, a desire for adventure, nationalism, etc. Through their efforts, they discovered things about the world that had been previously unknown to their societies.

3. Emphasize that many explorers were not the first people to "discover" an area. In many cases, the lands were already inhabited by people. However, these explorers made their own societies aware of previously unknown areas civilizations for the first time, making them world explorers in the eyes of their countrymen.

4. Tell the students that they will each learn about an explorer’s journey. They will research information about the explorer, and then create a map of the explorer’s journey. Remind the students that these journeys were undertaken with few, if any, accurate maps.


1. Distribute the List of Explorers Handout that may be found within the Resource Carousel, and review it with the class. Assign each student an explorer. Tell them that they will research that person and the journey, and they will then construct a map of the area that the explorer traveled.

2. Have students conduct print and web research to answer the Research Questions Handout that can be found within the Resource Carousel. Suggest the following Web sites:

3. Have students use world maps and the globe to track the courses that traveled by their explorers, noting again that explorers did not have these maps. Explorers had to document their journeys carefully and accurately so that they, or others, could replicate their paths. Therefore, explorers not only had to trace their route, but also identify "markers" along the way, such as landforms, bodies of water, topography, etc.

4. Tell the students that their task is to create a three-dimensional map to represent the explorer’s journey as accurately as possible. (Note: If explorers made more than one journey, students should choose only one to represent on the map.) Explain that they will be using a technique called papier-mâché to create the maps.

5. Students should find and print, or photocopy, maps to use for reference when they make their papier-mâché map of the explorers' journeys. Since the maps must include topographic features, students should have at least one relief map. Maps can be found using an atlas, websites or globes.

6. Tell the students that they will construct three-dimensional maps of the routes traveled by the explorers they are studying.

7. Examine maps of the routes they have researched and chart the locations and routes their explorers traveled. Students should draw their maps on large sheets of graph paper. This is a good opportunity to discuss the importance of scale. Explain that scale is the proportion between two sets of dimensions. For example, if a sketch is drawn to scale, all of its parts are equally smaller or larger than the parts in the original picture. Note that scale is essential to creating accurate representations of drawings, sketches, and dimensional objects.

8. Review the Making a Papier-Mache Map Handout and have students create papier-mache relief maps. Copies of the handout can be found within the Resource Carousel. Assist the students with organization of materials they will need for their map. Students should come prepared with maps showing where their explorers traveled.

All maps should show the routes traveled by their explorers. Students should clearly identify the routes with a special color or three-dimensional features. Students may add features such as drawings of boats, ships, animals, people, or other items that help to suggest the periods in which their explorers made their journeys.


Review all of the concepts that the students discussed early in the lesson and determine if the class has learned from this exercise.

1. Ask students to discuss what they believe are the reasons people choose to explore the unknown. Do they know the concept of exploration?

2. Was everyone able to locate appropriate information and specific facts on one famous explorer? If yes, have them share the information with the class. If not, allow the class to discuss and brainstorm other methods for discovering how to locate more facts.

3. Did each student learn about the route traveled by their explorer? Have the students share a few of the more significant facts they learned about routes of discovery with the class.

4. When looking at the Papier-Mache Maps, lead the discussion about the importance of using proper scale. Provide examples of why proper use of scale in maps or art is important. Use examples of improper use of scale to help stress its magnitude.

Extending the Learning

1. Ask students to consider what it would be like to be an explorer. Have them write three diary entries in the voices of their explorers. The first entry should be on a day at the beginning of the journey, the second should be in the middle of the journey, and the third should be shortly after the explorer reached his destination. This can also encourage students to write and maintain daily journals of their own.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

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Rebecca Holden
Original Author

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