Elementary Lesson Plan: Marco Polo: His Effect on Exploration Grade: 6 Objective

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Elementary Lesson Plan: Marco Polo: His Effect on Exploration

Grade: 6

Content. Students will be able to identify goods that Marco Polo found on his trip through Asia and explain their importance.

Process. Students will be able to think critically about the reasons for Marco Polo's influence on exploration.
State History Standard. The student will identify motivations, obstacles, and achievements of European explorers.

National Council for Social Studies Standard. The learner can analyze group and individual influences on people, events, and elements of culture.
Purpose. To check for student understanding of reading assignment and to teach critical thinking skills.
Establish Set
Tell students that the goal for the discussion is to talk about Marco Polo's travels through Asia and figure out why his travels had such an impact on later European exploration. The discussion is based on information the students read in their textbook assigned as homework.
To access prior knowledge and get students engaged, place a transparency of Europe and Asia on the overhead. Have students retrace Marco Polo's route. Ask where he started and have a student come up and draw the starting point and first leg. Ask students where he went next have another student come up and draw the next leg. Continue until the map is complete. Ask students how he traveled and how long it took. Ask what they think of such a trip.
Focus and Hold the Discussion
Present the discussion question: Why did Marco Polo's travels have such a big impact on later European exploration? Have students generate a few hypotheses. List them on the board.
1. What items or artifacts did Marco Polo find in Asia (e.g., paper money, jewels, black stones/coal; bring in artifacts to show, if possible). List them on the board.
2. What purpose/significance did each of these items have in Asian societies? Note responses on the board next to each item.
3. Were these items found in Europe? If not, what was the equivalent (e.g., coins for money)? Record on the board.
4. Why did Marco Polo find these particular Asian items fascinating (e.g., paper money was much lighter to carry than heavy coins)? Record on the board.
5. Remind students that the travels of Marco Polo as described in his book The Travels of Marco Polo heavily influenced later European explorers such as Christopher Columbus, who was actually searching for a sea route to Asia when he landed in North America. Why did Europeans want to go to and explore Asia? Why did they want to find a sea route? Record answers on the board.
6. Ask students to draw one or two conclusions about how Marco Polo's travels influenced European exploration. Have them do a Think-Pair-Share. Ask pairs to share their hypotheses with the class. Record them on the board.
7. Ask students to come up with one word that describes a primary reason for exploration (i.e., ”wealth”). Record on the board.

  • Bring the discussion to a close by asking again: Why did Marco Polo's travels have such a big impact on later European exploration? Repeat accurate summary statements; add to the summary if necessary.

  • Tell students that for their homework they should add what they learned today about Marco Polo and his travels to their Motivations for Exploration Concept Map (which will eventually have 10 explorers and various reasons such as wealth, power, religion, adventure).

Debrief the discussion by asking students to comment on the discussion and their thinking processes.


  • Informal assessment is conducted through attention to students' questions and responses during the discussion.

  • Formal assessment is conducted by examining students' additions to their Motivations for Exploration Concept Map.


  • Involve all students in the discussion at their own levels.

  • Pair students carefully so lower-level students will get support from their buddies.

  • Monitor students' participation, interactions, and engagement.

  • Refocus, redirect, and re-engage individuals as needed.

  • Allow pictures as well as words on the concept map on the board and the students' concept maps.

  • Go over vocabulary with ESL students before the discussion.


  • Write an essay on the discussion question.

  • Write a travel diary from the perspective of a reporter traveling with Marco Polo or a later European explorer.

  • Map Marco Polo's route and add symbols that indicate where he found particular goods. (This is particularly good for students with below-level writing abilities.)

  • Write a persuasive letter to a fellow European trying to convince them why they should integrate goods from Asia into European society.

Source: Adapted from a lesson plan by Gretchen Kilss and Melissa Plum, George Mason University/Lane Elementary School, Fairfax, VA, 2001.

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