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Lesson Overview
  • 120 Minutes
  • 5th - 12th Grade
  • State Standards:
    History: 5-12 History Era 1 Standard 2A: the stages of European oceanic and overland exploration, amid international rivalries, from the 9th to 17th centuries. (Objective 5) Literacy: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4

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Materials List

The Columbian Exchange of Old and New World Foods

Categories: Kits , Literacy , Social Studies

Many foods we eat and grow in Oregon are not indigenous or native to North America. In this lesson students study the origin of fruits and vegetables from around the world and understand how the Columbian Exchange altered people’s lives.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Create a poll using polleverywhere.com. Students may respond using computers, cell phones, or any mobile digital device. Ask the simple question: “What is an Old World food?”
    1. A food with an origin in Asia, Africa, or Europe.
    2. A food that would be consumed by Neanderthals.
    3. A food with an origin in the Americas.
  2. At the beginning of class, review students’ answers and share the background information concerning the Columbian Exchange. Ask:
    • Does what people eat depend on where they live?
    • Does what they eat correlate with what plants and animals live in that area?
    • Has this trend changed in recent years?


Activity 1: My Lunch—A Guided Inquiry into Old World and New World Foods

  1. Divide the class into small groups of three or four. Ask students to list the things they had for lunch the previous day. Instruct them to be more specific than “pizza” by listing the basic ingredients of pizza—tomatoes, cheese, bread, sausage, etc.
  2. Explain to students that they are going to explore the origins of their lunch and other foods by participating in a mapping activity. Pass out one world map per group. A fabric map is suggested (see Materials), but a large paper map can work (see the attached template).
  3. Next, pass out one laminated set of Where in the World Food Cards to each group.
  4. Starting with the food cards that were ingredients in their lunches, have students place each food card on the map in the location where they think the food originated from.
  5. When all the groups have finished, ask them if they think they got all of the cards right. Then ask each group to share where they placed one card and ask if the other groups agree or disagree.

Activity 2: Where in the World

  1. Show and discuss the PowerPoint Food, Land, and People and World Civilizations. Instruct students to move any foods that they have in the wrong location, correcting their maps as you go through the slides. Ask each group to keep a tally count of their moves.
  2. After going through the PowerPoint, talk about the changes they made. Ask how many moves each group made. Discuss what food would be like if there had been no Columbian Exchange. Would pizza exist as we know it today?

Activity 3: Facts About Food

  1. Explain to the students that you have only introduced a small sample of the foods of the world and that they are now going to get a chance to individually research and present a food.
  2. Ask students to pick a food, such as cucumbers or chicken, or assign them one. Have them go to foodtimeline.org, and instruct them to use ctrl + f to search for their food product.
  3. As part of the research project, ask students to create either a 10-slide PowerPoint, a poster, or a 10-picture VoiceThread about their food to present to the class. Use the Food Origin Research Project rubric to guide students in preparing their presentations.

View complete lesson plan on the Curriculum Matrix here.