Adrian Grenier, Michelle Rodriguez and Linda Chavez

Lesson Plan – The Colonization of the United States

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LESSON TITLE: The Colonization of the United States

GRADE LEVEL: Grades 9-12

TIME ALLOTMENT: Two or three 45-minute class periods


The 2012 series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores major historical events through the ancestries of prominent Americans.  In Episode 10, Professor Gates explores the ancestries of actors Michelle Rodriguez and Adrian Grenier and author, commentator, and radio talk show host Linda Chavez.  Each individual’s family has deep roots in the history of the United States.  In particular, the family histories of Grenier and Chavez point to long-standing roots in America.

This hands-on, media-enhanced lesson explores Spanish colonialism in the Southwest, particularly in New Mexico, and uses Spanish colonialism to expand the discussion to include other countries that colonized in North America.  In the Introductory Activity, students brainstorm foreign countries that colonized North America to demonstrate the many countries that established colonies in America over a few hundred years.  In the Learning Activity, students watch clips from Finding Your Roots that describe the family histories of Grenier and Chavez.  The video clips provide details about Spanish colonialism in the context of the two prominent individuals’ ancestries.  In the Culminating Activity, students pick one of three assignments to complete for homework; students must think beyond the events discussed in class and analyze the long-term effects of colonists in different contexts.


World History; Social Studies; American History


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

– Describe the long-term effects of Spanish colonization.

– Analyze different motives for colonization and compare and contrast groups of colonists.

– Describe the complex relationship between Spanish colonists and Native Americans.


World History Content Standards

– World History Era 6

– Standard 1B: The student understands the encounters between Europeans and peoples of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.  Therefore, the student is able to:

– Explain the founding and organization of Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires in the Americas and Southeast Asia and assess the role of the Catholic Church in colonial administration and policies regarding indigenous populations (Grades 7-12).

– Standard 4A: The student understands how states and peoples of European descent became dominant in the Americas between the 16th and 18th centuries.  Therefore, the student is able to:

– Define and compare four major types of European activity and control in the Americas: large territorial empires, trading-post empires, plantation colonies, and settler colonies (Grades 5-12).

– Assess the moral, political, and cultural role of Catholic and Protestant Christianity in the European colonies in the Americas (Grades 7-12).

– Standard 6A: The student understands major global trends from 1450 to 1770.  Therefore, the student is able to:

– Describe major shifts in world demography and urbanization in this era and analyze reasons for these changes (Grades 5-12).

– Identify patterns of social and cultural continuity in various societies and analyze ways in which peoples maintained traditions and resisted external challenges in the context of a rapidly changing world (Grades 7-12).



Finding Your Roots, Episode 10, selected segments

Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Clip 1: “The Last Conquistador”
Adrian Grenier learns his maternal eleventh great-grandfather was one of the original Spanish colonists in New Mexico and a sergeant in Juan de Oñate’s army.

Clip 2: “The Pueblo Revolt”

Linda Chavez discovers how her family was involved in the Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico in 1680 – and that she has surprising family roots.


For the class:

– One computer with projection capabilities for viewing video segments.

– One copy of “The Last Conquistador” Student Organizer Answer Key

– One copy of “The Pueblo Revolt” Student Organizer Answer Key

For each student:

– One copy of “The Last Conquistador” Student Organizer

– One copy of “The Pueblo Revolt” Student Organizer


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments used in the lesson. Prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark all websites which you plan to use in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Print one copy each of “The Last Conquistador” Student Organizer Answer Key and “The Pueblo Revolt” Student Organizer Answer Key for the class.  For each student, print one copy of “The Last Conquistador” Student Organizer and one copy of “The Pueblo Revolt” Student Organizer.

Proceed to Lesson Activities.