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20 October 2014
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The Beauty of Maps - Desceliers' World Map

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Lesson plans

BBC links

Full details, including credits and location for the maps featured can be found on the BBC Four site.

Aims and objectives

  • To understand the great changes of the age of Exploration on the beliefs of society.
  • To consider how exploration meant the production of more accurate maps was valued.
  • To consider the development of the ideas of Empire and imperial competition.
  • To consider the reliability of the source material available to map makers.

Resources required for this lesson

The lesson plan


  1. Write the word 'exploration' on the board.
  2. Ask the class to think about what the word means.
  3. Ask the pupils to write other words that link to it on the board such as explore and discover.
  4. Split the class into groups of 2-3.
  5. Ask pupils to use the words on the board to write a sentence defining the word exploration.
  6. Tell the class that the rest of the lesson aims to look at why the period of the late 15th and 16th Centuries are described by historians as the age of exploration and why maps are an important source of information about the dramatic changes in the geography of the world of this period.

Activity 1

  1. As a class recap on their definition how a map is useful to people and to historians.
  2. Split the class into pairs and ask them to look at the pictures of the Psalter map and Desceliers' map given in worksheet 1.
  3. Play the extracts from the videos on both maps for the class to watch - Desceliers' Map video and the Psalter Map video. After watching the videos give the example of the discovery of Australia to help them start listing the differences. Tell the class they are going to play a spot the difference game to see how many they can find in a minute or 30 seconds. The teacher should decide timing depending upon the age and ability of the class.
  4. Feedback and discuss the differences as a class.

Activity 2

  1. Split the class into pairs.
  2. Watch the video extract of the Desceliers' World Map again and pause at key points - use teacher transcript of the video that is available to download on the video page.
  3. Ask pupils to make a list of what people in the 16th century could learn from the map. They need to use the commentary and study the pictures very carefully. Use worksheet 2 here to record their notes on.
  4. Finish Desceliers' worksheet 2.
  5. Feedback and discuss as a class.
  6. Discuss as a class which they think was the most important reason for the production of maps.

Activity 3

  1. Explain about the importance of exploration and the creation of Empire for France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, UK.
  2. Split the class into groups and ask them to think of a list of reasons why the European countries wanted to discover more land and wanted to show other monarchs that they had an understanding of new discoveries.
  3. Feedback and discuss as a class.
  4. Each pupil has to write a brief statement to explain to Henry II why he should have a map of the world made.

Activity 4

  1. Split the class into groups of 2-3 pupils.
  2. Ask them to imagine that they are Descelier's team of researchers. They have to gather all the information necessary to draw this encyclopaedic map.
  3. Hand each group a role play card.
  4. Each group have to prepare a statement explaining why the person they have be asked to be can give valuable information about the geography of the world to the team of map makers.
  5. Print up the Role play cards and give a copy to each group so that after they have listened to the speeches they can have a look at the mini-cvs (Role play cards) they have been given and rank them in an order of most reliable.
  6. Feedback and decide who was the most reliable source for Descelier.

Activity 5

  1. Split the class into groups of 3-4 pupils.
  2. Ask the class to imagine that they have to present a map to Queen Elizabeth I (who became Queen in England eight years after this map was made).
  3. Give each group a continent - Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Africa, Europe, Australia. They have to produce a Map which shows the shape of the continent, the main cities, key historical landmarks, types of animals and plants that are native to the continent.
  4. Give the class a selection of books or access to the internet to help their research
  5. Each group should be told that their aim is to produce something informative but also beautiful. They could have sections of collage, draw pictures of animals and write down key points about the continents.
  6. Once each group has produced their Maps they should put them out on a table in the shape of a map of the world and create a large map. This could then be used for a wall display.
  7. The teacher could later link this into a series of lessons about each continent.
  8. For a further lesson plan in this area see causation - exploration and world trade from the Primary History: World History site's teacher's resources page.


In pairs pupils should write a paragraph explaining why 16th Century Maps are valuable sources of evidence for historians about the views of 16th Century Europeans on the rest of the world.


Complete further research on each continent. Name the countries, their capital cities and key landmarks within each continent.

Research and write biographies of John Cabot, Vasca da Gama, Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo and Jacques Cartier.

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