Lesson Plan: Overview

Hernando De Soto's Trip Through South Carolina

Grade Level: 4th
De Soto on cover of De Soto Chronicles

Academic Standards

Standard 4-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the exploration of the New World.

4-1.1 Summarize the motivation and accomplishments of the Vikings and the Portuguese, Spanish, English, and French explorers, including Leif Eriksson, Christopher Columbus, Hernando de Soto, Ferdinand Magellan, Henry Hudson, John Cabot, and Robert LaSalle. 

4-1.3 Use a map to identify the routes of various sea and land expeditions to the New World and match these to the territories claimed by different nations – including the Spanish dominance in South America and the French, Dutch, and English exploration in North America-and summarize the discoveries associated with these expeditions.

Literacy Elements

L. Interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, photographs, paintings, cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts.

Essential Questions

1. How did Hernando De Soto find Cofitachequi?

2. What part of South Carolina was Cofitachequi located?

3. What resources or riches did he find when he got there?

4. Do you think Hernando De Soto would have wanted to start an establishment near Cofitachequi?

Historical Background Notes

The Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto reaped the benefits from the riches taken from the Incan empire after its fall in 1533.  After returning home to Spain De Soto decided that there were even greater riches to gain in the Americas. 

In 1537 De Soto was appointed governor of Cuba.  Along with this position came the right to explore and conquer regions in North America.  In 1539 De Soto began his movement into North America to search for gold with about 600 men and numerous horses.  De Soto embarked on this journey off Florida’s coast near Tampa Bay.  De Soto and his group continued through Georgia and finally into South Carolina. 

The motivation for this continuous northward movement was based on information De Soto received from Indian informants about Mississippian cities.  One young Indian youth told about the land from which he came. He claimed this land was ruled by a woman who “collected tribute from many of her neighboring chiefs” (Clayton et al.1994, 74). The youth led De Soto to believe that this tribute included gold that was taken from mines. De Soto pushed forward but still there was no gold in sight. After crossing two rivers, the Indian youth confessed that he himself was lost. By this time weariness and hunger began settling in, and De Soto and a smaller party goes out to find a road or other assistance but to no avail. De Soto then sends out another party of men who eventually come back with news of food in a nearby town. Some Indians were also captured shortly after this and brought back to the camp. When later asked to give directions for this town (Cofitachequi) they refused to cooperate and were burned alive.

One of De Soto’s men, Gallegos arrives the next day with a woman who is willing to give directions to Cofitachequi. De Soto then heads north to another river, which is believed today to be the Wateree River (Hudson 1997, 172). De Soto finally meets this ruler of Cofitachequi who does turn out to be a woman. She presents him with blankets, skins, and a long string of pearl beads. She makes provision for De Soto and his men so that they may lodge there. As De Soto and his men observe the various gifts, they also noticed that the land appeared to be fertile and produced a variety of trees; however, some nearby towns had been deserted and were in need of care. The queen of Cofitachequi explained that the people from these areas were victims of some type of plague, and that in turn had an impact on the quantity of available food. There was food for De Soto and his men to enjoy but the amount in the storehouses wasn’t a surplus.

While De Soto continued his stay in Cofitachequi, he wondered if more pearls or riches were stored elsewhere. More pearls were brought out to De Soto, but the other riches only turned out to be copper and mica. Even the search for riches in the temples only yielded more disappointments. What appeared at first to be an emerald that was found in the temple, only turned out to be a green glass bead. Even the quality of the pearls from the temple wouldn’t be as great once they were discolored by decaying flesh.

De Soto’s findings so far certainly did not compare to those found in the Incan empire. It was now time for him to decide if Cofitachequi was a place that he and his men should stay and begin establishing a Spanish settlement. Although the food supply wasn’t overflowing, the amount could change if the planting season wasn’t interrupted by plagues. In spite of the potential of Cofitachequi, De Soto decided that this wasn’t the type or amount of wealth he expected to find and that his search would continue beyond this area, with the understanding that if nothing better was found beyond that point, he and his men could always return to Cofitachequi.


Primary Sources

Clayton, Lawerence A, Venon James Knight, Jr., Edward C. Moore.  The De Soto Chronicles:  The Expedition of Hernando De Soto to North America 1539 – 1543. Volume I and II. University of Alabama Press, 1994.

Map of Carolina by Herman Moll, 1717. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Map Collection. 

Secondary Sources

Hernando De Soto in America. Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida. This is a link to Hernando De Soto in America Movies

Hudson, Charles.  Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun.  The University of Georgia Press, 199


Lesson Plans

Day 1

1. Ask students to read textbook information on De Soto. This information might include a brief account of De Soto’s encounter with “the Lady of Cofitachiqui” and a reference to De Soto reaching the Mississippi River in 1540.

2. Ask students to reflect on their past journal writing experiences. Explain that some of the men in De Soto’s group kept a journal on the various experiences that took place during the expedition. Explain to students that Hernando De Soto actually ventured through South Carolina. Their job is to read the journal account and find out what kind of resources and “riches” were encountered in this area or the surrounding area. Note: Students will only be given basic background information about De Soto. They are to discover the type of resources based on the journal.

3. Explain the purpose of each sheet that is a part of the set that needs to be completed by small groups. Briefly display and explain the resources that are available for observation (pictures of Diorama of the Mulberry site).

4. Allow students to divide into groups, distribute materials, and ask students to begin and complete assignment.

5. Ask all groups to turn in their set of papers.

6. Review purpose of the journal account to conclude this part of the lesson.

Day 2

1. Briefly review the procedures from the previous day’s activities.

2. Allow students to share some of their findings.

3. Display an older map of South Carolina. (Use 1717 map By Herman Moll).

4. Share the selected video clips from the following web site called Hernando De Soto in America Movies. This clip will allow students to review De Soto’s motivation for coming to North America and follow his trek from Florida to the Mississippi River.

Teacher Reflections

I believe that attending the TAHSC has influenced my teaching in many ways; however, two specific areas were affected the most.  These two areas are my background knowledge of historical events, and my ability to design lessons with a greater focus on primary sources.

Unfortunately my personal encounters with history classes as a high school student and college student did not create a pattern that I wanted to reproduce in my own classroom.  It was also evident that I was not alone but had several colleagues that had similar experiences.  My grade level decided to change the model for departmentalizing classes for fourth grade in 2005.  We decided to design groups of classes that rotated in order to receive instruction in Math, Science, and Social Studies.  Each homeroom teacher was responsible for providing direct ELA instruction to their homeroom.  We didn’t have an abundance of volunteers to teach Social Studies because no one in our group had a passion for teaching it.  I volunteered because I certainly liked teaching it a lot better than most of my colleagues; however, I soon discovered that I would have to increase my level of historical expertise or I would soon join the ranks of my colleagues. 

While I was working on increasing my level of expertise it became obvious that the state of South Carolina had the same thing in mind for our students.  The standards laid out a clear road map that educators were required to follow; however, as the instructional leader, I had to provide a vehicle that my students and I could use to successfully arrive there.  While a variety of resources already existed at higher grade levels, this was not always the case at the elementary level.  There were various resources to choose from on some standards like explorers and colonial life, but when I looked for more in depth resources to address other standards it required deeper searching.  My search went beyond looking for a worksheet or simple mentioning of the standard in a paragraph.  I was searching for resources that would help my students master the standards.  Mastery would mean that my students were able to gain and develop background knowledge and understanding of historical events without succumbing to total boredom during this process.  Fortunately a new textbook series was adopted which proved to be a valuable resource.  The textbook of course wasn’t perfect but it really presented historical content that addressed all of our standards for grade four. I also began to find other resources as time progressed.  The increase in availability of resources could possibly be connected to the fact that Social Studies is counted as a part of a school’s annual performance level.  I guess it was no longer a subject that could continue to be ignored at times at the elementary level.

As my search for expanding my historical horizon and expertise continued I saw the TAHSC announcement via e-mail.  I figured that taking the course could certainly assist me with my endeavor since it promised to cover American History since 1865.  I was a little apprehensive even on the first day of class because I would finally see if this course was really going to fulfill its description.  As I studied each section of the syllabus I couldn’t believe my eyes.  The topics covered on the outline matched the fourth grade standards that I teach.  I was about to become a better me. 

As I planned each Social Studies lesson during the 2008 – 2009 school year I reflected on the notes and resources I received from the TAHSC summer institute.  As I began the year teaching the standards on Native Americans I didn’t make any major changes with the resources I used; however, I wanted to stress one important point that Kevin Witherspoon made during the course.  He made a comparison of the key differences and similarities of Native Americans to Europeans.  One of the differences that I thought I needed to stress was the fact that Native Americans didn’t have a sense of private ownership.  Stressing this concept early on would increase comprehension of later events that involved Native Americans. I stressed this concept as we looked at the resources and cultures of each region that Native Americans lived in.  We have already reviewed this concept to increase comprehension of the French and Indian War, Pontiac’s Rebellion, and the Proclamation of 1765.  This concept will be revisited when I teach standards that address the westward movement in the United States.

Several pictures of primary and secondary sources are included in our textbook. I must admit that during the past two years many of them were simply skimmed over during most lessons; however, I believe that I walked away from the summer institute with a better understanding of how to use primary and secondary sources to enhance students’ comprehension. Some examples that I have used this year include a bible printed by Gutenberg printing press, John Smith’s map of Virginia, a hornbook, and Poor Richard’s Almanack. Students also had a chance to get a closer look at a journal entry. This primary source was used for my formal lesson that is included in the lesson plan portion of my portfolio. I used a journal entry from the The De Soto Chronicles. Students were asked to read this entry to figure out what type of resources Hernando De Soto found while he was at Cofitachequi. The students revealed their comprehension of the type of resources found by completing a table, creating illustrations, and responding to two questions. I enjoyed listening to the students while they worked in small groups. I had to smile when I figured out that a rose appeared in a drawing from the group that thought this was the same as a rosary. It also made me reflect on the fact that I will probably have to provide more explanations or definitions than I originally thought were necessary to help create comprehension. All of my groups overlooked the difference between actually finding gold, and there being a rumor of finding gold. I think I will use more journals or letters to introduce certain standards to students. It really is interesting to hear what they think before they have all of the historical explanations of various concepts.

Some of the additional primary sources that I will also be using this year include journal entries from Lewis and Clark and a newspaper article on the Fugitive Slave Law. Students will be asked to analyze these documents using an analysis form from the Colonial Williamsburg forms we received in our TAHSC resource notebook. I also plan on revisiting the Florence Museum of Art, Science & History to decide on the primary sources I want to use during our study of the Civil War. I hope that the artifacts and information that I share will also encourage students to visit the museum during the late spring or summer of 2009. The number of artifacts I want students to view may also lead me to arrange a field trip for the 2009-2010 school year.

When I think about the number of resources I actually possess to the number I started out with, it is almost mindboggling. Although I now have these resources I still have two great challenges. I have to determine which primary sources will best increase my students’ comprehension of the Social Studies standards and how to get these sources in their hands. I have to keep in mind that some of the sources I select may not be used with each class every year. My selection of sources has to factor in the background and interests of my students. So no matter how wonderful I think the sources are, I have to be willing to use others that will meet the needs of my students. I can’t force my personal favorites on my students.

The other challenge I have is getting copies of primary sources in students’ hands. Although students can view a primary source in a book, I realize it isn’t the same as them being able to touch it. Just holding a copy in their hands seems to almost transport them to that actual historical event. If more money becomes available I hope that we can order books similar to the Lewis and Clark book that Wardie Sanders ordered for each elementary school. I also want to work on making quality copies of various documents while still abiding by copyright laws. After observing my students reactions to primary sources, I can say that they really do bring history to life even for younger students.

Student Assessment

Students will complete the following informal assessments in small groups: 

Examples of Students Work


Velma Wilson

Florence, South Carolina