Lesson Plan: Making a Diseno (early Californian map)

This lesson plan is part of a program done at the San Leandro History Museum to teach students about the early California days.  I have changed the lesson so it will work in a classroom setting.

Teacher: Loryn Aman

Subject Area:  History and Social Sciences

Grade Level: Fifth

Lesson Title:  Making a Diseno (early Californian map)

Objectives: Students will gain understanding into how land was given out in the early days of California, how the maps were made, and just how incorrect they often are.

Materials/Resources Needed:  Images of actual disenos to show class.  Some can be found here: http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb2h4nb1ph/?order=73 A blank map template for students to fill in (create a 8 by 11.5 paper filled with squares.  Have a compass rose in the corner for students to use).  A rope for students to use to show they measure the land.  About four or five different colored crayons for each student.

Anticipatory Set: Explain to students why disenos were made.  How soldiers applied for land grants and the various aspects that were necessary to get a land grant (Soldier, Mexican Citizen, Catholic, and need to make a diseno).  Show students the various slides of actual disenos.  Explain to students how various landmarks (like trees or rivers) helped to make the various maps.

Objective/Purpose: Students will gain understanding as to why and how disenos were made as well as information about California history.


  • Have students go outside.  Explain to them that they are soldiers and it is now time to make their diseno so they are able to receive their land grant.  Show them the plot of land that they are hoping to make their own.
  • Explain to students how to use the compass, explaining how it works in relation to where they are.
  • Have students draw a star in the bottom corner of their map.  Explain that each square on their map is 50 feet of land (you can change this measurement if you’d like).
  • Have one student stand at one end, and the other farther away.  Have the student at the starting point throw their rope to the other student.  This simulates how the vaqueros would measure their land.  Explain to the students to start at their star and count up a certain amount of squares to simulate the land they are measuring.  “Please go 21 squares north.”  You may get asked by students, “Do I count the star, or not?”  Tell the students it is up to them.  This often allows for them to see how inaccurate this measuring system is.
  • Continue measuring out your plot of land until the students make a square of some kind.  You can even add in directions like southwest to give the students a better understanding of direction.
  • After all the students have drawn their maps, hand out a blue crayon.  Ask the students what they think this represents.  Water!  Show students how small the rivers look on the actual diseno maps.  Have the students draw a river or lake on their map.  Ask them, “What happens if you draw all your water outside your plot of land?”  “What happens if you draw a lot of water in your land, and it rains a lot one year?”
  • Next, hand out a red crayon.  Tell students that this will represent their house.  Tell them that three squares is what we think of today as a mansion.  Have them draw their homes on their maps.  Ask them questions like, “What happens if you draw your house too close to the water and it floods?” 
  • Next, hand out a green crayon and explain to the class that this represents their crops.  Have them draw in their crops on their maps.
  • Next, hand out a brown crayon and explain to the class that this crayon represents cattle.  Have them color in squares for their cows.  Explain that one square equals ten cows.  Ask them questions like, “What might happen if you draw the cattle really close to your house?”  or “What if you draw your cattle really close to your water?”
  • Have the students write the names of their Ranchos at the top of their page.  You can even have them draw a map key off to the side to show what the various colors stand for.

Check for Understanding: As you are running the program, continually ask the students what direction they are heading (they should know this by looking at their compass).  At the end, have students compare their diseno to that of their classmates.  Do they look the same?  Why do they think that they are different?

Closure:  Have the students compare their maps.  Do they look the same?  Why do they think they look different?  Ask the students what would happen if they used a landmark like a tree or a big rock to show where their land border was, and in the future what if that tree or rock was no longer there?  Also, ask the students to think about what might happen if they didn’t speak English, the language used in the court to apply for the land grants, and they were not able to ask questions about their land?

Independent Practice: Have the students post their disenos on the wall so they can get a look at all the maps.  Ask the students to think about the similarities and differences between the maps.

This entry was posted in Lesson Plan. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s