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Part of Latino Americans
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What's In a Name?

Structured as game questions, this activity challenges students to identify cities, states and geographical features whose names tell the story of the Indigenous, Spanish and Mexican settlement that pre-dated the U.S. The investigative questions can be used alone as a geography trivia game, as a matching activity, or in conjunction with analysis of historical maps. 


Lesson Summary

Lesson Overview

In this lesson plan drawing on material from Latino Americans, students examine place-names around North America that tell the story of Indigenous, Spanish and Mexican settlements that pre-date the United States’ presence. The investigative questions can be used alone or in conjunction with the map analysis and plotting activities.


  • Compare and contrast maps of what is now the contiguous 48 states from the early 1800s and today.
  • Identify territories of the United States, Mexico and European powers in the early 1800s.
  • Problematize the absence of Indigenous territories or cultures on the historical map.
  • Use historical, linguistic and geographical clues to identify and plot settlements and physical features whose place-names have Spanish, Mexican and Indigenous origins.

Grade Levels: 4-8

  • Can be adapted for upper grades, matching activity can be converted to a “hook” or game for grades 9–12+

Suggested Time

  • 30-45 minutes


The Lesson

This serves as a great pre-activity before jumping into other lessons connected to the series. It will serve as a baseline and help frame questions of inquiry.

Optional Pre-Activity

Compare and contrast maps of what is now the United States from 1830 and today. Identify the territories held by the U.S., Mexico and other powers. Consider the implications of what is absent from the map as it relates to Indigenous cultures.


Use the clues to locate place-names and plot them on the blank student map. Depending on the desired level of challenge, list the answers for students to match against the clues, or let students work from scratch.


  • California
  • Nevada
  • El Alamo
  • Montana
  • St. Augustine
  • Los Angeles
  • Colorado
  • Texas
  • San Francisco
  • Kansas
  • San Juan Islands
  • Rio Grande
  • Florida
  • Santa Fe
  • Tucson


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