The 21 California Missions are a big component of the California History and Social Studies, CAHSS, standards for teaching 4th grade. Start here for valuable resources for report writing about the Spanish missions.Home » TeacherWriter.co Blog and News » Teaching Writing »
We moved to California from another state in January of the year my son was in 4th grade. When I walked into his classroom to meet his teacher, the shelves and tabletops were exploding with 3D models of missions. Some were crafted at home, while others had used a kit. The teacher informed me that all over California, 4th grade students were creating these mission projects. I had a small moment of panic, realizing I knew nothing about California history and this unique rite of passage.
Those days of mission projects are mostly gone now, but one thing remains.
It’s that time of year when California Missions Reports and research start popping up in 4th grade classrooms and homeschools all around the state. I call it California mission report season!
Studying the era of the missions, and their impact on the state, is still a big component of the California History and Social Studies standards for teaching in 4th grade. Yet it’s undergone some changes in recent years, and for the better. We now understand and use a more diverse narrative about the 21 Spanish missions. To help your students with this exploration and inquiry, I have some helpful resources to share with you!
The California Missions Project – Where Did It Go?
During the years when my son was growing up, practically every 4th grade class in the state had displays of what was known as a California Missions Project. Students built models of Spanish missions. Construction materials ranged from popsicle sticks to sugar cubes, (cue the ants), to the ubiquitous flour and salt dough meant to mimic adobe. I still have nightmares of some of my son’s salt dough creations gone awry. (More on those stories in another post.)
These projects were huge undertaking, and if we can all be perfectly honest here, many of the mission models weren’t built by the students. They were constructed by the parents. Or with a large helping of parental oversight.
By the early 2000s, many of the California mission projects were made with a kit that was purchased from a hobby store or online.
What did the students learn during these projects?
As it turns out, not much.
In fact, it may have done more harm than good. The students, while focusing on the architecture of the mission model, missed out on critical understanding about the social, cultural, and economic impacts the Spanish mission system had in California. The project focused on buildings and glossed over the enslavement of the indigenous people in California.
The California Missions Research Report
A better way to have students learn critical lessons about the impact of of the missions on the people and the land, is through research and writing. They’ll learn there is a diverse narrative, both positive and negative.
As students research the missions, they’re learning about the Spanish presence in California, such as the timelines and events around each mission. They’re also learning to use their critical thinking muscles. How did the missions affect the people already living here in California? Why did Spain want to build missions here? Two inquiry based questions that should be included in a California missions report are these:
- What were the positive impacts of the California Missions?
- What were the negative impacts of the California Missions?
Teaching about the Spanish missions include the stories and perspectives of the indigenous people of California. Authentic resources from descendants of the people affected by the missions can be immeasurably helpful. These accounts might be spoken or written.
There are many different ways of doing this report. One way to avoid is simply handing out books about the missions and let the students write a summary. There’s so much valuable history and legacy stories to be shared and considered. These will make for rich conversations as you and your students uncover information during the research.
Templates and Graphic Organizers Help With the Research and Writing
Graphic organizers are invaluable tools for clarifying students’ understanding of important events. The organizers help students to see the history in context. Each of the mission report resources have graphic organizers included.
I created two different types of reports you could use with your class.
- One is a dual purpose template. Students can make it into a foldable brochure. They can also choose to do a one-page report on a landscape oriented page. It can be completed digitally or printed and filled out by hand.
- The flipbook report is a popular choice. Each section of the flipbook represents a different aspect of life at a particular mission. Once students have typed in their reports, they can print them out to assemble them. You can also simply print the flipbooks and have students complete them by hand.
After the research, I always had students present what they’d learned. If you decide to do this, you might want to give them a few choices as to the type of presentation they do. Here are a few ideas:
- Slides presentations.
- Video presentations. You could have students create a video using a green screen with a backdrop of the mission behind them.
- Brochures with mission facts, events, and people.
- Printed flip books with specific aspects of mission life and history on each page.
- One page reports. These are easy to hang on a bulletin board or store in a portfolio.
Finishing a report and then sharing it with the class does two important things.
- Students will understand they’re writing for an audience. Therefore their reports should be clear and it should answer anticipatory questions.
- Students will gain practice speaking and presenting. You might consider allowing the audience to ask the presenter two or three questions. This will help you assess how well they understand the material.
Resources for California Mission Research
One website I found to be very helpful and on a level for fourth grade understanding is the California Missions Foundation. You’ll find information about all 21 Spanish missions at this site.
You can head to the library to select books. It’s probably a good idea to check the copyright dates on the books to make sure your students are using the most recent information possible.
To assist you, I wrote informational text passages about each of the 21 missions in California. I want to help make this whole process of researching and writing as easy as possible for you! These missions reading comprehension passages have one article per mission. You can see the product down below, along with a couple of videos about them. You don’t want to miss these great products!
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Here is what some teachers are saying about these reading passages:
These passages were a great resource for my students to use for their Mission reports! The reading level was just right for them, especially since they needed to extract interesting details. I will use again next year. ~~~Tiffany P.
After searching my classroom for material to help my students learn about specific missions, I found that the 30+ years of material left behind by the previous teacher didn’t have what I was looking for. This resource was perfect! Each mission has multiple one-page passages which helped my students get to know the mission without getting bored. The coloring page for the mission also helped expose them to mission-style architecture. It’s respectful of the Native Americans’ perspective and doesn’t glorify the missionaries. ~~~Sophia B.
The Spanish Missions in California
Can you remember the order in which the 21 missions were founded? I never could. You might find this California Missions List helpful. It includes the year each mission was founded.
Each of the California Missions resources have this one-page reference chart in it. The missions, in order, are:
- (1769) Mission San Diego de Alcalá
- (1770) Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo
- (1771) Mission San Antonio de Padua
- (1771) Mission San Gabriel
- (1772) Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
- (1776) Mission San Francisco de Asís(Mission Dolores)
- (1776) Mission San Juan Capistrano
- (1777) Mission Santa Clara de Asís
- (1782) Mission San Buenaventura
- (1786) Mission Santa Bárbara
- (1787) Mission La Purísima Concepción
- (1791) Mission Santa Cruz
- (1791) Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad
- (1797) Mission San José
- (1797) Mission San Juan Bautista
- (1797) Mission San Miguel Arcángel
- (1797) Mission San Fernando Rey de España
- (1798) Mission San Luis Rey de Francia
- (1804) Mission Santa Inés
- (1817) Mission San Rafael Arcángel
- (1823) Mission San Francisco Solano
Video and Map of the California Missions
Visuals are helpful because they capture the students’ attention and you can glean important information quickly. This short, introductory video of the missions includes a map. Watching the video, you can get an idea of the locations of each mission.
There’s a bit of trivia about each mission. For example, one of the missions is an active archeological site today. One of the missions was evacuated when the Pirate Bouchard began marauding the California coast. Each tidbit of trivia will get your students interested and eager to start their research.
Do you give your students a choice of which mission they research for their report? Watching this overview of each mission might pique their interest in a particular one and help them choose. You might also want to simply have them do their reports on California missions near you. Many teachers buy only one research report product for one particular mission. This is great when you’re planning a field trip to a mission.
Teachers Love These California Missions Report Templates
Why? They give you choices. You can buy just one, or, like so many teachers are doing, buy the bundle!
Here are a couple more comments from happy teachers:
This is an amazing resource. My students used it to learn about the missions. ~~~Isallany S.
The students used this as a resource for their research on their mission. It was easy to read for my students. The information was organized well. ~~~Jenny P.
The next sections show you some of the template options.
Flip Book Research Report
This one is my favorite. Flip books (or flipbooks, if you prefer it as one word) are self-organizing report formats. They help the students focus on one area at a time and keep each section clear about the topic. What’s more, they’re fun for students to create. Instead of looking at a big, blank paper, they tackle one small part at a time. Then they put it all together to create something they’re proud to hang on the wall.
To make things easier, you can purchase all 21 flipbooks in a bundle. Are you going to visit a mission with your class? Then you might only want to buy one. These are especially good to use as a note taking tool on a field trip.
Video Preview of What’s Included in These Unique Flipbooks
California Mission Report With Dual Options for Display
This report can be a one-page report for display on a bulletin board, or it could be a foldable booklet perfect for display on a student’s desk for a gallery walk.
Both options come in one product. Use this template to create a full one-page report or turn it into a foldable booklet report. It’s both digital and printable. Your students can complete it online, then print it out. Or you can print out the templates, and let them fill it out by hand.
Informational Text Reading Comprehension Passages About the Missions
These 21 informational text passages include a page of comprehension questions about each of the missions. If you don’t have much time for your students to spend doing their own research, these informative passages cover the necessary information for a mission report.
Find these reading passages in my stores at:
You can also buy the informational text bundled with the templates for the one-page and foldable research reports. How easy is that?
As I discovered when I walked into my son’s new fourth grade classroom, this is the time of year teachers all over California dive into the history of the missions. As you head into the season of California mission reports, I hope you’ve found some things to help you in this post.
These resources are available in my online stores at: