Beacon Lesson Plan Library

The Mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

Kathy Corder
Leon County Schools


Students learn how to evaluate a primary source and use it to interpret John White's diary entry regarding the Lost Colony of Roanoke.


The student evaluates sources of information for a purpose (for example, relevance, reliability, accuracy, objectivity).

The student knows ways to develop and support a point of view based on a historical event.


-Copies of “Return to Roanoke” by John White (1590) (See Weblinks)
-Copies of Evaluating Historical Resources activity sheet (See Associated File)
-Yellow highlighters
-Drawing paper
-Colored pencils


1. Prior to class, prepare story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke to tell students.
2. Make copies of “Return to Roanoke” (See Weblinks) and the Evaluating Historical Resources activity sheet (See Associated File).


1. Write standard on the board. Tell students they will be evaluating a historical resource and using it to piece together a mystery in history.

2. Define primary source, secondary source, objective, and subjective as a class. For definitions, see activity sheet.

3. Tell students the story about the Lost Colony of Roanoke. For a detailed account of the events, access the State Library of North Carolina at (See Weblinks)

4. Next, distribute John White's “Return to Roanoke.” The document can be accessed at (See Weblinks)
Ask students to silently read the document and do three things to it:
a. Highlight passages which act as clues to the disappearance of the people in the colony.
b. Write a notation out to the side of each highlighted section explaining what they believe the clues indicate.
c. Circle parts which they do not understand or find confusing.

5. After students have been given ample time to read and make notations, distribute the Evaluating Historical Resources activity sheet. (See Associated File) Put students in groups of 2-3 to share their findings and to complete the activity sheet.

6. After about 20-25 minutes, instruct students to return to their seats.

7. Discuss the students' findings and results from the group work on the activity sheet.

8. As a class, make a list of things which are important to consider in determining a document's reliability, such as, author, source, date, objectivity of the writer, author's purpose, etc.

9. Ask the students if they believe John White's account is a reliable source. Discuss.

10. Ask students for their theories about what happened to the Roanoke Colony. Make a list and discuss.

11. As a follow-up, direct students to create an illustration which shows what John White found when he returned. The illustration needs to be created based on the clues found in the document and will be evaluated based on effort, neatness and creativity.

12. Have students share their illustrations the next day in class.


A. Formatively evaluate the Evaluating Historical Resources activity sheet (See Associated File) for accuracy to determine student understanding of concepts. The answers are as follows:

1. Name of document: Return to Roanoke
2. Author: John White
3. Date: 1590
4. Type of source: Primary
5. The speaker/author is a witness to the return to Roanoke.
6. John White is returning to Roanoke after a three-year absence.
7. The topic is the disappearance of the people in the Roanoke colony.
8. The author's purpose is to detail what he discovered when he returned to the colony.
9. Possible answers: All of the people in the colony are missing; smoke and fire; trees burning; houses were destroyed; letters CROATOAN carved on a tree; chests had been dug up and ransacked, etc.
10. The document appears to be reliable. Yes, the document could be used as evidence. The author has no reason to lie. Others were with him.
11. The point of view is subjective. White had come with the people of the colony.
12. Answers will vary.

B. Evaluate student illustrations based on effort, neatness, inclusion of clues from John White's article and creativity.


1. Students could do additional research to determine if there have been any new developments in the Lost Colony mystery.
2. Because the document is difficult to read, students with reading disabilities should be grouped with students who are willing to assist them.
3. The Evaluating Historical Resources activity sheet (See Associated File) can be used with any document.

Web Links

Web supplement for The Mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke
Establishment of the Colony

Web supplement for The Mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke
"Return to Ronoake" (sic)

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