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The Roanoke Mystery

In July 1585, the first English settlers began their attempt to build a colony in North America.  They survived one year before abandoning their efforts and returning to England.  In April 1587, John White, one of the first colonists, led a second attempt to establish a permanent colony.  Within a few months, a supply shortage forced him to sail back to England.  He was unable to return until 1590 when he found that all other members of the second colony had disappeared. 

The story of that second colony forms the basis of this activity. It not only provides a way to get your students up and moving about the classroom in a purposeful manner, but also illustrates a key activity that makes up the professional lives of research historians - taking what often seem to be random bits of information found during research, and organizing them into a coherent story. It also can be used to help students develop the skills necessary to function effectively in groups.

  1. Before you start, you'll need a set of 3 by 5 index cards printed with story segments; one for each student. You may create those by downloading and editing the Microsoft Excel 2007 file RoanokeMystery.xlsx to create the exact number of story segments you'll need, then using Microsoft Word's merge printing feature to print them onto Avery 5388 (or equivalent) index card sheets from the Word 2007 file RoanokeMystery.docx  Be sure to note the location on your hard drive where you save these two files, so you can locate them and make the merge process work properly. Instructions for editing the Excel file (and printing the story segments) are contained within the Excel file, on its Instructions tab. If you do not have MS Word and Excel, click here for a page that contains the 35 story segments. You may copy them to any word processing program for editing into the number necessary to match the number of students in your class, and then to print them onto Avery 5388 (or equivalent) index cards.
  2. If you like, you may use A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia with your students before they explore The Roanoke Mystery.
  1. Conducting this activity.
  2. If you need to, you may adapt this activity for those with reading and writing difficulties.
  3. After you finish, you may try variations of this activity using
  1. On May 3, 2012, the New York Times published a report on work done on an original John White map that might lead to information as to the fate of the Lost Colony. You may read the article at The British Museum report that presents the new findings may be read at
  2. You may also want to try other activities that deal with

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original web posting: Saturday, June 18, 2011
last modified: Saturday, May 05, 2012