Lesson Plan: The Spanish Empire and Missions in North America

The Spanish Mission System

At the Old Mission Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara, California, director Monica Orozco explained the Spanish mission system in California and the goals of the Catholic Church and the Spanish Empire in establishing these missions and presidios.


This lesson examines how the Spanish Empire used missions to establish communities in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries. Students will view video clips touring Spanish missions to learn how these missions accomplished religious, economic and military goals and the impact of these missions on the indigenous populations.


  • WARM-UP:

    Have the students answer the following questions before beginning the class.

    • What evidence do you see that parts of the United States were once colonized by the Spanish Empire?

    • What areas of the United States do you think were once controlled by the Spanish?

    Review the warm-up questions and address any misconceptions.

    Before beginning the class, have the students define each of the following vocabulary terms in their own words. These terms will be used in the video clips.

    • Colonialism

    • Conscription

    • Evangelize

    • Friar

    • Indigenous People

    • Mission

    • Missionary

    Have the students use the handout linked below to view the video clips and answer the guiding questions. Students can access all of the videos and make a copy of the handout to answer the questions directly in the Google Doc.

    Handout: The Spanish Empire and Missions in North America (Google Doc)


  • Video Clip 1: The Spanish Mission System (1:42)

    • What was the purpose of the Spanish mission system?

    • How were the missions a part of Spanish colonialism?

    • What is meant by the term “evangelize?” How was evangelization incorporated into Spanish missions?
  • Video Clip 2: The Spanish Empire in Western Florida (5:40)

    • What were the economic reasons for Spain and Panfilo de Narvaez exploring the gulf coast of Florida?

    • According to Mr. Blount, what were the possible reasons for the Apalachee Indians reaching out to the Spanish about Christianity?

    • What were the reasons for Mission San Luis being established in western Florida?

    • What was the eventual fate of Mission San Luis? Why did this occur?

    • What were the main buildings in the village? How did each of these buildings represent the culture and the groups of people present at the time?
  • Video Clip 3: The Spanish Empire and San Antonio Spanish Missions (3:13)

    • Describe the buildings in Mission San Juan and how the mission is laid out. How does this reflect its purpose and function?

    • According to Ms. Martinez-Amos, what was the purpose of these missions?

    • How did French colonization in Louisiana impact the growth of Spanish missions in North America?
  • Video Clip 4: Father Junipero Serra and California Missions (3:40)

    • Describe the initial missionization of California.

    • Who was Father Junipero Serra? What was his impact on missions in California?

    • How did the objectives and actions of the Spanish military and the missionaries differ?

    • What skill sets did Father Serra and the missionaries bring to the indigenous people?
  • Video Clip 5: Native Americans and Spanish Missions (3:38)

    • What were the negative impacts of the missions on the indigenous people?

    • How did the Spanish use the native people to establish settlements and supply routes?

    • How does Ms. Lucas’ portrayal of Father Junipero Serra compare to more traditional opinions of his legacy?

    After having the students view each video and answer the questions, review the answers with the students and correct any misunderstandings.

    Students will apply this knowledge by evaluating the impact of the Spanish missions in North America. Students will complete the graphic organizer on the handout and explain how the Spanish mission system impacted each of the following:

    • Spain’s economic and military goals

    • The Catholic Church’s religious goals

    • The lives and culture of indigenous people

    As an exit ticket or online discussion board question, have the student respond to the following prompt:

    • What is the most significant effect of the Spanish mission system on the settlement of North America?

    Design your Own Mission- Using the video clips describing the structures and purposes of missions, design your own Spanish mission and create a map that shows how your mission is laid out. Include a map key that explains the functions of individual buildings.

    Spanish Mission Comparisons- Using the National Park Service website choose two missions to use to compare. For each provide the following:

    • Where is each mission located?

    • When was each mission founded?

    • What was the specific purpose of each mission?

    • How are these two missions similar and different?

    • How did the Spanish missions incorporate native American culture into their communities?

    • How did missions and Spanish settlements differ based on geographic location?

    • What was the overall impact of the Spanish missions on native population?

    • How did the establishment of missions help provide New Spain with protection against incursions from other European countries?

    • How should missionaries like Father Junipero Serra be remembered today?

Additional Resources


  • Alta California
  • Apalachee Indians
  • Catholic Church
  • Christianity
  • Colonialism
  • Conscription
  • Convento
  • Council House
  • Evangelize
  • Father Junipero Serra
  • Franciscan
  • French
  • Friar
  • Friary
  • Frontier
  • Hernando De Soto
  • Immunity
  • Indigenous People
  • Mission
  • Missionaries
  • New Spain
  • Panfilo De Narvaez
  • Spanish Empire
  • St. Augustine
  • The Enlightenment


U.S. HistoryWorld History


Middle SchoolHigh School