This primary source activity asks students to critically read Chrisopher Columbus' letter detailing his first voyage and an account by Bartolome de las Casas depicting the bloody result of the Europeans', and specifically Columbus', appropriation of the island he called "Hispaniola."
This activity would fit well within a unit on the Age of Exploration or a study of colonialism. This version is ideal for 7th and 8th graders because the excerpts are highly abridged and I have simplified the questions - I have a more advanced version for 9-10th graders on my profile.
I found this activity very effective with my seventh graders. I preceded it with a short lesson on how to make inferences (I projected an image of an African Bongo and had each person make an observation about its physical features, then we made inferences about the animal based on the observations as a class). This is a great way not only to introduce students to reading primary texts critically, but it also gives them practice with evidence-based inferences that build their critical thinking and writing skills.