Lesson: What Was It Like?

Connecting Language Arts and Social Studies to Civics

Students will participate in a fun historical game about the History of San Mateo County to earn the designation of History Buff.  They will use the information that they gather to begin a research project about the History of San Mateo County.  This project is intended to continue with the City Spotlight lesson and culminate with the County Chronicles project.


Grade Levels: 3rd- 8th




Time: two to three class sessions (approx.)



What Was It Like? Worksheets

Paper & pencils for research

Sticky note pads (at least 5 pads)

Chart paper



1.     Instruct students that they will be taking a journey into the past of San Mateo County. Introduce them to the What Was It Like? section of the Kids’ Corner website and explain that they will play the history game so that they can become “History Buffs” just like Burt.  Have the students work in teams and instruct them to take notes so that they can answer the History Buff questions when they have completed the game.  They will also be required to report back their findings.


2.     Once students have completed the game, have them circle the correct responses on the What Was It Like worksheets.  Create a fun way to celebrate your new class of History Buffs!


3.     Have student research teams report back additional facts about San Mateo County history that they learned.  Have students record individual facts on sticky paper to place on a large piece of chart paper that will be used for data gathering (chart paper title: “What We Know about San Mateo History”). As a class, brainstorm ways to further categorize the facts (e.g. Native American, Mission and Ranchos, Gold Rush, etc.).  You can also create a timeline to place the facts into. (Note: Keep this collection of historical facts so that you can add to it in the City Spotlight lesson and use it for the County Chronicles project.


4.     Brainstorm with the class additional information that they would like to learn about the History of San Mateo County.  Write the ideas on another piece of chart paper, leaving enough room for students to place sticky notes under the research questions/ topics when they find the facts.  Have research teams decide which question(s)/ topic(s) they would like to research and encourage them to use a variety of research tools so that they can try to cross reference their facts for accuracy (books, encyclopedias, web sites).  Note: Since the internet is not reviewed for accuracy of data, it is very important for students to make sure that the website is a credible source (check in with the teacher) or find at least one other source that can substantiate the facts. Have students report back their findings to the class and place their sticky notes with the corresponding topic/question.


5.     Have student research teams write a short composition about the history of San Mateo County based on the information that they learned. The length and content of the composition will vary with the age of the students. 


CA Social Studies Standards

Grade 3: Continuity and Change   

3.2 Students describe the American Indian nations in their local region long ago and in the recent past.

3.3 Students draw from historical and community resources to organize the sequence of local historical events and describe how each period of settlement left its mark on the land.

3.4 Students understand the role of rules and laws in our daily lives and the basic structure of the U.S. government.

Grade 4: California: A Changing State  

4.2 Students describe the social, political, cultural, and economic life and interactions among people of California from the pre-Columbian societies to the Spanish mission and Mexican rancho periods.

4.5 Students understand the structures, functions, and powers of the local, state, and federal governments as described in the U.S. Constitution.

Grade 5: United States History and Geography: Making a New Nation

5.1 Students describe the major pre-Columbian settlements, including the cliff dwellers and pueblo people of the desert Southwest, the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, the nomadic nations of the Great Plains, and the woodland peoples east of the Mississippi River.

5.8: Students trace the colonization, immigration, and settlement patterns of the American people from 1789 to the mid-1800s, with emphasis on the role of economic incentives, effects of the physical and political geography, and transportation systems.

Grades 6 – 8:  Chronological and Spatial Thinking

1. Students explain how major events are related to one another in time.

2. Students construct various time lines of key events, people, and periods of the historical era they are studying.

Grades 6 – 8:  Historical Interpretation

1. Students explain the central issues and problems from the past, placing people and events in a matrix of time and place.

2. Students understand and distinguish cause, effect, sequence, and correlation in historical events, including the long- and short-term causal relations.

3. Students explain the sources of historical continuity and how the combination of ideas and events explains the emergence of new patterns.


CA Language Arts Standards

Grades 3rd & 4th:  Writing Strategies Students write clear, coherent sentences and paragraphs that develop a central idea. Their writing shows they consider the audience and purpose. Students progress through the stages of the writing process (e.g., prewriting, drafting, revising, editing successive versions).

Grades 5th-8th: Writing Strategies Students write clear, coherent, and focused essays. The writing exhibits the students’ awareness of the audience and purpose. Essays contain formal introductions, supporting evidence, and conclusions. Students progress through the stages of the writing process as needed.

Grade 4: Reading Comprehension Students read and understand grade-level-appropriate material. They draw upon a variety of comprehension strategies as needed (e.g., generating and responding to essential questions, making predictions, comparing information from several sources).

Grades 5-8: Reading Comprehension (Focus on Informational Materials) Students read and understand grade-level-appropriate material. They describe and connect the essential ideas, arguments, and perspectives of the text by using their knowledge of text structure, organization, and purpose.




What Was It Like?

After reading the website section “What Was It Like,” circle the letter next to the correct answer.


1.  What people first lived in San Mateo County?

a. Giants from San Francisco

b. The Palo Alto family from the east coast

c. Native Americans

d. Sam Mateo and his wife


2.  Why would Captain Gaspar de Portola be sad when he found San Francisco Bay?

a. The sea lions were very load and noisy

b. The fog made it hard to see

c. He was really looking for Monterrey Bay

d. He couldn’t get across the Bay


3.  Where did most families with ranchos live?

a. On the rancho in an adobe

b. On the rancho in a plantation house

c. East of the Mississippi

d. In San Francisco at the Presidio or Mission Dolores area


4.  What happened in the Peninsula during the Gold Rush?

a. Many people came here and found lots of gold

b. There wasn’t much gold on the Peninsula, but people liked it for other reasons

c. Many people came here because there was silver

d. All of the gold here was stolen


5.  How did San Mateo become a separate County from San Francisco?

a. People wanted to break away from the corrupt San Francisco government

b. People didn’t want to be a part of San Francisco because it was too cold

c. San Francisco didn’t want the Peninsula because it didn’t have gold

d. San Francisco was too far away from the Peninsula


6.  What language did the Coastanoans speak?

a. Spanish

b. English

c. Navajo

d. Ramaytush


7.  Which two people were explorers sent by Spain to the San Francisco Bay Area?

a. Ferdinand and Rivera

b. de Portola and Rivera

c. Tripp and Rancho

d. Mateo and Francisco


8.  Why were families allowed to own ranchos in the early 1800s?

a. The Spanish government passed new laws

b. They made enough money from the Gold Rush to afford ranchos

c. Mission Dolores needed ranchos to grow food

d. The Mexican government now ruled the area and passed new laws


1.    Around the time of the Gold Rush, what industry was very important to American settlers in the Peninsula?

a. Logging

b. Mining

c. Textiles

d. Transportation


10.  Which City did corrupt politicians unsuccessfully try to make the County Seat?

a. Redwood City

b. South San Francisco

c. Belmont

d. East Palo Alto



What Was It Like?

Teacher’s Answer Key



  1. c. Native Americans


  1. c. He was really looking for Monterrey Bay


  1. d. In San Francisco at the Presidio or Mission Dolores area


  1. b. There wasn’t much gold on the Peninsula, but people liked it for other reasons


  1. a. People wanted to break away from the corrupt San Francisco government


  1. d. Ramaytush


  1. b. de Portola and Rivera


  1. d. The Mexican government now ruled the area and passed new laws


  1. a. Logging


  1. c. Belmont