Civil War: How to make it interesting

Discussion in 'Middle School / Junior High' started by strassy, Sep 3, 2013.

  1. strassy

    strassy Rookie

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    Sep 3, 2013

    I teach 8th grade Social Studies in a school that includes many students that are below grade level readers, as well as many (35-40% receiving services) English Language Learners. I have to teach the Civil War coming up very soon, and my past experience tells me that students who come through this school really dislike the Civil War.

    The issue is that they seem to care very little about things that happened before they were born. The longer ago it was, the less appeal it has. If we talk about current events, they are all over it, but they detest actual history.

    Does anyone have ideas on how to make this more engaging for students? I have really struggled with primary sources from this era. The lower reading levels of these students combined with the bizarre (by today's standards) language and word choice of the primary sources has made it a huge challenge.
     
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  3. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    Sep 3, 2013

    Ooh, I love the Civil War!

    I don't know where you live, but is a field trip to a Civil War historic site possible? Seeing uniforms, weapons, and other items from that time period seems to make it more real for students. I know some schools have all but dropped field trips, but it's a consideration...
     
  4. Securis

    Securis Cohort

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    Sep 3, 2013

    I think you could make a 'cutting edge' comparison for weaponry of our time to weaponry of their time. You might be able to tie into cutting edge technology of the now versus then. I know there are tons of videos out there on the History channel that would help with that.
     
  5. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Sep 3, 2013

    PBS's Web site should still have teacher materials (and, I think, clips) to support Ken Burns' long and utterly heartbreaking Civil War documentary.

    A more static but very good source of visuals would be the Eyewitness book on the Civil War, published by Dorling Kindersley (http://www.amazon.com/Eyewitness-Civil-War-DK-Books/dp/0756672678/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_1).

    Richard Byrne's remarkable blog Free Technology for Teachers carried a number of resources to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter: for one, see the Civil War on Google Earth at http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2011/04/3d-american-civil-war-on-google-earth.html, and search the site for more good stuff.

    If the primary materials are difficult for students to access by reading, try reading them aloud. You could also take some short texts from the American Memory section of the Web site of the Library of Congress - an excerpt of a newspaper account, an excerpt of a speech (though please don't excerpt the Gettysburg Address: use the whole transcendent thing), a private soldier's letter home - and work through them in class, to help students get the hang of how one can in fact read that sort of thing.
     
  6. geoteacher

    geoteacher Devotee

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    Sep 3, 2013

    I wouldn't teach it without choosing some excerpts from the Ken Burns documentary!
     
  7. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    Sep 3, 2013

    Oh I love teaching about the civil war. I agree with Just Me that a good field trip and bringing in civil war items can really help. We have a museum in the city where I teach that helps out with this.

    Also, the Civil War means a lot more if they understand the items that led to it. Strong units on slavery, Abe Lincoln, The Kansas Nebraska compromise, the book Uncle Tom's Cabin etc. I realize you only have so much time. Whatever you can do though to give them a good background of how we reached the moment of the Civil War will help.
     
  8. DizneeTeachR

    DizneeTeachR Virtuoso

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    Sep 3, 2013

  9. husker_blitz

    husker_blitz Companion

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    Dec 30, 2013

    My favorite topic to teach in middle school! We don't have any battlefields to visit, but I did have a living history performer come out last season with several props. The kids LOVED it!

    As far as materials, be sure to check out Civil War Trust. They have full curriculums for elementary, middle school and high school students you can download. I don't use Ken Burns because of the length but I do show America: Story of Us version and my kids really like that series. Any sort of props would be good to show as well or even uniforms since they were wide and varied. I also like to key in on our state's troops to make some connection since Nebraska is kind of out of the way of that time period. We also go out and march together and I give them a brief tutorial of the CW armies.

    Also, I would also avoid much of the battle history. Frankly, in the large scheme of things the battles are not very important. Instead look at the politics and policies which have more of a lasting impact, including the CW Amendments that came right afterwards.

    Going back to Ken Burns (great series, BTW, just too long for me to use even in clips) but PBS's American Experience had a great doc on Death and the Civil War and the lasting impact. Which can lead you into local cemeteries and veterans or even ancestors. That's one way to make it real.
     

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