Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
America Will Be

A Civil War Conference

Objective: Students work together to organize a conference on people who played a role in the Civil War.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
3-4 hours over a period of 4-5 days (including the conference)

Building Background:
Ask students if they can name any people who were involved in the Civil War. Tell students that the Civil War split the United States in two over the questions of states' rights and slavery. Northerners and Southerners engaged in bloody battles between 1861 and 1865 — the North struggling to preserve the Union and the South fighting for independence for the Confederacy. By the time the war was over, slavery was abolished and the lives of thousands of people were changed forever. Encourage students to use The United States in 1860 map to show the states loyal to the Union and the states that joined the Confederacy. Be sure that they also show how the state of Virginia split when the western region did not secede and West Virginia was formed. Tell students that they will be researching the lives of people involved in this war.

What To Do:

1. Have small groups of students each choose a person who played a role in the Civil War. Some well-known people include Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert Gould Shaw, General Ulysses S. Grant, General Robert E. Lee, Matthew Brady, and Clara Barton, but students should choose any person who interests them, including people who are not well-known.

2. Each group should research the life and accomplishments of the person they chose. Encourage students to use encyclopedias and biographies from the school or local library, and video materials if available.

3. Have students organize their notes into a brief report. Each student in a group might write about one aspect of the person's life or one a major event. Be sure each group focuses on how the Civil War influenced their person and the role their person played.

4. Each group should set up a "station" for their Civil War person. A station might be a table, a group of desks, or an area of the classroom. Students should build a display to go with each report. They might create battle maps, timelines, pictures, and graphs to help place their people in the context of the political and social turmoil of the mid-1800s.

5. Draw up a list of Civil War people represented in the stations with the names of students who researched them. Post the list near the first station. Have students create posters advertising the conference and send invitations to other classes to visit. During the conference, students in each group should take turns standing at the stations to explain their displays to visitors.

6. During the conference, encourage volunteers from different groups to give presentations on the people they researched. Presentations might include role-playing, reading a speech or diary entry, or discussing the person's accomplishments.

Engage students in a discussion of what they have learned about people involved in the Civil War. Encourage students to describe the lives of the people they researched.


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