American Civil War Lesson Plans

Civil War lesson plans can get students thinking about, and discussing issues related to history, politics, and even photography.

By Marie Carney Hossfeld


Civil War Lesson Plans

The Civil War was the result of philosophical, political, and economic differences that could not be resolved by the Constitution, nor by any actions taken to resolve the strain caused by the disparate values of the north and south. It was a pivotal point in American history. It led to a redefinition of our nation, a reduction of sectionalism, the end of slavery and the institution of a strong national identity.

There are many ways you can embark on a exploration of the Civil War period. For example, you could have students study the history of this period from different perspectives. You could have students do research on the lives of the slaves, industrial workers, factory owners, northern and southern politicians, Native Americans, or Europeans. They can debate the issues of the era, with each participant arguing from the point of view which he or she researched. You could encourage students to grapple with the gravity of the issues, and how people can look at the same facts, and come to different conclusions. 

Photography came of age during this era. You could have students examine pictures of the people and events of this period and ask how it affects their understanding of this period. Do they think their opinion of the Civil War era would be different if we didn’t have access to these images? What types of pictures weren't taken that would have been helpful in understanding this period? How might the images have the power to influence history as we know it?

What follows are lesson plans that could be used to cover the Civil War era.

Civil War Lesson Plans:

Life in the North and South 1847-1861: before Brother Fought Brother

This lesson defines the underlying issues between the north and south prior to the war. Using U.S. Census data, students examine notable differences between northern and southern communities. Not only do students learn about the issues of the times, they also learn about how necessary and useful U.S. Census data can be.  You could extend the learning by doing research about other communities.

Isn’t it Exciting-The American Industrial Revolution and Urbanization

This lesson offers extensive background information discussing the inventions of the time. It has students not only learn about the actual inventions, but also to the evolution of urbanization and industrialization, which without these inventions, wouldn’t have been possible.

Illustrating the Civil War

In this lesson students pick Civil War related topics to study, such as Reconstruction, Civil War Inventions, Civil War Battles, causes of the Civil War, etc… and write children’s books on their topic.  The lesson was developed so that students can work in small groups and utilize computer technology. The lesson is designed to last one day, but I think students would need additional time for research. You could extend the activity by having your students read their books to elementary classes. They could donate a copy of their work to an elementary school class or library.


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Marie Carney Hossfeld