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  • Writer's pictureKristy Johnson

Civil War in Elementary

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Teaching the Civil War is such a difficult topic for students to understand, especially in elementary school. Where do you start? Who do you teach about? What are the major things your students need to learn? There is so much content! So many people fail to teach students the full story, due to the time limits we have in the classroom. It is extremely important that we teach the Civil War from all different aspects, just like all other history. It is not just important to give the thoughts and actions of the commanders and the "big name" people. Students also need to understand why the war started. Why was the country so divided? They need to learn about people who lived during the time that played an important role but did not fight first hand. The women, the children, the slaves, and the abolitionists are all important for students to learn about and understand. Their actions before, during, and after the war and how they lived are all important.

Vocabulary words are also huge! Students must understand the difficult words surrounding the Civil War to even begin to understand the battles. I always use graphic organizers to help students learn the vocabulary words and make connections to things they have background knowledge about. I use the ABC Book for Upper Grades for students to focus on important words for the Civil War. This format is a book and students add words that start with each letter and the definition to their book. You could use this just for this unit, or you could use it for the entire year and students can collect their vocabulary words in one manageable place.

Social Studies centers have been a huge game changer for my classroom! A few years ago I started using anchor charts for my mini lesson and then students work in groups during center time. This allows them to have more conversations, as well as use different materials in order to learn the content.

Causes of the Civil War:

Students must understand why their country was so divided and the Civil War even started. They need a full understanding of slavery and how many people were effected and why. These resources below are some of the ones I use to teach why the Civil War was started. I use the anchor charts for teaching in my mini lesson and students glue them in their journals. While I use the task cards for group work. The freebie quiz is perfect for an assessment to make sure students understand why the war started before diving into the actual battles and events of the war.

This FREEBIE Google Forms Causes of the Civil War activity uses the anchor charts and notes that I use during my mini lesson as well. However, students have questions to answer about each part to make sure they understand what those notes are saying. I usually use this automatically grading form in groups or for homework.

Civil War:

Now that students have an understanding of why there was tension between the North and the South, we can learn about the actual war and its' battles. Again, it is important to discuss all people involved, not just the soldiers. The women and children also played a huge role. Abolitionists and African Americans played a huge role and these positive and brave roles need to be taught.

Just as I started with the Causes of the Civil War anchor charts and notes to introduce and teach the causes, I start with the Civil War Anchor Charts and Notes to teach about the events and battles in the war. There are 14 anchor charts to teach about the locations, events, people, vocabulary, effects of the war, and reconstruction. On day 1, I cut them in half (they are notebook sized, printed two to a page), and pass all charts out to students so they can glue them in and have them two to a page all flowing in the notebook. This also allows students to study ahead or look over notes if they have “free” time. Typically, I spend one week front loading the content— this is almost a week of direct instruction with the anchor charts, textbook, videos, conversations, etc.

Following that first week, we do Civil War Centers for a week. My centers consist of my True or False Task Cards and 5 different Internet Scavenger Hunts (must have access to computers or tablets). Typically, I will have the, in groups for centers but then the scavenger hunt groups I put into partners on the computers so they can discuss and work together. I have also used the scavenger hunts for homework if the majority of my kiddos have devices at home.

On my final week teaching the Civil War, I first pass out the study guide for the test. Then they spend the whole week completing the Civil War Digital Notebook. They are always super engaged in this activity where they read, answer questions, look at pictures, and watch videos. The easiest way is to push out the notebook on Google Classroom. However, you can share a copy with each student in your Google Drive or convert to PowerPoint and share on Microsoft. Students or partner sets will need their own copy so they can edit and work through each slide. I have done this in partners but I still give each student their own copy to ensure everyone is doing equal work. The Study Guide and Test resource below is a FREEBIE!

What other resources are you looking for to teach The Civil War to your upper elementary students? Any other tips you have for new teachers? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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