What Caused the American Civil War?

World History teaching resources for the high school classroom: lesson plans, worksheets, quizzes and simulation games for KS3, IGCSE, IB and A-Level teachers.

This formal outcome of this unit of study is a video project answering the question "What Caused the American Civil War?". It is followed by a deeper interactive investigation of the question "Why did the Union win the Civil War?"

A. Research and Analysis Phase

Teacher's Introductory Slideshow

The teacher uses this worksheet to help introduce students to the main themes, events and personalities. To be used in conjunction with the student worksheet below.

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Students' Timeline Worksheet - preparation for the videomaking task

Students are guided through the main events leading up to the Civil War using this timeline, which should be used in conjunction with specified clips from the first episode of Ken Burns' excellent documentary about the American Civil War. At appropriate times they should have time to locate extra images and information that they will use to help produce their own video documentary later on.

Timeline Challenge: The Causes of the American Civil War

Organise the class 5 teams. Display the first event by clicking the button. All the students should copy this information into their worksheet. The first team can play for up to 10 points depending on their confidence. They have to not only identify the mistake in the account, but correct it. If they do so successfully, they gain the amount of points they played for. If they fail, they lose the same amount of points. Proceed to the second event, for the second team, and continue this format until all the slips are used. The winning team is the team with the most points.

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Video Project - What were the Causes of the American Civil War?

This markscheme is designed to help students produce an effective video documentary about the Civil War using the information they have so far gathered. Examples of student projects are shown below.

Student Project Example: By Bettina at the International School of Toulouse
Student Project Example: By Christina and Sara at the International School of Toulouse

B. [Optional] - History Mystery

History Mystery: The Causes of the American Civil War

This unit is in the form of an ActiveHistory Mystery. Through a roleplay, stimulus images and information slips, students formulate questions, speculate answers, then research for themselves to produce a report which is then peer-assessed against a standard markscheme. The full investigation takes 2 hours of classroom time and at least another hour of individual research time.


If teachers wish to deliver this unit in less time, it is easy to do so. For example:
(a) Simply give each student a complete sheet of information slips from the outset to answer the questions;
(b) Don't require students to produce a full written essay on the topic - instead, simply choose one of the Extension / Additional Activities listed below.

Discussion points to follow:
a. If you had to divide 100% of blame for the outbreak of the civil war between the slave states and the free states, what percentage would you allocate to each side? Explain your answer.
b. At what point did the civil war become inevitable? Explain your answer.

Extension Tasks

What should we call the American Civil War?

Students are presented with a long list of alternative names that have been used for the American Civil War. They organise these into suggested categories, compare their ideas with a partner, and then choose what they feel is the best alternative title.


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