The American Civil War

A. Causes of the American Civil War

Image at right: Unionist soldiers, 1862. Found on How to be a Retronaut

1. Main Task: Researching and Reporting

History Mystery: The Causes of the American Civil War
This unit is in the form of an ActiveHistory Mystery [more]. 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.

2. Factual Tests

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.

3. Suggested Extension Activities

i. Classroom Worksheets

What can we learn from the songs of the Civil War?
In this activity, students analyse the lyrics (and, if possible, listen to the music) of popular Confederate and Unionist songs from the civil war. They then have to produce their own civil war song to a civil-war era tune of their choice. Their objective is to produce a song which clearly explains the causes of the war. Finally, they look at the legacy of the civil war on American popular music, using examples from The Band, Elvis Presley, Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

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.

ii. Individual Project Tasks:
a. Trivia Treasure Hunt: Choose one event from the timeline of causes to research further. Find out THREE extra 'interesting facts' to share with the class about your chosen event.

b. Film Poster: Imagine you are a Hollywood film director making a film about the causes of the American Civil War. Produce a cinema poster advertising your film. Include (a) A bold title for the film; (b) A cast list outlining the main characters in the film and which actors play them; (c) 5 captioned 'stills' from the film focusing on particularly important events (you can 'cut and paste' the faces of your Hollywood star actors into these!); (d) Quotes from film reviewers highlighting why the film is so important and fantastic.

c. Speeches: Produce two brief speeches of no more than 150 words each: one from the Northern "free" states blaming the Southern "slave" states for the war, and one doing the opposite. Use as many 'bias words' (adjectives) to make your side sound innocent, and your opponents sound guilty.

d. Animation: Using a tools such as MovieMaker, Prezi, Animoto, Doink, GoAnimate or similar, produce your own creative project designed to teach people about the causes of the American Civil War.

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. Events of the American Civil War

1. Main Task: Interactive Decision-making game / QR Code Treasure Hunt

Interactive Simulation: The Events of the American Civil War
You will take the role of an advisor to either President Davis, or President Lincoln. You will be given a series of military, economic and political problems to deal with. Your first objective is to choose the course of action which you think your President took in real life (his 'approval rating' of you will then stay high). Your second objective is to correctly answer the factual questions you are given as the game proceeds (your 'factual knowledge' score will then stay high). As you proceed through the simulation, complete the worksheet. At the end of the game there will be follow-up tasks. You can play as a Confederate, a Unionist, or against another player.

QR Code Treasure Hunt: The Events of the American Civil War
Print off these 20 QR codes and put them up around your classroom / school. Students have to answer as many questions as they can in the time available. The completed answers can be used to develop their individual research project stemming from the interactive simulation (above).

2. Factual Tests

Interactive Quizzes from

3. Extension Activities

a. Fakebook: choose one person from the timeline of causes to research further. Produce a 'Fakebook' profile about your chosen character's life and career. Include at least one video clip. Teachers could provide a list of suggested characters, focusing especially perhaps on women.

"Fakebook" Projects by students at the International School of Toulouse



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High Park Lodge, Edstaston Wem, Shropshire, England, SY4 5RD. Telephone/Fax: 01939 233909

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ActiveHistory is the work of full-time history teacher Russel Tarr

1998-2021 Russel Tarr, Limited (Reg. 6111680)

High Park Lodge, Edstaston Wem, Shropshire, England, SY4 5RD. Telephone/Fax: 01939 233909

All rights reserved


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