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Teaching Guide

Teaching Causes of the Civil War

A classroom united.

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Without the Patrick Swayze TV mini-series, how will anyone learn about the events leading up to the Civil War? From you, of course, with the help of this teaching guide.

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing a variety of viewpoints: the North's view of the South, the South's view of slavery, and Lincoln's view of the whole mess.
  • modern connections, like Ken Burns's Civil War documentary.
  • related reading on topics like Reconstruction and Abolitionism.

It may have been a nation divided, but you'll have a classroom united with this teaching guide.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: Timelines are great for putting a specific movement or era in perspective and helping your students to visualize the way in which events played out. And when your students create their own timelines, choosing which events to highlight and how to represent them, those events (and that era) are more likely to stick with them long term. 

Over the first six decades of the nineteenth century, divisions over slavery grew more pronounced. On the one hand, we can trace expanding efforts to restrict and/or abolish slavery. On the other, we can identify increased efforts to strengthen the institution and protect it from federal interference.

In this exercise, your students will explore these divisions by choosing and placing on a timeline twelve events—two from each decade: one illustrating the growing opposition to slavery and one illustrating Southerners' attempts to strengthen it. 

Length of Lesson: 1-2 class periods. One class to give the assignment and let students work on it, and up to another full period for students to share their work.

Materials Needed:

  • Whatever art materials, software, or apps your students choose touse in creating their timelines. You can go high tech and refer them to Tiki-Toki or TimeToast, or you can go old school with paper & pencil or scissors, magazines, posterboard, and glue. 
  • (Optional) Access to Shmoop's Causes of the Civil War learning guide for research

Step One: Ask your students to select and place on a timeline twelve events that demonstrate the growth of the opposing movements to abolish or strengthen the institution of slavery. They should include two events from each of the first six decades of the 19th century, and in each case one event should show growing support for slavery while the other illustrates increased opposition to it.

Remind them that they can be as creative as they like in formatting their timelines. True, each event or individual must be tied to a specific date or time frame, and there should be a brief caption to explain what happened on that date (i.e., "Japanese troops bomb Pearl Harbor," or "Supreme Court rules on Brown v. Board of Education"), but those are the only constraints. 

When it comes to the layout, anything from the traditional linear model in black and white or a slightly spiffed up version to the uber-visual, image-heavy will do. Of course, with just five dates, they're not likely to get too convoluted, but they can try. 

Step Two: When the timelines are completed, give students a chance to present them. They can either share them in small groups, present them to the class through individual oral reports, or post them around the room and do a gallery walk.

Instructions for Your Students

Timeline time!

Timelines are great for putting a specific movement or era in perspective and helping you to visualize the way it all played out.

Over the first six decades of the nineteenth century, divisions over slavery grew more pronounced. On the one hand, we can trace expanding efforts to restrict and/or abolish slavery. On the other, we can identify increased efforts to strengthen the institution and protect it from federal interference.

In this exercise, you'll explore these divisions by choosing and placing on a timeline twelve events—two from each decade between roughly 1800 and 1860: one illustrating the growing opposition to slavery and one illustrating Southerners' attempts to strengthen it. 

 Ready? 

Step One: Um... we kind of already said this part, but we'll say it again. Select twelve dates that demonstrate Americans' expanding efforts to either abolish or strengthen slavery. You should choose two from each of the first six decades of the 19th century (more or less—it's okay if you have something from 1798 or 1863). One of your events from each decade should show the growing opposition to slavery, and the other should be an example of attempts to strengthen the institution. 

As you create your timeline, remember this:

  • You can use whatever art materials, software, or apps you want to create your timeline. You can go high tech use something like Tiki-Toki or TimeToast, or you can go old school with paper & pencil or scissors, magazines, posterboard, and glue.
  • Each event or individual you choose to highlight must be tied to a specific date or time frame, and there should be a brief caption to explain what happened on that date (i.e., "Japanese troops bomb Pearl Harbor," or "Supreme Court rules on Brown v. Board of Education").
  • In terms of format, you can use anything from a traditional linear model in black and white or a slightly spiffed up version to an uber-visual, image-heavy approach. Of course, with just five dates, your timeline isn't likely to get too convoluted, but you can try.

Step Two: When all of the timelines are completed, you'll have a chance to present yours, either by sharing it in a small group, presenting it to the class oral report style, or posting it in the classroom and doing a gallery walk so you can see everyone else's, too.

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING CAUSES OF THE CIVIL WAR?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
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