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Teaching Guide

Teaching Reconstruction

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Reconstruction may not be glamorous, but it's still important.

In this guide you will find

  • activities analyzing historical documents of the time period.
  • modern articles on the legacy of Reconstruction. 
  • historical resources on the Civil War and Jim Crow in America.

Our teaching guide can help you construct a lesson more successful than Reconstruction itself.

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: Although "forty acres and a mule" has become a catch-phrase for the entire radical approach to Reconstruction Era, this policy was in fact imposed only very briefly and in only one small area of the South. 

In this exercise, your students will debate the merits of General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order 15, which sought to enact the "forty acres and a mule" policy.

Length of Lesson: One class period.

Materials Needed:

Step One: Place Sherman's order in context by having students read the "Land" section of Shmoop's Society in Reconstruction page (first 5 paragraphs).

Step Two: Have students review the actual text of Special Field Order #15. NOTE: If you want a more thorough review of the background and rationale, have them check out the New Georgia Encyclopedia's page on Sherman's Field Order No. 15.

Step Three: Now that everyone is working with the same information, take a quick class poll to see how many people think Sherman's order was a good idea and how many don't. Count hands and write down the results.

Step Four: Sort your students into two groups and hold a flash debate on the merits of the special order. Here's the motion:

General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order 15 was a good idea and should have remained in effect.

Students in Group #1 should argue for the motion, and students in Group #2 should argue against it.

Give students 10 minutes to prepare their arguments and then hold the debate in a point-counterpoint style, as outlined below:

  • Group #1 makes a point.
  • Group #2 offers a counter point.
  • Group #1 rebuts.
  • Group #2 makes a new point. 
  • Group #1 offers a counter point.
  • Group #2 rebuts.

Repeat this process until groups are out of points to make or you're out of time. Be sure to leave yourself 5-10 minutes for Step Five.

Step Five: Take a follow-up poll to see where the numbers are now. Who thinks the order was a good idea and should have remained in effect? Who doesn't? Have the numbers changed at all? If so, why?

Instructions for Your Students

When the time came to execute Order 66, Darth Sidious appeared via hologram to... oh, wait. Wrong order. 

The order we're talking about today is actually General Sherman's Field Order 15. Slightly different. 

Field Order 15 was a unique attempt to facilitate the transition of former slaves to free people, and it was the plan that gave rise to the phrase "40 acres and a mule." 

So...was it a good idea? A way for former slaves to build economic independence? Or was it a violation of the rights of Southern landowners? Today you'll take a closer look at Sherman's order and try to decide. 

Step One: Place Sherman's order in context by reading the "Land" section of Shmoop's Society in Reconstruction page (first 5 paragraphs).

Step Two: Next, review the actual text of Special Field Order #15

NOTE: If you want a more thorough review of the background and rationale, check out the New Georgia Encyclopedia's page on Sherman's Field Order No. 15.

Step Three: Now that everyone is working with the same information, take a quick class poll to see how many of you think Sherman's order was a good idea and how many don't. Make sure someone counts hands and writes down the results.

Step Four: With your teacher's help, sort yourselves into two groups and hold a flash debate on the merits of the special order. Here's the motion:

General William T. Sherman's Special Field Order 15 was a good idea and should have remained in effect.

If you're in Group #1, you'll be arguing for the motion; if you're in Group #2, you'll argue against it.

Get together with your other group members and take 10 minutes to prepare your arguments. At the end of that 10 minutes, you'll hold a debate in a point-counterpoint style, as outlined below:

  • Group #1 makes a point.
  • Group #2 offers a counter point.
  • Group #1 rebuts.
  • Group #2 makes a new point. 
  • Group #1 offers a counter point.
  • Group #2 rebuts.

You'll repeat this process until either the groups are out of points to make or you're out of class time. Psst! You'll want to make sure you leave 5-10 minutes for Step Five.

Step Five: Take a follow-up poll to see where the numbers are now. Who thinks the order was a good idea and should have remained in effect? Who doesn't? Have the numbers changed at all? If so, why?

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING RECONSTRUCTION?

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