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Teaching Guide

Teaching Reconstruction

No plastic surgery needed.


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  • activities analyzing historical documents of the time period.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

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 did seek to enact the "forty acres and a mule" policy.

1. Review Special Field Order #15 with your students. To facilitate this review, you should direct your students to this introduction. If you want a more thorough review of the background and rationale, visit this site.

2. Sort your students into two groups and debate the merits of the special order.

Instructions for Your Students

A unique attempt to facilitate the transition of former slaves to free people occurred along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, where the lands confiscated from Confederates were turned over to the freedmen. Sound like a good idea? A way to build economic independence? Or a violation of the rights of Southern landowners? Prepare to debate these questions.


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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