Sunday, January 20, 2013

5th Grade Civil War Unit

As I always do when finishing a new unit, I will post the content here as a post within the main pages of my blog. Unit 5: The American Civil War, which includes topics on slavery, the war, two nations, Abraham Lincoln, and reconstruction, exists as a page that is called Fifth Grade Civil War Unit. It is also listed in my subject listing under Social Studies. For those of you who like to get what you came for, you can find that entire post in its entirety listed below:

My fifth grade unit on the Civil War attempts to take students through the topics of slavery, including the roots of slavery, horrors of slavery, and the Underground Railroad. From there, we talk about the political beginnings of the Civil War, and spend the majority of the unit in a timeline taking us through the major battles, important people and events, and ending with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.


I like to start the unit with the portion on slavery. I have two posts in my old literacy blog titled Teaching A Unit on Slavery in Intermediate or Middle School (Part 1: Picture Books), and (Part 2: Literature Selections) that you can refer to for some great ideas. I have a few books that I enjoy reading aloud to the students, and that they learn a lot from.

I always start the unit by reading From Slave Ship to Freedom Road, a Julius Lester book that, while it is a picture book, is definitely hard hitting and doesn't hold back. It's a great way to set the tone for teaching about slavery if you intend to show the horrors and injustices of slavery in a way that will get through to elementary students but won't overwhelm them. (there aren't really any "free" versions of this book out there, but it's definitely worth the $6 or so that you'll spend getting it on Amazon or through one of the links on Google shopping).

I also read Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson. This story is a great, appropriate for almost any age telling of a family on the run on the Underground Railroad. This book is available in my schools library, and might be available in yours too, it's a common book (it's in the easy section). Finally, I read Almost to Freedom by Vonda Micheaux Nelson, it's a great story of a runaway girl and her family told from the perspective of the little girls doll. This book actually stuck with many of my students more than the others for some reason.

Now, granted, the topic of slavery is deserving of its own unit, and I will eventually get there. I always expand on this unit when we get to the civil right era. I've found that my students in 5th grade seem to understand the complexity and importance of slavery in the United States when I pair it up with the civil right era. Because honestly, more than half the class always thinks that Martin Luther King Jr. ended slavery before I teach them differently. I'm going to list a few of the more high quality resources about slavery here, that you can use as part of a Civil War unit, it's own unit, or like me, a mixture of Civil War and Civil Rights.
Now, let's move on to the Civil War itself. In my class, I want students to understand the causes of the Civil War, the difference between the Confederate Army and Union Army, the basic timeline of events, and how the world recovered afterwards. With that being said, let's move on to some great resources:

  • American Civil War Resources: A listing with online quizzes and games. There's another listing of great resources at surfnetkids
  • The Civil War for 5th Graders: A great little site done by a teacher. It plays out kind of like a web quest, with some good, kid friendly information presented in an easy to understand format. 
  • History Channel Civil War Interactive: You can always count on the History Channel to have great interactives of the highest quality. I'm using this one as students learn more about the differences between the two armies, battles, etc. It's all here, and it's well done. 
  • NY Times Civil War Interactives: There's a few great resources here, some about the war, some about life during the Civil War, and some about Lincoln. 
  • Battle Casualties Map: Hosted by the Washington Post, it's a great map that shows casualties on a map in a timeline format. 
Finally, as we go through the unit, I have students complete a 6 part "history web," a little project that I will post more on as we finish them up this week. It's a great small project.

I will also have my students complete a "gallery walk," an idea I took from Lessons With Laughter. I will also amend this posting with more information on that when it's completed. 

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