One of my favorite subjects to teach in Social Studies is the Civil War. I love diving into the whole time period and giving my students a picture of what it was like for different groups of people in America! However, teaching the Civil War battles in 5th grade can be especially challenging, because to a bunch of 5th graders the battles all start to sound the same! I’m going to share how I teach the battles in a memorable way, and how I help my students by mapping Civil War battles as I teach them!
When I teach the Civil War battles to my 5th graders, I like to do so in a way that will create a timeline in their head that shows the progression of the war as the battles occurred. Questions I want students to be able to answer are:
What were the goals of either side going into the battle?
What events took place leading up to the battle?
What occurred during the battle?
What are some interesting facts that set this battle apart from others?
How did this battle have an affect on outcome of the Civil War?
When you frame your instruction of the battles in this way, students are able to differentiate one battle from another easier because they have a better understanding of it! Here’s an example of how I might do this with the Battle of Antietam:
What were the goals of either side going into the battle? Robert E. Lee was hoping to invade northern territory for the first time. General George McClellan’s goal was to stop the Confederates from advancing northward.
What events took place leading up to the battle? When the Union troops moved into a deserted Confederate camp, a couple of soldiers found a document wrapped around three cigars. This document was none other than Order 191, which stated all of General Lee’s plans to invade the northern territory!
What occurred during the battle? Shooting began across a cornfield. Soon there was hand-to-hand combat taking place on a sunken road, which would earn the nickname “Bloody Lane”. After 12 hours of fighting, there were over 23,000 casualties.
What are some interesting facts that set this battle apart from others? The battle occurred after Union troops found classified Confederate plans wrapped around three cigars. Antietam was the bloodiest single day in American history!
How did this battle have an affect on outcome of the Civil War? The Union troops were able to stop the Confederates from advancing northward after Lee and his men retreated. However, General McClellan was removed as general after this battle because Abraham Lincoln was furious that he didn’t chase down the retreating Confederate army.
When I teach the Battle of Antietam, my students always remember that it started because a few men found this top secret document wrapped around three cigars, and that one fact cements that battle in their brain. Framing every battle this way helps students to remain engaged, and to actually RETAIN what you are teaching them!
Another way I like to help my students understand the Civil War battles better is by having them map the battles! Having this map ready to go in my students’ folders helps them to map each battle as we learn about it!
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