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Civil War Turning Points

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
This activity works best if it takes place over a period of time - anywhere from three to five days. That allows for deliberation and reflection. Generally, more class time is required early in the process.
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will understand the major turning points of the Civil War, why these turning points were important, and how many of these turning points are interconnected.

The activity is built around a game that is designed to elicit classroom discussion regarding the biggest turning point of the Civil War.  It is designed to augment your study of the Civil War.  It works best as a culminating activity to a unit on the Civil War.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

The Civil War is a complex subject.  This activity is an attempt to embrace the complexity of the Civil War while giving students a chance to see how all of the different facets of the Civil War – including events on the battlefield and off of the battlefield - are intertwined in various ways.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Students will use reason and logic to arrive at a conclusion.
  • Students will apply material they have learned about the Civil War.
  • Students will focus on speaking and listening skills.
  • Students will understand the major turning points of the Civil War, why these turning points were important, and how many of these turning points are interconnected.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standard #1 – Choices have consequences.
  • 1.1 – The student will recognize and evaluate significant choices made by individuals, communities, states and nations that have impacted our lives and futures.
  • 1.2 – The student will analyze the context under which choices are made and draw conclusions about the motivations and goals of the decision makers.
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • What are these eight choices?

1)    Battles:  Gettysburg, Antietam, Vicksburg, and Sherman’s March

2)    Non-Battles:  Lincoln’s Views on Race and Slavery, Internal Conflicts in the South, the New York City Draft Riots, and the Election of 1864

  • How does the game work?

You could set up the game in two different ways:

1)    Eight Team Bracket:  Set up an eight team bracket, and vote for a winner of each matchup until you arrive at a champion.  You could have a “battle” take on a “non-battle” in the first round, or you could have one side of the bracket be the four “battles,” while the other side of the bracket is filled with the four “non-battles.”  This would ensure that the final would include a “battle” and a “non-battle.”

2)    “Survivor” Style:  Conduct the tournament like the television show “Survivor.”  This means you vote to eliminate one choice each round.  You could have two separate groups – the “battles” and the “non-battles” – then have a final between one from each group.  You could also conduct the tournament as one group of eight, and vote to eliminate one choice each round until you have two or three choices left.  At that point, you would vote for the winner.

  • As the teacher, what do I do?

1)    Provide written material and facilitate coverage of that material.  This could include using the Kahoot! Quiz over the written materials.

2)    Set up the bracket and provide the parameters of the game.

3)    Facilitate the discussion for each round, and make sure the discussion is balanced. 

4)    Conduct a fair and honest vote.  This might mean setting up a system where students do not have to vote publicly.

5)    Keep your opinions a mystery until the game is over – then provide a critique or analysis of the class’ choices if you wish.


  • Is anything provided to help with covering the material in the packet?


1)    A Kahoot! quiz is provided over material in the packet.  You should be able to access the quiz by going to Kahoot! and searching “Survivor – Turning Points of the Civil War.”  My username is “bauerjo.”  There are sixteen questions in the quiz – two questions for each of the eight topics in the packet.


2)    A “closed sort” is provided with the material.  In this activity, students decide which two clues go with each of the eight categories.  In this case, there are eight categories with two clues in each category.  An answer key is provided.


3)    A written quiz is provided over material in the packet.

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide