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TeachNet NYC  |  Lesson Plans  |  Teachnet

Slavery in America During the Civil War

Project URL:

How it works:
This unit involves studying a person who was a slave in America at the time of the Civil War. The skills covered include online and print research, navigating a Web site to find information, building an electronic graphic organizer, using primary and secondary research sources, and building html pages as presentation tools. Students visit the Library of Congress site, Born in Slavery, and the American Slave Narratives site from the American Studies Department at the University of Virginia. This collection of interview transcripts with American slaves is too expensive to be purchased for a school library, but through these sites, students read and use the interviews, which are amazing primary source documents. Each student chooses a person, reads the interview, copies and pastes quotes into an Inspiration Web, and then adds information from secondary readings and personal responses. The students then export the Inspiration Web to an html page. They learn to construct a basic html page introducing the project, link to the page with the Inspiration Web, and link back to the main page. These mini-sites are then linked together by a table of projects for others to read.  Each student creates a site that shares information in the same way it is shared on the Library of Congress site. 

Standards addressed:  
Students understand the course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people, analyze chronological relationships and patterns, and know the characteristics and uses of computer software programs.

Materials used:
Required materials include a computer with Internet connection, Inspiration software, age-appropriate print resources about the Civil War, and a printer if you want to reproduce the pages.

The students:
The students in this project are from a fifth-grade public school class with children of mixed abilities and experience. Some are very capable with computers and some have very little experience. If the students have fewer skills, additional time for practice is helpful in completing the tasks for each lesson.

Overall value:
History is meaningful to students when they can use the lessons to connect to their lives today. How can a ten-year-old child relate to the issues and lessons of slavery? Usually, the study of the Civil War is just an exercise for elementary students and does not influence their lives in a meaningful way. Students who read the interview transcripts with American slaves are moved by the stories. Using secondary sources, they identify events in history that happened at different points in the lives of the interviewees and identify how old each person was at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. The students question what it would be like for them to experience the stories and make connections to their own lives. They each complete authentic research using primary and secondary sources and personal responses and publish the research.

The most important factor in Slavery in America During the Civil War is having patience with the diverse abilities of students. By encouraging them to share with each other, the quality of work is improved as they teach each other and share discoveries about the using the sites and the software.


About the teacher:
Susan Geller Ettenheim teaches library/ media/ technology at Midtown West Elementary School, PS 212 and Eleanor Roosevelt High School, M416. She started her career as a full-time painter and printmaker and won an NEA grant. She did library work, ran a searchable database, and was responsible at a cable television company for the online community. At Mount Holyoke College, she studied art, mathematics, and Spanish. She has an M.A. in media studies and is currently in the Bank Street/Parsons education master's program. She is an online course wizard in the Mercy College distance learning program.


Subject Areas:                            Social Studies  
Library Science

Grade Levels: 



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