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Civil War Lesson Plans for 8th Grade American History

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.


My first year teaching I was dying to see other teachers' plan books, but most of them were either blank or didn't seem suitable for our students ("high-risk" with poor reading skills). After teaching American history to 8th graders for a few years, I've developed this webpage in the hopes that it can help first year teachers get an idea of what to do, or help out some experienced teachers freshen up some lessons. Just to let you know, my "at-risk" students have the same passing rate on the history portion of the state standardized exam as the "advanced" students.

Below are my weekly lessons for weeks 26 - 30 on the Civil War/War Between the States/War of Northern Aggression. Please see my other lenses to see my complete lesson plan book. See the side bars on the right for those links. Please visit my Procedures and General Ideas for 8th Grade American History Webpage to see my classroom set up, procedures, grading, use of textbook, exam ideas, etc.

Southern cotton plantation

Southern cotton plantation

Week 26: Day 2 (Continued from previous unit): North vs. South

How were the North and South different?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What was the first state to secede from the Union? [Answer: It was South Carolina, which seceded on December 20, 1860, in response to the November election of Abraham Lincoln as president.]

Objective: How were the North and South different?

Homework: Get agenda signed

1. Think of someone you're related to who is EXTREMELY different from you. A) Who is that person? B) List 5+ ways in which the two of you are different from each other. C) How do these differences make it difficult for the two of you to get along?

2. Go over exam

3. Create Unit VII cover page: The War Between the States/The Civil War/The War of Northern Aggression

4. Create spoke diagrams illustrating the North and the South before the Civil War. Give each group (3-4 students) an information sheet on either the North or South. Have them fill out their worksheet on the features (Climate and geography, population, cities, economy, culture, transportation) of that region. (15 minutes)

5. In these groups students start creating web diagram posters for either the North or South. Their poster must contain all 6 features, 3 written main points about that feature, and 1 drawing for each feature correctly showing that feature (i.e., For "cities" in the South, students should NOT draw skyscrapers.)

Civil War Activities - Studies prove that students retain more when they do or make something!

Not only do these books contain great activity ideas, but they're also filled with fun tidbits of information that I add to lectures to make them interesting and memorable.

Children working in the mills in the North

Children working in the mills in the North

Week 27: Day 1: North vs. South

How did the North and South differ?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Although there were only 11 states in the Confederacy, the most famous Confederate battle flag has 13 stars on it. What do those two extra stars represent? [Answer: Missouri and Kentucky. Both states wanted to secede, but Abraham Lincoln illegally arrested anyone in those two states who voiced an interest in secession.]

Objective: How did the North and South differ?

Homework: Finish flow chart

1. You've been learning how the North and South became extremely different places. A) List the 3 ways in which you think the North and South were the most different from one another. B) What do you think was the main cause for the North and South to develop so differently? C) Why do you think this was the biggest cause?

2. Finish posters (30 minutes)

Scroll to Continue

3. Switch posters with a group that had the other region and fill out the other half of your sheet. (12 minutes)

4. Design a flowchart showing how diverse geography affected life in the North and the South. Do first one as a class.

Great DVD's to Use

I use clips (usually 10 minute snippets) of the historical reenactments from these DVD's to show during class. These really bring the people and issues to life and help my students actually remember what occurred and why. Also look for the DVD's Civil War Terror by The History Channel and The History Channel Presents Sherman's March.

Nat Turner's Rebellion

Nat Turner's Rebellion

Week 27: Day 2: Events Leading to Civil War

What caused the North and South to split?

Objective: What caused the North and South to split?

Homework: Get agenda signed

1. Think about how important climate and geography are in your life. Imagine if Houston had high mountains and it snowed each year. A) How would you dress differently? B) How would your hobbies (what you do for fun) change? C) What new types of businesses might there be in Houston? D) Do you think Houston would have more or less people? E) Why?

2. Go overflow chart (Students get 100% as a homework grade simply for completing it even if the answers are not correct.)

3. Students read Compromises to Conflict from History Alive! textbook (Chapter 20) and complete reading notes on pages 138-139 concerning the Missouri Compromise through California applying for statehood.

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Week 28: Day 1: Events Leading to Civil War

How did the North and South split?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What was the single bloodiest day of the Civil War? [Answer: According to many historians, it was September 17, 1862, when General George McClellan's Union forces and Robert E. Lee's Confederate troops clashed in the Battle of Antietam. The struggle took place in Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland, ending with the retreat of Lee's army into Virginia on September 18. The Union suffered over 12,000 casualties, with 2,100 men killed; the Confederates suffered over 10,000 casualties, with 2,700 men killed.]

Objective: How did the North and South split?

1. The year is 2012. The pollution has gotten so bad in Houston that some people wear gas masks. The state of Texas has decided that they'll try to solve the problem. Even though car pollution isn't the main reason for the terrible air, the state of Texas has passed a law forbidding all people in Houston and surrounding areas from owning/using a car. In fact, they take everyone's (including you new Porsche) car - without paying you for the car or giving you an alternate way to get to work. People in Houston are divided into 2 groups: 1) some say Houston should become it's own state because Texas' state government is doing something severely illegal AND 2) the other group says Texas is doing what's best for it's citizens, so Houston should stay loyal to Texas. A) Which group would you support? B) List 3+ reasons for your decision. (Teacher explanation: Texas claiming to do what's best for Houstonians by taking away people's property (cars) and not reimbursing them or providing them with a way to get to work is like the North claiming to do what's best for the South by taking away their slaves (which the slave owners had paid for) without compensating them for their losses while also not providing them with a way to get all the work done on the plantations. Some Southerners supported the national government's decision while others decided they must become a separate nation.)

2. Powerpoint lecture & debate over the issues facing the Union in the mid-1800s (Missouri Compromise, Compromise of 1850, Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion, Runaway Slaves, & California's statehood). Students correct their reading notes from the previous class as we go through the events.

3. Students read Compromises to Conflict from History Alive! textbook (Chapter 20) and complete reading notes on pages 140-141 from the Fugitive slave law through the 1860 Presidential election.

4. Powerpoint lecture & debate over the issues facing the Union in the mid-1800s (Fugitive Slave Law, Dred Scott Case, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Bleeding Kansas, Charles Sumner vs. Stephen Douglas, Chief Justice Roger Taney, Abraham Lincoln & Stephen Douglas, John Brown, Election of 1860). Students correct their reading notes from the previous class as we go through the events.

(*If you would like to see the video clips and links to free worksheets I compiled on Abraham Lincoln and his presidency, go to

Great Resources on Abraham Lincoln



Week 28: Day 2: Strength of the North vs. South

How did the North and South compare?

Objective: How did the North and South compare?

1. If you could choose to be on a sports team, would you prefer to be on the team that had a better coach and owned the field/court on which you played OR would you rather be on the team that has more than double the number of players and LOTS more money (for sports camps, new equipment, better uniforms, etc.)? Give 3 + reasons why. (Teacher explanation: The first team represents the South (better generals and the war getting fought on it's own land.) The second team represents the North with a larger army/population and more money. )

2. Chart crucial Civil War information and draw conclusions about its impact on the war. Graph the differences between data on the North vs the South (population, land area, troops, war causalities, costliest battles, industrial production, miles of railroad track, and finances). Analyze the data. You can find this chart at

4. Select 4 of the areas in which the North and South differed. Write one sentence explaining the difference, and draw a picture (one for the North and one for the South) showing the difference. For example: The North had more than double the amount of land than the South had. (Draw a piece of land double the size of another piece of land. Under the larger piece of land write, "North." Under the smaller piece of land write, "South.)

Photo Credit

A Southern View

Also look for "Iron Scouts Of The Confederacy by Lee Mc Giffin (which I highly recommend), "A Virginia Girl in the Civil War" by Myrta Lockett Avary, and "The Life of J. E. B. Stuart" by Mary L. Williamson. The DVD "Civil War Minutes - Confederate" directed by Mark Bussler is also worth viewing!

Sherman's March to the Sea

Sherman's March to the Sea

Week 28: Day 3: Major Battles

What happened during the War Between the States?

Objective: What happened during the War Between the States?

Homework: Get agenda signed

1. Which side, the North or South, do you think had a better chance of winning the war? Give 5+ reasons why you think that.

2. Powerpoint slide lecture: Bombardment of Fort Sumter through Emancipation Proclamation. Students fill out chart including major events, key participants, and effects on the general public.

*Explain why the war was really fought (over states rights) and how Lincoln (who's wife owned slaves) eventually used the issue of slavery to keep England and France (who were struggling with the issue of slavery in their own countries at that time) to not help the South. Emphasize that the South did not want to fight. They just wanted to quietly leave and be left alone. The North attacked them, and they were simply defending themselves. *

3. Read Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln did not have the right to free the slaves in the South. That would be like people in Mexico telling people in the United States that we have to give them all our electronics. They don't have the right to tell us that. At that point, the South was now a completely different country with it's own President and government. Lincoln did NOT free all the slaves under the Emancipation Proclamation. He only freed them in the South. There were slaved in the "North," and those slaves were not freed.

4. WRAP-UP: REPORTING ON THE WAR: You're a newspaper writer during this time period. Select one of the events we discussed today. Sketch a picture showing that event for the readers. (Remember cameras weren't used much back then.) Also include a caption (a sentence explaining why that event was important). Include a title for the picture as well (naming the event itself).

If you have a few extra minutes in class, you can show a few minutes of Crash Course American History

Great Resources for ESL/Lower-Level Reading Students

Also look for the other books from the Graphic History series: "Nat Turner's Slave Rebellion" by Burgan, "John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry" by Glaser, and "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln." Another series that is good includes 2 books on this war: "Civil War: 1850-1876- Graphic U.S. History" (Saddleback Graphic: U.S. History) and "Before the Civil War: 1830-1860" by Saddleback.

Battle of Gettysburg

Battle of Gettysburg

Week 29: Day 1: The End of the Civil War

What happened during the War Between the States?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: In what two cities did Sherman's March to the Sea begin and end? [Answer: The devastating march across Georgia began in the occupied city of Atlanta on November 11, 1864, and ended with the capture of Savannah on the Atlantic Ocean on December 21. Along the way, Sherman ransacked the countryside, murdering women and children, looting, burning, and tearing up railroads.]

Objective: What happened during the War Between the States?

1. Some people say the conflicts between the North and South were like a rocky marriage, rivalry between siblings, or fighting neighbors. A) Which description do you think is most accurate? B) Give 3+ reasons why.

2. Video: "The Civil War: The First Two Years." Take at least 15 notes.

3. Finish powerpoint slide lecture: Emancipation Proclamation though Battle of Gettysburg. Students fill out chart including major events, key participants, and effects on the general public.

4. Read "Gettysburg Address"

5. WRAP-UP: WRITING HOME DURING THE WAR: You're a soldier fighting in one of the battles we have discussed. Write a postcard home explaining the conditions. Include which battle you have fought/are fight in. Also address if you think the war is close to be over and why. Be sure to address your postcard to your imaginary home address IN ORDER TO SHOW WHICH SIDE YOU ARE ON.

Clara Barton

Clara Barton

Week 29: Day 2: Black Soldiers & The Role of Women

How did the war end?

Objective: How did the war end?

1. "It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it." -General Robert E. Lee (a Confederate general) "It is only those who have never fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is Hell." - General William T. Sherman (a Union general). A) What is General Robert E. Lee's view of war? B) What is General William T. Sherman's view of war? C) These generals were on different sides during the war. Are their views on war the same or different? D) How?

2. Powerpoint slide lecture: black soldiers of the North and South and the involvement of women.

3. Video: Clara Barton. Take 15+ notes.

4. WRAP-UP: ANALYZING PICTURES FROM THE WAR: Select one of the photos or paintings in your book (pp. 498, 502, 505, 507, or 514). Answer the following about the picture you selected: A) Describe the people in the picture. B) Describe the objects in the picture. C) Describe the surroundings in the picture. D) Describe the activities in the picture. E) What are the most important parts of the picture? F) What is one question you have as a result of looking at the picture? G) What two conclusions can you draw about life during the War Between the States from the picture?

Photo Credit

Black Soldiers & Women in the War

Also look for "Till Victory Is Won: Black Soldiers in the Civil War" by Zak Mettger, "Freedom's Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War" by Ira Berlin, "Black Southerners In Gray" by Arthur W. Bergeron Jr., "They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War" by De Anne Blanton, and "Outrageous Women of Civil War Times" by Mary Rodd Furbee.

Image credit:

Image credit:

Week 29: Day 3: Civil War Project

What happened during the war?

Objective: What happened during the war?

Homework: Finish poems & get agenda signed

1. Study the overhead picture (political cartoon, "A Man Knows a Man" found at the bottom of Harper's Catoons ) Describe what you see and it's significance in 7+ sentences.

2. DVD: The Civil War and Reconstruction (good overview of the period) (20 minutes) Take 12+ notes.

3. Acrostic Poem for the words "The Civil War." For each letter, write a phrase or sentences describing some aspect of the war. (For 25 extra credit points, make your poem rhyme.) Then create a picture for each line. You may add additional drawings, symbols, and/or borders. You must use color. I will grade you on the following: a) Complete: a phrase/sentence for each letter, a picture for each line, color b) historically accurate c) creative and neat.

4. Pass out extra credit worksheets to students who want them. Worksheets include the Constitution of the Confederate States of America and excerpts from the diary of Union soldier Albert Underwood.

Bonnie Blue Flag

Bonnie Blue Flag

Week 30: Day 1: Review

What was life like for the soldiers?

HISTORY QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Approximately how many Americans died during the War Between the States? [Answer: Union deaths from battle or disease totaled 364,511. Authoritative figures for the confederacy are not available, but most estimates range around 260,000. The total of 620,000 deaths makes this conflict the bloodiest in the nation's history--not excluding World War II, in which 405,399 Americans died.]

Objective: What was life like for the soldiers?

Homework: Study for exam

1. UNIT EVALUATION: A) List 3+ specific things you learned about during this unit on the War between the States. B) What are 2 areas about which you still feel confused? C) List the one area from this unit about which you would have like to study more.

2. Listen to songs from the Civil War era (Johnny Is My Darling, Bonnie Blue Flag, Marching Song of the First of Arkansas, & Tenting Tonight) and answer questions about each song to reveal underlying attitudes toward war.

3. Review game


Week 30: Day 2: Exam

What did I learn about the War Between the States?

Objective: What did I learn about the War Between the States?

Homework: Finish worksheet and get agenda signed

1. Cram/Study for Exam

2. Exam

3. Worksheet for next unit on Reconstruction

Previous Unit: Weeks 23-26: Westward Expansion & Roads to Freedom

Next Page: Standardized Test Cram Sheet

Weeks 1-2: First Week of School & Geography Lesson Plans for 8th Grade American History

Weeks 3-8: Thirteen Colonies Lesson Plans

Weeks 8-13: American Revolution Lesson Plans

Weeks 13-16: Constitution Lesson Plans

Week 17: American Literature Lesson Plans

Weeks 18-19: Our New Nation Lesson Plans

Weeks 20-22: Industrial Revolution Lesson Plans

Weeks 23-26: Westward Expansion & Roads to Freedom Lesson Plans

Weeks 26-30: Civil War Lesson Plans (this set of lessons)

Standardized Test Cram Sheet

© 2010 Shannon

Comments? Questions? - Was this lens helpful? Do you have any questions, comments, or additional ideas? Please post here!

Shannon (author) from Florida on May 22, 2014:

@t-time: I'm so glad you have found my lessons to be helpful! I taught in a school system that used block scheduling. I saw classes MWF one week and Tues. & Thurs. the following week.

t-time on May 22, 2014:

Thank you so much for sharing! I'm a new teacher just starting out this has helped a ton! Just out of curiosity I noticed your lesson plans have for instance "week 8 day 1 and day 2". Do you expand those to use all week long or do you supplement extra things to fill in the other days?

Shannon (author) from Florida on February 06, 2013:

@OhMe: Thank you so much!!!

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on February 06, 2013:

This is a wonderful resource page for anyone teaching the Civil War. I think this is probably one of the hardest things to teach our children and it is so important that they understand. You have certainly done an amazing job of pulling together all this information about the Civil War.

Shannon (author) from Florida on December 26, 2012:

@Aunt-Mollie: Thank you so much! I will keep my eye out for poems for you. That is great that you're integrating subjects!

Aunt-Mollie on December 24, 2012:

I've been looking for more poems about the Civil War to include in my War Poetry lens. If you find some, please let me know. I have been an English teacher and I always tried to incorporate history and the lessons of history in my lesson plans. I found that using stories and poetry helped kids really connect with history. I really like your approach her and I think your kids are lucky to have such a great Mom!

jknobloc on January 12, 2012:

great plans! thank you for sharing. do you create all the powerpoints you reference or can I find them somewhere?

lasertek lm on May 18, 2011:

very organize lens and great lesson plans!

Take a peek at my lens, Homeschooling 101: Guide to Free Curriculum and Other Resources.

MamaRuth on March 02, 2011:

I enjoyed reading another teacher's lesson ideas. Thanks for sharing your work!

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