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Classroom Projects

The classroom projects presented here were developed and tested by Chicago-area teachers. Sign up for the mailing list or follow the website on Facebook to receive updates and notifications about new content.


The winners of the Civil War in Art 2012 Lesson Plan Contest have been announced! Click here for more details.

Portraits of Unlikely, Everyday Soldiers: ‘Questions for’ John F. P. Robie, J. L. Balldwin, and Kady Brownell

Winner: 1st place, 2012 Civil War in Art Lesson Plan Contest

Grades: 9-12
Subjects: Language Arts/Social Studies
Author: Gregory J. Bonsignore, Reading Specialist, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, IL and Kristan M. Hanson, Adjunct Museum Educator, Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Date: 12/14/2012
Lesson Summary: Students will analyze a portrait of a Civil War soldier and then synthesize the portrait with written text from the same time period to construct a fictional “Questions For . . .” column in the style of the New York Times Magazine.

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Causes of the Civil War: The Role of Westward Expansion and the Abolition Movement in the 1850s

Winner: 2nd place, 2012 Civil War in Art Lesson Plan Contest

Grades: 10–12
Subjects: Social Studies
Author: John P. Duckhorn, Eisenhower High, Blue Island Illinois
Date: 2/13/2013

Lesson Summary: This lesson engages students in the analytical study of the causes of the Civil War through the use of art. Beginning with Western expansion and the issues that arose from the country’s excitement over the potential for economic prosperity in the West, the lesson examines the demand for slavery in the cotton industry in the South, discussing how the future of slavery in the West was a major economic concern amongst Southerners. The lesson concludes with the violent events involving John Brown and the struggle between pro- and anti-slavery citizens in Kansas.

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The Second American Revolution, Frame by Frame

Winner: 3rd place, 2012 Civil War in Art Lesson Plan Contest

Grade: 10
Subjects: United States History
Author: Gideon MacKay, Michele Clark Magnet High School
Date: 11/20/2013

Lesson Summary: During this lesson, students will investigate concepts of patriotism, loss, and revolution through the lens of photography. This lesson will focus on how the war was documented through photography, which was revolutionary in 1861. Students will analyze photographs as a means of understanding the past. They will use photos from the historical record to enhance their reading of and bolster their understanding of other primary sources from the Civil War era. At the end of the lesson, students will understand the prominent role photography played in the way the war was communicated, received, and remembered.

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“The art of sketching”: Looking through the Lens of Visual & Written Hospital Sketches.

Winner: Honorable Mention, 2012 Civil War in Art Lesson Plan Contest

Grades: 11
Subjects: American Literature
Author: Kathleen Ann Harsy, Riverside Brookfield High School, Riverside, IL
Date: 10/28/2013
Lesson Summary: Students will study the significance of visual and written accounts of hospitals during the Civil War through the examination of Louisa May Alcott’s 1863 series of stories Hospital Sketches and the illustration The United States General Hospital [at Georgetown, D.C., formerly the Union Hotel-Volunteer Nurses Attending the Sick and Wounded.], in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. The final assessment will allow students to demonstrate their understanding of author’s voice and purpose.

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Lincoln and Tad Visit Richmond, April 4, 1865

Grades: 7–8
Subjects: Art, Language Arts, U.S. History
Author: Kelly Naughton, Bridge Elementary School, Chicago, IL
Date: 11/15/2011
Lesson Summary: Students compare and contrast artwork and excerpts from primary source documents that are about the same historical event. While analyzing different interpretations of the past, they explore possible reasons why artists and writers have diverse points of view about the same incident. In the end, students recognize the need to examine multiple sources to construct their own interpretation of a past event.

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What Will Freedom Bring? The Meaning of Emancipation for African Americans Following the Civil War

Grade: 10
Subject: U.S. History
Author: Yvonne Wynn and Jessica Marshall, Alcott High School, Chicago, IL
Date: 11/15/2011

Lesson Summary: This lesson engages students in the topic of freedom and equality in American history by examining and comparing works of art depicting newly freed slaves, one created in 1863 and the other a century later in 1963. Students will discuss the difference between the word freedom and the lived experiences of former slaves in the South during and immediately following the Civil War. The lesson includes a close reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and analysis of primary sources that tell of the challenges of post-emancipation life.

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The Resurrection of Henry Box Brown at Philadelphia and the Uses of Art to Convey Political Messages

Grade: Middle School
Subjects: Language Arts and Social Studies (The Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist Movement)
Author: David W. Harris, The Catherine Cook School, Chicago, IL
Date: 4/6/2012
Lesson Summary: By studying a lithograph and an engraving and reading primary sources, students learn about Henry Box Brown and his incredible escape from slavery in 1849. Students also consider how the depictions of Brown’s escape were used politically.

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Guides for Teaching with Art

Teaching with Works of Art: This resource is intended to help teachers develop questions about works of art and to guide students in examining, analyzing, investigating, and interpreting artworks. It concludes with suggestions for helping students synthesize what they have learned.

View a PDF of the teachers resource

Primary Source Analysis Questions: This guide is designed to help students carefully examine, investigate, and draw conclusions about primary sources—whether text or image.

View a PDF of questions to consider