Lesson Plan - Pre-1861: Disunion
Civil War
Lesson Plan

Pre-1860: Disunion

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A Civil War Curriculum Lesson

Grades: High School

Approximate Length of Time: 50 minutes

Goal:  Students will be able to assess and explain the causes of the American Civil War.


  1. Using primary and secondary sources, students will be able to analyze events, motivations, conditions and actions leading up to the Civil War.
  2. Using primary and secondary sources, students will be able to identify and give examples of major compromises that permitted or restricted slavery in relation to territorial expansion.
  3. Students will be able to compare and contrast the cultures and economies of the Northern and Southern states.


Download the lesson plan, along with the following materials and PowerPoint, at the bottom of this page.

  • National Expansion Map
  • Compromise Scenario Cards
  • Compromise Notes Sheet
  • Comparing the North and South
  • Disunion PowerPoint

Anticipatory Set/Hook:

Discuss with students the causes of war.  How can disagreements be settled so that they do not lead to war?  Briefly review and comment on suggestions.  Add “compromise” if not suggested during brainstorming, and have students define the term before asking students to identify the benefits and drawbacks of compromise and provide examples of compromises that they have made.  What might happen if a compromise doesn’t work or people change their mind?

Explain that in the 1800s the United States was growing from the original 13 colonies and adding new states and territories.  Citizens had varying ideas about how the land should be settled, either with free labor (define, if necessary) or with slave labor.  They needed to compromise.


  1. Print out the PowerPoint with notes prior to class. There are notes included with the slides that can be on the printed slides, but won’t be seen by your students during the presentation.
  2. Print out one copy of the Compromise Scenario Cards, cut them out, and place them in a hat.  You will use these during the PowerPoint presentation.

Activity 1

  1. Hand out the National Expansion Map, have students follow the directions and answer the question.
  2. Hand out the Compromise Notes Sheet and Comparing the North and South.
  3. Explain that throughout the PowerPoint presentation scenarios will be read and discussed; after each scenario they will:
    1. fill out the Compromise Notes Sheet, noting the person in each scenario’s particular interests.
    2. use Comparing the North and South as a reference to help them develop their answers.
  4. Follow the Disunion PowerPoint and associates notes throughout the lesson.


  1. Print out one or more copies of the Compromise Scenario Cards so that there is a card for each of your students.  Cut these out and place them in a hat.
  2. Have students pick out a Scenario Card from the hat. In their journal or on a blank sheet of paper, have your students complete the following:
    1. Identify your state and persona.
    2. Discuss whether your persona would agree or disagree that the compromises solved the issues of territorial expansion and slavery. Why or why not?

Assessment in this Lesson:

  • Informal assessment through discussions related to the personas and the compromises
  • Completed Compromise Sheet
  • Completed final essay on persona’s opinion of the compromises that took place prior to the war.