Disunion 1860: Traditional Middle School Lesson Plan

Photograph of John Brown

Grades: Middle School

Approximate Length of Time: Approximately 70 min. (not including the final essay)

Goal:  Students will be able to identify and discuss events that contributed to the outbreak of
the American Civil War.


  1. Students will be able to compare the economies of the Northern and Southern states.
  2. Students will be able to chronologically organize and summarize major events contributing to the outbreak of the American Civil War.
  3. Students will be able to discuss compromises attempted prior to the Civil War.

Common Core:

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

NCSS Standards for Social Studies:

2—Time, Continuity, and Change
3—People, Places, and Environment
5—Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
6—Power, Authority, and Governance
10—Civic, Ideals, and Practices


  1. Entrance Pass
  2. “An Overview of the American Civil War”
  3. Disunion Timeline Information Cards
  4. Disunion Timeline Worksheet
  5. Culture and Economies Chart
  6. Culture and Economies Worksheet
  7. Essay

Anticipatory Set/Hook:

  1. Hand out the Entrance Pass and define “Civil War.”
  2. Read the first three paragraphs of James McPherson’s “An Overview of the American Civil War” together as a class.
  3. As a large group complete the entrance pass.


Activity 1


  1. View the Westward Expansion map.
  2. Have your students read the Missouri Compromise article. 

Activity 2


  1. Hand out the Disunion Timeline Information Cards. Read over the events and discuss as a group.
  2. Hand out the Disunion Timeline Worksheet. Have students work in pairs to complete the worksheet.
  3. Watch The War Between the States In4 until the 2:19 mark.
  4. Watch Kansas in the Civil War until the 1:00 mark.

Activity 3

  1. Hand out the Culture and Economies Charts; review the information with your students.  Explain that while we cannot identify what every single person thought or did at the time, these charts (created from the 1860 census) help us create a snapshot of what the country was like.
  2. Hand out the Culture and Economies Worksheet, and have students complete independently.

Activity 4

  1. Watch The Coming of the War In4.
  2. Watch the 1861 Animated Map until the 3:48 mark. 


Discuss and begin the Essay. 

Note: Students may want to or need to do extra research on the compromises they choose. The original documents can be found on Battlefields.org and summaries are available from other institutions and nonprofits such as the National Archives, the Library of Congress, Universities (UVA, Virginia Tech, and Gettysburg College), and the National Park Service to name a few. Please see the end of this document for more articles for students and teachers.

Assessment in this Lesson:

  1. Informal assessment through class discussion related to the Disunion Timeline Information Cards
  2. Completed Disunion Timeline Worksheet
  3. Completed Culture and Economies Worksheet
  4. Essay


These resources can help you prepare for teaching this unit and can also help students with their essays and their understanding of the subject matter.

  1. Glossary of 18th and 19th Century Political Terms
  2. Glossary of Civil War Terms
  3. National Archives Document Analysis Worksheets
  4. Trigger Events of the American Civil War
  5. Slavery and Other Domestic Challenges of Westward Expansion
  6. The Nullification Crisis
  7. The Wilmot Proviso
  8. Bleeding Kansas
  9. The Caning of Charles Sumner
  10. The Lincoln-Douglas Debate
  11. John Brown’s War
  12. Primary Document Collection

Virginia Center for Digital History (For Virginia SOL’s, but useful for other states.)