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Civil War
Lesson Plan

Jeremiah Handley

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2nd Place, Best Lesson Plan Contest 2011-2012

Grade Level: Middle School

Approximate Length of Time: Four, 45-minute periods

Goal: Students will understand choices someone close to their age in 1861 might have faced during the American Civil War.


  1. Students will apply historical knowledge to the condition of a hypothetical individual, demonstrating understanding through creative writing.
  2. Students will engage in goal-oriented primary source analysis to accomplish an individualized creative task.

Materials Used:

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

  • Primary Source materials (linked below)
  • Primary Source analysis sheets (linked below)
  • "Jeremiah Handley's Story" (included with lesson plan) for each student 
  • "Interview with Jeremiah" response sheet for each student 

Anticipatory Set:

Pages 1-3 of the original story of fictional character, Jeremiah Handley. Activate prior knowledge of events and issues of the early Civil War and build student ownership in leading up to the first choice to be made.


  1. 1. Have students read a selection of the primary source materials provided below and discuss as a class or in groups.
  2. 2. While reading selected documents and viewing images, students can fill out these analysis forms.
    • Written document analysis sheet
    • Photo analysis sheet 
  3. Have students read Jeremiah's story, making choices as to how his life will play out until reaching an "ending" on one of the last eight pages (11-18). 
    • Depending on where students are in terms of background knowledge, a read aloud and discussion of pages 1-3 can be a good beginning to the lesson. 
    • In making the choices, small groups can get together and make the initial decisions or each individual can take time to explore the story. 
    • If students read individually, they can then join a partner or a small group and come to a consensus on the "ending" the group will reach.  Alternatively, groups can be assigned based on the choices individuals made.
  4. At the end of the story (pages 11-18), students will answer the questions that are provided.  They will use their knowledge from the primary sources and the events of their chosen path of Jeremiah to address these questions
  5. Have students complete the "Interview with Jeremiah" response.
    • Students should imagine themselves in the role of interviewer and interviewee, writing responses as Jeremiah. 
    • All four questions give opportunities to include learning from the primary source analysis in step two and question four is designed to specifically focus students' attention on the issues left open on the "ending" page they reached.


Sharing responses among students can be confusing if everyone is not familiar with all of the possible endings.  One remedy is to close with a survey of what choices were made and what endings were reached.  With some explanation, students can then concentrate on sharing what was most informative to them when analyzing the primary sources.  Some groups may decide to record the interview responses as a performance as well.


The two areas of assessment are participation as a group member according to expectations and evidence of primary source research included in the written interview responses.