Life at War: Inquiry Middle School Lesson Plan

This image depicts two portraits of Union soldiers posing in their uniforms.

Grades: Middle School

Approximate Length of Time: 2.5 hours

Goal: Students will be able to discuss the life of soldiers during the American Civil War.


  1. Students will be able to complete a graphic organizer, finding key information within primary and secondary sources.
  2. Students will be able to address a question about a historic event, providing evidence from primary and secondary sources.

Common Core:

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

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

NCSS Standards for Social Studies:

2—Time, Continuity, and Change
3—People, Places, and Environment
5—Individuals, Groups, and Institutions


This is an inquiry lesson where students will do research to answer the main, inquiry question about the life for soldiers during the American Civil War. Students will develop a hypothesis, search for evidence in multiple primary and secondary sources, and complete a graphic organizer. Through this process students will develop a strong answer to the inquiry question posed at the beginning.

Inquiry Question:

What was the American Civil War for those who were the “boots on the ground?”


  • Vocabulary page
  • Life at War PowerPoint, includes videos
  • Documents Packet
  • National Archives Document Analysis Form (5 copies for each student)
  • Graphic Organizer
  • Highlighters
  • Final Essay


  1. Hand out the Final Essay, students should be able to refer to this throughout the lesson. It’s what they are researching!
  2. Have students begin with a hypothesis to answer the inquiry question.
  3. Hand out the Vocabulary page.
  4. Go through the Life at War PowerPoint with the class or have them do it independently. This PowerPoint is a secondary source and students should be encouraged to use it as part of their research in answering their inquiry question. If students do the PowerPoint alone, be sure they view the PowerPoint in editing view so they can see the notes.
  5. Students will then read through the Document Packet, filling out the Graphic Organizer and National Archives Analysis form as they progress.


Students will answer the inquiry question either orally or in essay form.

They should use evidence from their primary and secondary sources. They can use the documents, their notes, the Power Point, videos and their graphic organizer. Students can do additional research to bolster their argument.

Recommended Collections for Letters and Diaries:

Michigan State University -

University of Washington -

University Notre Dame -

University of Virginia Library, Valley of the Shadow -

Students can share their responses with the class.

Assessment in this Lesson:

  1. A completed graphic organizer
  2. Completed National Archives Analysis forms
  3. Notes taken on graphic organizer, documents, or other notes sheets
  4. A complete answer to the inquiry question with quotes from the provided documents and other sources.