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

Pre-1860: Disunion

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A Civil War Curriculum Lesson

Grades:  Middle School

Approximate Length of Time: Approximately 50 minutes

Goal:  Students will be able to identify and discuss the causes of the American Civil War.


  1. Students will be able to compare the cultures and economies of the Northern and Southern states.
  2. After reviewing portions of the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Declaration of Causes of the Seceding States, students will be able to discuss and summarize the documents’ main points.
  3. Students will be able to discuss the actions of John Brown at Harpers Ferry and reactions toward the event.


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

  • Entrance Pass
  • “An Overview of the American Civil War”
  • Disunion Timeline Information Cards
  • Disunion Timeline Worksheet
  • Disunion Timeline Worksheet Teacher Version
  • John Brown PowerPoint
  • John Brown Discussion Questions
  • Culture and Economies Chart
  • Culture and Economies Worksheet
  • Culture and Economies Worksheet Teacher Version

Anticipatory Set/Hook:

  1. Hand out the Entrance Pass, and on the Entrance Pass have the students define the term “Civil War.”
  2. Read the first three paragraphs of James McPherson’s “An Overview of the American Civil War” together as a class.


Activity 1

  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.

Activity 2

  1. Print out a copy of the John Brown PowerPoint  presentation with notes for yourself and the students before giving the presentation. The notes will show up in editing mode and on this print-out but will not be seen during the presentation.
  2. Hand out the John Brown PowerPoint printout with notes to each student
  3. As a class view the John Brown PowerPoint presentation. 
  4. Hand students copies of the John Brown Discussion Questions. Have students write their answers and then discuss as a class.

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.


Discuss: What was tearing this country apart? Do you think the situation had to end in war? Had all other options to solve the disagreements been tried? 

Assessment in this Lesson:

  • Informal assessment through class discussion related to the Disunion Timeline Information Cards
  • Completed Disunion Timeline Worksheet
  • Informal assessment during John Brown discussion questions
  • Completed Culture and Economies Worksheet