Turning Point 1863: Inquiry Middle School Lesson Plan

Grades: Middle School

Approximate Length of Time: 3 hours (Time includes writing the final essay.)

Goal: Students will be able to argue how certain events in 1863 changed the trajectory of the 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 to support their answer 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.

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

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.


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 inquiry question about a major turning point in 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:

Why is July 1863 considered a major turning point of the American Civil War?


  • Vocabulary
  • Primary Source Documents Packet
  • Secondary Source Documents Packet
  • Graphic Organizer
  • National Archives Document Analysis Form (4 copies for each student)
  • Final Essay
  • Highlighters


Part I

  1. Hand out the Vocabulary and Graphic Organizer.
  2. Have students begin with a hypothesis to answer the inquiry question.

Part II

  1. Hand out the Secondary and Primary Source document packets.
  2. For the Primary Source Packet, students will need to do an Analysis form for each document; therefore, be sure to provide at least 4 copies of the form to each student.
  3. Begin with the first secondary source, the video titled “The Entire Civil War Animated Map” starting at minute 11:03. There are two videos the students will need to watch as they go through the Secondary Source packet; either have the videos cued up at the front or give students access through computers or devices.
  4. After students watch the first video they can go through the packets as they wish.


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, and their graphic organizers. Students can do additional research to bolster their argument.

Students can share their responses with the class.

Assessment in this Lesson:

  1. A completed graphic organizer
  2. Notes taken on graphic organizer, documents, or other notes sheets
  3. A complete answer to the inquiry question with quotes from the provided documents