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Cause of the Civil War? Use a pie chart

It’s a great day.

Today is the first of eight days spent with 41 middle school teachers discussing 19th century American History. It’s all part of the Century of Progress Teaching American History grant project. And it doesn’t get any better. Lots of great history conversations. Lots of learning. Lots of awesome materials and resources.

It’s a three year project with different themes each year. This year’s theme?

Contesting American: 1850 – 1876

We started the morning with a great hook activity that works great for starting a conversation about the causes of the Civil War.

1. Split your class into groups of 2-3.
2. Give each group a page with a large circle drawn on it.
3. Ask them to think about three possible causes of the Civil War – slavery, economics, states rights. Allow them to add any other causes.
4. Ask them to use the large circle to create a pie chart that divides the causes into percentages. So if someone can suggest that the single cause of the war was States Rights, the pie will be 100% the color of States Rights.
5. Have each group share their chart and explain why it looks the way it looks.

My chart?

Why? I wrote a quick post several months ago that explains my position pretty well. I could easily be convinced to eliminate States Rights all together. As award-winning Civil War historian James McPherson asked

States rights for what purpose?

But the cool thing about the activity is that there are lots of ways to argue and lots of opportunity for conversation. The hook, of course, is that kids will want to know the answer. This gives you the opportunity to present your kids with tons of resources and primary documents to help them solve the problem on their own.

Together with Dr. Bruce MacTavish of Washburn, Nathan McAlister, 2010 Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year, presented the activity along with tons of other activities and resources. Find these available for download at the Century of Progress website.

Other great Civil War resources:

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’ve also created an interactive simulation on the Causes of the American Civil War here:
    http://www.activehistory.co.uk/Miscellaneous/menus/Year_9/american_civil_war/game/frameset.htm

    October 11, 2011
  2. leeeeeee #

    This is incorrect. The causes are all based on opinion, therefore you cannot make a pie chart to show the percentages.

    January 14, 2014
    • glennw #

      That’s the cool part about the pie – there is no “right” answer. I’m sure you read further down into the post but I did talk about this a bit:

      “But the cool thing about the activity is that there are lots of ways to argue and lots of opportunity for conversation. The hook, of course, is that kids will want to know the answer. This gives you the opportunity to present your kids with tons of resources and primary documents to help them solve the problem on their own.”

      The goal of the exercise is to not find the “correct” percentages but to encourage conversation, questions, and research. This is what historians do all the time – argue about the past and support their arguments (opinions) with research.

      And that’s why the pie chart works.

      Thanks for the comment!

      glennw

      January 14, 2014

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