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.
Why? I wrote a quick post several months ago that explains my position. 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 history is about evidence and what story the evidence tells us. Is there new evidence to support a different pie chart? I could be just as easily convinced to recreate my pie to look completely different.
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 lots of other activities and resources. Find these available for download at the Century of Progress website.
And the beauty of the pie chart is that it works for any historical event or conversation. Causes of the Great Depression? World War Two? The growth of the middle class? Immigration? Supreme Court cases? Which government branch is most important? Yup.
Other great Civil War resources:
- EDSITEment put together close to 50 sites in a variety of categories.
- The Valley of the Shadow is an incredible digital archive of primary sources that document the lives of people in Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, during the era of the American Civil War.
- This Duke University site documents the diaries and papers of three Civil War Era women along with some nice teaching resources.
- The PBS Ken Burns Civil War site has some fantastic teaching activities.
- Created by educators for educators, plans at the Civil War Trust include all the needed materials and resources free for you to use in your classroom.
- TeachingHistory has some awesome lesson plans.
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