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Lesson Plan The Civil War Through a Child's Eye


The Civil War through a Child's Eye lesson focuses on the use of historical fiction and primary sources to expand students' perceptions of the Civil War era. Literature and photographic images reflect, communicate, and influence human perspectives of historical events. Specifically, the unit helps students to view the Civil War era through a child’s eye, rather than from an adult perspective.

Following an introduction to the Civil War using photographic and non-fiction sources, students read Paul Fleischman’s Bull Run in Readers Theater format. Next, students examine and interpret primary source images of Civil War era children. Then, students reveal their understanding of a child’s perspective in a literary portrait. This lesson integrates reading, writing, and US history standards.


Students will:

  • differentiate between primary and secondary source materials as they explore perspectives of the Civil War;
  • understand multiple perspectives of the Civil War through the use of historical fiction;
  • analyze and interpret images from the American Memory collections;
  • make inferences about how children were affected by the Civil War; and
  • create a literary portrait that conveys a child’s perspective of the Civil War era.

One week

Lesson Preparation



Lesson Procedure

Activity One - Readers Theater

  1. Provide students with a preview of Paul Fleischman’s Bull Run.
  2. Establish Readers Theater protocol.
  3. Introduce characters from Bull Run and assign roles to the students.
  4. Read Bull Run using Readers Theater.
  5. Discuss characterization.

Activity Two - Library of Congress Online Collections

  1. Direct Students to the gallery of images.
  2. Allow students to select an image of a child to examine and characterize in the next activity.

Activity Three - Photo Analysis

  1. Direct students to locate the photograph or daguerreotype of a child that was selected from the gallery of Images of Children from the Civil War Era.
  2. Students analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.

Activity Four - Literary Portrait

  1. Explain that the purpose of the literary portrait is to reveal a child's perspective of the Civil War era. Stress the importance of using their responses to the primary source analysis tool to compose a literary portrait of their character. Emphasize that the literary portrait needs to match the student-selected image and the importance of vivid word choice when describing the character.
  2. Have students write the literary portrait (first person characterization) of the selected image. Encourage students to identify the character’s physical attributes, age, personality, and other traits that were observed or inferred from the photo analysis.
  3. Have students share their literary portraits in the Readers Theater format.
  4. After sharing the literary portraits as Readers Theater, provide opportunities for students to revise and polish the portraits for publication in print or digital form. The student selected photograph or daguerreotype needs to accompany the final draft of the literary portrait.


Visual Literacy

  1. Look at photographs and daguerreotypes as primary source materials.
  2. Introduce format for analyzing photographs.
  3. Conduct a whole class activity of analyzing photographs.
  4. Working in pairs, students analyze selected photographs using the Primary Source Analysis Tool.
  5. Debrief results of analyses with entire class.
  6. Based on the results, student pairs write a caption for their selected photograph.
  7. Students share their selected photographs and captions in a gallery walk.

Lesson Evaluation

Evaluation will be based on:

  1. Teacher observation of activities.
  2. Use of the Primary Source Analysis Tool.


Micki M. Caskey and Paul Gregorio


We are going to use historical fiction and primary source images from the Library of Congress to explore a child’s perception of the Civil War era. Throughout the project, our focus will be examining history from a child’s point of view, rather than from an adult perspective.

At the conclusion of this project, you will be able to:

  • use primary and secondary source materials to explore perspectives of the Civil War;
  • read historical fiction as an introduction to multiple perspectives of the Civil War;
  • interpret and analyze photographic images from the digital collections;
  • form conclusions about how children were affected by the Civil War; and
  • create a literary portrait that conveys a child’s perspective of the Civil War era.


  1. View the gallery of images, which uses photographs, daguerreotypes, and facts to learn about the boys who participated in the Civil War.
  2. Read and rehearse your assigned part in Bull Run. Participate in the class reading of Bull Run as Readers Theater.
  3. Next, explore the Civil War era photographs and daguerreotypes from the Library of Congress digital collections.
  4. Work as historians to carefully examine and analyze the photographic image you selected. As you work, complete the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Remember to describe the physical attributes, age, and other traits that you observe or infer from the photographic image. Your teacher may have additional questions to focus your analysis.
  5. Read the criteria supplied by your teacher. Using your detailed responses on the Primary Source Analysis Guide, write a literary portrait of your selected child. Remember that the literary portrait needs to be written from the point of view of the child. Get ready to share your literary portrait with the class as Readers Theater.