Meeting the Common Core Standards on a Battlefield

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There is no greater place to learn about the Civil War than on one of its many battlefields. While not in the traditional classroom settings, our nation’s preserved battlefields still present opportunities to fulfill the Common Core Anchor Standards in a number of categories. 


Providing students with a journal prompt related to the events of the battlefield can be really helpful in allowing the students to flesh out the details of the battle while on the battlefield. The topics can touch specific engagements at the battlefield, central figures of the battle, or a question on the battlefield itself. A good prompt, which can be given at any of our nation’s battlefields, is “why is preservation important?”  As the students stand in the battlefield, they will be able to use the environment to support their argument. 

This activity fulfills the Common Core Anchor Standards 1, 2, 3, 4, 9 for Historical Writing and General Writing.

STudents at Gettysburg
Civil War Trust's Teacher-in-residence, Jim Percoco, carries out an on-site lesson plan at the 20th Maine monument.


Artillery Exercise 

The reading standards for literacy in Science and Technical Subjects can also be carried out on a battlefield. By setting students up in the positions of field artillery and providing them with artillery distances information, the students can follow a procedure to identify the correct elevation of the cannon in order to hit the target, calculating for distance and weight of the shot. Working in batteries, the students will record what they believe to be the correct elevation angle. The teacher will have the correct answer for each scenario, if the students achieve the correct angle it will be marked as a successful hit on the opponents. This activity will resemble the popular board game BattleShip®.

This activity fulfills Common Core anchor standards 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9 for reading in science and technical studies. 

With accurate artillery markers, such as this cannon, artillery lesson plans are easy to implement on a Civil War battlefield.


Interpreting Primary Sources

The Civil War has no shortage of excellent primary sources that tells the story of the war from the point of view of those that fought. The reading common core standards can easily be satisfied by having the students read through primary sources from the battle, in places such as Battles and Leaders or the Official Officer Reports. Using these texts, you can break the students up into organizational units (companies, regiments, brigades) and have them use the text to place themselves on the field. After they have placed themselves they can proceed to act on the instructions from the text, and follow the same orders the soldiers at the same location. 

Another great tool to use on the battlefield is one of the many battlefield apps that the Civil War Trust has created. The applications come with guide tours of the battlefield, orders of battles, and field vision which will allow students to identify land marks to assist them in their interpretation of the battlefield.  

This activity fulfills common core anchor standards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 for reading.

battle app
A group of students show using Civil War Trust's battle apps on Devil's Den at Gettysburg.


Letter Writing Activity

This is a simple writing exercise in which the students will write a letter to a family member from the point of view of a soldier. The students will take extra care to describe in detail the environment of the battlefield. 

This activity fulfills Common Core Standards 3, 4, 5 for history writing.


Civil War Speeches

Student speech
A student giving a speech on a Civil War battlefield.

The Civil War was fought by great thinkers and orators, visiting a battlefield presents an incredible and unique opportunity to allow students to channel some of the Civil Wars greatest thinkers and speakers. By adopting the point of view of central figures of the Civil War and provide speeches from their point of view, the students will gain a better understanding of these central figures of the Civil War in a fun and creative way. 

This activity fulfills Common Core Standards 1, 3, 4, and 6 for speaking and listening.


Commanding Officer Exercise

For this interactive activity, the students will be broken up into two groups, commanding officers and soldiers. Using primary sources such as Battles and Leaders and official officer reports, the commanding officers will write down their orders to the troops. The troops will then carry out the orders to meet the objective of the particular battle. 

This activity fulfills Common Core Standards 1, 2, 3, 4 for history writing and 1, 4, 6, 8 for history reading.