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Lesson Plan

Battlefield Preservation

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A Guided Understanding of Civil War Battlefield Preservation

Grades: 6-8

Approximate Length of Time: Approximately 3 days

Goal: Students will recognize, through the use of visual, audio and written materials, that works of art in numerous forms can be memorials to the dead.


  1. Students will identify through group discussion and writing short accounts the techniques artists use, such as imagery, characterization, voice, etc. in creating their works.
  2. Students will write a persuasive essay for or against the preservation of Civil War battlefields.


Download the lesson plan, along with the following materials, at the bottom of this page.

  • Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18”
  • “Penelope’s Song” by Loreena McKennitt (from the CD An Ancient Muse)
  • Sullivan Ballou letter
  • “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion (from the CD Titanic Soundtrack)
  • “Wake Me Up When September Ends” music video by Green Day (available online)
  • “The Ghost of You” music video My Chemical Romance (available online)
  • “In Flanders Field” by John McCrae
  • “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln
  • Large sheet of paper taped to the wall labeled “Types of Memorials”
  • White drawing paper, enough for all students
  • Colored pencils, crayons, markers
  • Large sheet of white paper for each student group of three
  • Venn diagram hand-out
  • Questions for Green Day video handout or copy them on your board
  • Persuasive essay chart – make a handout with the blank chart on two sides
  • Handout of compilation of opinions regarding Civil War battlefield preservation from the Internet

Anticipatory Set/Hook:

What do you consider to be a memorial?  Can memorials come in forms other than statues or monument?  Can you think of a modern memorial?  Can modern music or literature be considered a memorial?  Can you think of any modern music that may be a “memorial”?


Day One (Lessons were created for 90 minute blocks):

Attach a large piece of paper somewhere to the wall.  Label it “Types of Memorials.”  As the students discover these in the lesson, write them on the paper.  At the end of the lesson, ask them to name any other types of memorials of which they can think; those will probably be the more traditional types that usually come to mind.

Activity 1

  1. Setting the Purpose: Freewrite (10 minutes)—Individual
    Write for ten minutes:  How do you hope to be remembered by people who meet you?  How would you feel if you were forgotten by everyone, especially after you left this earth?  What would you like them to do to make sure they remember you?

Activity 2

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day.” (30 minutes)—Groups of Seven

Pre-discussion: This poem is written for a beautiful lady.  If she were real, she would have lived over 400 year ago.  We’re going to read the poem, looking for the ways he says she’s beautiful and how he has kept her memory alive for all these years.  Why would anyone want to keep the memory of another person alive for 400 years? 

  1. Divide the poem as follows.  Copy the whole sonnet at the bottom of the handout so they can see it in its entirety and copy/paste the lines for which the students are responsible at the top of the handout:
    • Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
    • Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, / And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
    • Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, / And oft’ is his gold complexion dimm’d;
    • And every fair from fair sometime declines, / By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d
    • But thy eternal Summer shall not fade / Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
    • Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade, / When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
    • So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, / So long lives, and this gives life to thee.
  2. Divide the class into seven groups and give each group one set of lines to “translate” into modern language. 
  3. Point out where to find the dictionaries before beginning. 
  4. Either on the board or on a large sheet of paper, draw horizontal lines to divide the area into seven sections.  Tell the groups that they will need to go to the board and fill in their “translation” as they finish and agree it is complete. 
  5. When the board is filled, read over the translations.  If any are incorrect, work as a class to correct them.

How beautiful did the poet think this woman was? If you were being described, would you be happy with this sonnet?  How does he say he will make her immortal?  Did he succeed?

A poem is one form of art.  Can you think of other works of art that we create to preserve the memory of those who are gone? (Add to the memorial list.)

Activity 3

“Penelope’s Song” by Loreena McKennitt: (30 minutes)—Groups of Three

  1. This time, divide students into groups of three. 
  2. Distribute a piece of white paper to each group and set out colored pencils, markers, and/or crayons.
  3. Say, "I am now going to play a song written by Loreena McKennitt, which was inspired by The Odyssey.  The Odyssey was written between 1200-800 B.C., possibly by a poet named Homer.  It is the story of Odysseus, King of Ithaca, who has gone for ten years, fighting in the Trojan War.  On his way home after the war, he angers the god of the sea, Poseidon, and Poseidon makes him wander for ten more years before he reaches home.  His wife Penelope and his son Telemachus have been waiting at home for him all this time, not sure if he is alive or dead.  He’s been gone so long that many men have been pushing Penelope to marry them so they can have Odysseus’ riches and his crown, but she loves Odysseus and hopes he will return to her.  Loreena McKennitt wrote the song as if Penelope were sending it out to Odysseus, wherever he is."
  4. "As you listen, I want you to pick out mental pictures she is trying to create in your mind.  Before starting, let’s remind ourselves: what is a simile and a metaphor?  Why do writers use imagery and figurative language in their writing?  Listening to this song, close your eyes and see what mental pictures she created in your head."
  5. Play the song once, with their eyes closed and listening.   Then instruct them to begin.  Play the song at least two more times as they work.  If you have an area for posting student work, allow them to post their work when finished.

Activity 4

The Sullivan Ballou letter (20 minutes)—Whole Class divided into three
**If you find you are running short at the end of this section, tell students they will present the imagery at the beginning of the next class.

  1. Pre-discussion: How did Penelope feel about Odysseus in the song we heard?  How did she keep his memory alive?  What kind of worries did she have about him?
  2. How do you think Odysseus felt as a soldier fighting?  What were his worries?  What kind of concerns and worries do all soldiers have?
  3. We are now going to look at a letter written by a soldier, Sullivan Ballou.  He was on the Northern side in the Civil War.  First Manassas was the first major battle fought in the Civil War.  As he camped near Manassas and knowing a battle would occur soon, he wanted to write a letter to his wife to tell her his feelings.  This letter was very important to him, because he knew all soldiers take a chance on dying when they go into battle, so this letter might be his last chance to tell her how he felt.
  4. Distribute a copy of the Sullivan Ballou letter.  Read it through once as they follow along.  Then, say: Sullivan was killed in battle one week after he wrote this letter.  How do you think his wife felt?  Would she have kept this letter or thrown it away?  Why?  Is a letter a work of art?
  5. Divide the students into three groups.  The first group will take the section down to my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.  The second group will take to How gladly would I was out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness…The third group will take the rest of the letter.
  6. Working as a group, find the imagery in the letter.  Discuss why it is effective.  You have ten minutes.  At the end of that time, be prepared to tell the rest of the class how Ballou uses imagery to make a stronger letter and how you would have felt if you were Sarah reading that letter.

Day Two:

*Give students five minutes to review what they were to present to the class before they begin if you did not finish yesterday. (15 minutes)

Activity 1

“My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion (15 minutes)—Individual

Keep the letter in front of you.  I am going to play a song from the movie Titanic.  You may have heard it in that context before.  As you listen to it this time, I want you to pretend it is Sarah speaking about Sullivan after she discovers he was killed at Manassas.  What memorial did he create for himself?  What memorial will she now make for him? 

I want you to listen once to the song with that in mind, and then I will play it again and you will freewrite your thoughts.  You can either write in first or third person.  That means you may either do your freewrite as Sarah Ballou speaking or you can be yourself speaking about the song.  You can put this freewrite on the same paper as the one we used at the beginning of the lesson yesterday.

Activity 2

“Wake Me Up When September Ends” by Green Day-music video (10 minutes)—Individual

In which war was America involved at the moment this song was written?  We haven’t seen a lot of art based on this war yet.  Sometimes, art doesn’t appear until people have had time to distance themselves from the war.

One group that has made an exception is the rock group Green Day.  The lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong wrote “Wake Me Up When September Ends” because his father died in September when Billie Joe was young.  What kind of memorial did Billie Joe create for his father?

When it came time to make the music video, the group took their ideas in another direction.  They made a video about a young couple who will be affected by the Iraq War.  As you watch the video, some questions you will need to understand the video are:

  • Why does the boy enlist?
  • Why is the girl so upset?
  • How does the war affect them?
  • What kind of images stay in your mind after the video ends?
  • What kind of memorial did Green Day create to the soldiers and their families?

Activity 3

“The Ghost of You” by My Chemical Romance - music video (20 minutes)—Groups of Two

In the next video, the band My Chemical romance is supposed to be performing at a USO dance before they are sent into the Normandy landing during World War II.  What is the USO?  Why was Normandy important?  How many of you have seen Saving Private Ryan?  Is that movie a type of memorial?  As you watch the video, you will notice the similarity between the music video and the movie Saving Private Ryan’s opening sequence of the invasion of Normandy.  Keep your eyes on the member of the band who wears glasses; he is the main character of the video.

Divide into groups of two and distribute a Venn Diagram.  As they work, you may want to play the videos again without sound.

Activity 4

“In Flanders Field” (15 minutes)—Individual

Before reading the poem, explain that Dr. John McCrae wrote this poem after witnessing the death of a friend from battle during World War I.  He sat in an ambulance nearby and wrote it.  The poem was published in Punch magazine in 1915 and immediately became very popular.  Some students may not be familiar with poppies or that flowers can be used as symbols, so project an image of a poppy from the Internet before they begin.  Say, This flower is a poppy.  It is the source of opium, which can ease pain and cause sleep and forgetfulness.  Why would a poet want to use a poppy as an image for a fallen soldier?  Is the poppy itself a memorial?  Read the poem together as a class, then tell them to re-read and decorate the border of the poem with the images.

Activity 5

“The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln (30 minutes)—Whole Class

  1. Distribute the chart (based on the Toulmin model) for writing persuasive essays (see below).  Tell them they will be using the copy on the back as an outline when they write persuasive essays.
  2. Read the Address together, breaking it down for meaning. 
  3. Fill out the chart to see how Lincoln persuades—or if he does. 
  4. Collect the charts to hand out again tomorrow so they can use the back. 
  5. Next, ask: what kind of emotional appeal does he make in the address?  How does he use repetition?  What words or phrases does he choose to use to describe the dead soldiers?  What effects do those choices have? What kind of memorial is Lincoln in town to dedicate when he gave this address?  What other kind of memorial did he create with this piece of writing?  Why haven’t we forgotten what happened at Gettysburg?
  6. Return to the paper on the wall on which you have been listing types of memorials.  Ask students if there are any others that they would like to add.

Day Three:

Writing the Essay—Whole Class/Groups of Four/Individual

For the first two days, your class has been exploring a variety of ways that the living preserve the memory of the dead.  That introduction has paved the way for students to consider if preserving land on which Civil War battles were fought are appropriate memorials to the dead.

  1. Say: You know we have been working with the history class as you studied the Civil War to look at how warfare affects soldiers and families.  Today, we’re going to ask ourselves: should we preserve the land on which Civil War battles took place? (On the board, write: Yes/No).  Let’s brainstorm some reasons we should and reasons we shouldn’t.  You will want to write these down in your writer’s notebook because we will be working on a persuasive essay on the topic.
  2. Pass out opinion clips from the Internet articles. 
  3. Divide the class into groups of four.
  4. Read the opinions gathered from the Internet and add reasons for and against in your columns as you read.
  5. Redistribute the chart for writing persuasive essays that we used with Lincoln’s “Address.”  Another copy of the chart is on the back.  Students will need to decide:  are you for or against preserving Civil War battlefields as memorials?  You may be against it; that will not affect your grade.  Before you begin writing, in your groups, discuss the topic.  First, discuss it as if everyone in the group were in favor of it.  Write down any good arguments you come up with.  Then, discuss it as if everyone on the group were against it.  Write down good reasons for that side. 
  6. When your group is finished, begin to fill out your individual charts with your own opinion.  This step will be the first in writing your essay.
  7. Give students the rest of the block to work on the rough draft as you circulate among them and offer advice.  Continue the writing and revising of the essay as you normally do in your own classroom.


Do you think that poems, songs, music videos, etc can be considered memorials to the dead?  Do you think that creating memorials through numerous artistic ways is useful? 


  • Students will successfully work in groups to discuss whether or not works of art are memorials. 
  • Students will write a persuasive essay that will express whether or not they support battlefield preservation.

Modification Ideas:

  • Choose different songs or works of writing.
  • Have students draw to express their feelings instead of writing.