Looking for Virginia Studies Civil War activities?
The Civil War was one of the most interesting times in Virginia history. Not only was Virginia home to the capital of the Confederacy, but it was the only state to remain permanently separated after the Civil War.
Teaching the Civil War can be challenging as you navigate issues such as slavery and extreme violence. But, there are many activities you can use to help students truly grasp the ideological differences between the North and the South in a way that is both sensitive and engaging.
In this post, you’ll learn some of my favorite strategies and activities for teaching my Virginia Studies Civil War unit. With these lessons, your students will not only have fun learning about Virginia’s role in the Civil War, but they will also use critical thinking skills that will help them comprehend and retain the information for the Virginia Studies SOL test.
Understanding the Confederacy and the Union
Throughout your Virginia Studies Civil War lessons, students need to be able to differentiate between the leaders, states, and ideologies of the Confederacy and the Union. Therefore, I always start my unit by having students research both sides.
Students complete a profile page for both the Confederacy and the Union. Profile pages include:
- the president
- the capital city
- core beliefs
- a description of daily life in the region
Students keep these profiles in an easy-to-access place throughout the Civil War unit so that they can quickly refer to the information at any time.
These profile pages (and most of the Virginia Studies Civil War activities in this post) are included in my Civil War Unit which comes with detailed lesson plans, worksheets, passages, digital activities, and assessments.
Virginia Geography Foldable
Virginia experienced some of the most significant geographic changes as a result of the Civil War. The geography of the state looked entirely different when the war ended.
This foldable is an easy way to help students visualize Virginia’s split into two states during the Civil War. When making this foldable, it is a great time to review what students already know about Virginia geography such as regions, rivers, and other geographical features.
Creating a Timeline of Virginia History
One of the things students tend to struggle with the most when it comes to the Virginia Studies Civil War unit is remembering all the events. Students are expected to remember a lot of things such as events leading to the war, secession, and major battles. Even for adults, it can be challenging to remember the significance of each event and the order in which they happened.
To help students sort and retain all this information, I have them complete several Virginia history timeline activities throughout the unit.
For example, at the start of every Civil War lesson, I use timeline cards with events that students have already learned about. The class works together to sequence the events and put them in order. After the class has sorted the events, I call on different students to explain each event. The key here is repetition. We repeat this activity at the start of every lesson, adding in events that students learned about in the previous lesson as we go.
Other ways to incorporate timeline activities into your lessons include having students make timeline foldables and creating timelines on paper. You can also give students timeline cards to sort in centers.
Visit Civil War Battlefields and Historic Sites
Many important events that led to and were part of the Civil War took place in Virginia. That means there are lots of great places to take students for a field trip. Here are a few of my favorites:
- The American Civil War Museum: This museum, with locations in Appomattox and Richmond, is a great place for students to examine Civil War artifacts and learn more about the Civil War’s key events. The museum also offers Virginia Studies SOL-aligned, in-person and virtual programming for school groups.
- Appomattox Court House National Historic Park: Students can visit the exact location where the Confederacy surrendered, ending the war.
- Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park: This national park features four Civil War battlefields including Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.
- Manassas National Battlefield Park: Students can learn more about the First and Second Battles of Manassas, also known as the Battles of Bull Run.
Budgets, locations, and time constraints don’t always make it possible to take a field trip. If you’re not able to visit one of these sites in person, that’s okay!
If you’ve read any of my other Virginia Studies blog posts, you know I am a huge fan of using the Virginia Trekkers videos to take virtual field trips. The Virginia Trekkers are a team that visits historic sites throughout Virginia and creates Virginia Studies SOL-aligned videos for students.
You can visit the Virginia Trekkers website or their Vimeo site to find all of their videos. When taking a virtual field trip, make sure to have students document what they see and learn. I like to have students draw pictures and write a summary about their virtual field trip.
Virginia Studies Civil War Activities to Review
I end all of my Virginia Studies units with SOL test prep and my Virginia Studies Civil War unit is no exception. I use lots of fun Virginia Studies games and activities to help my students review for their unit test and SOL test in fun ways.
Civil War Escape Room
My favorite way to review for the Virginia Studies Civil War test is with an escape room. Escape rooms require students to use lots of critical thinking skills and students love them.
I made a Civil War Escape Room with seven puzzles and activities to help students review the Virginia Studies SOLs for the Civil War. With this escape room activity, students pretend they are time travelers, going back in time to investigate Virginia’s role in the Civil War. As they are traveling back in time, their time machine malfunctions. The only way to fix the time machine and return home is to complete the challenges.
This escape room includes activities such as:
- assembling puzzles to identify Civil War leaders
- decoding places on a map of Virginia to review important battles
- unscrambling information about the Confederacy and the Union
- solving math problems to identify true and false facts about the Civil War
Virginia Studies Task Cards
Task Cards are also a fun way to review for a Virginia Studies Civil War test. I am always looking for new ways to use task cards in my classroom. Recently, I stumbled upon a “task card parking lot” idea. To create a task card parking lot, put all of the task cards on a table in numerical order. Students go to the table and take one task card back to their seats. After they answer the question on a response worksheet, they return the task card to the appropriate spot on the task card parking lot.
This system for using task cards requires little setup and still gets students up and moving. The task card parking lot activity is a great way to use with these Virginia Studies Civil War task cards. I also have a blog post with more activities and games you can use with task cards. You can find that blog post HERE.
Virginia Studies Review Puzzles
Finally, you may be in a position where you have a limited amount of time to teach social studies. I once worked in one school that only allowed 20 minutes per day for Virginia Studies. With such a short amount of time to teach, it can be difficult to work in a lengthy Virginia SOL review at the end of each unit.
If that describes you, try using simple activities such as Civil War crossword puzzles and word searches to review. You do not have to work these into your Virginia Studies teaching time. Instead, you can use them for morning work or homework.
Where to Find Virginia Studies Civil War Resources
If you are looking for ways to incorporate more fun and critical thinking elements into your Virginia Studies Civil War unit, be sure to try out some of the activities listed above.
The activities described in this post can easily be replicated in your classroom, but I know planning time is limited. If you’re short on time, I’ve got you covered!
My Virginia Studies: Civil War Unit includes:
- detailed lesson plans
- digital activities
- passages with comprehension questions
I hope you and your students both enjoy these activities! Until next time, happy teaching!
Here at Vestal’s 21st Century Classroom, we love helping Virginia teachers find high-quality, SOL-aligned resources. You can check out the Virginia teachers page here on the blog or join the waitlist for the Virginia Teacher Club to stay up to date with our latest SOL-aligned resources, news, and tips.