To honor the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg we are providing a lesson on using Civil War Era newspapers. Newspapers and weekly magazines or journals were the main method people stayed informed in the Civil war era.
Civil War Newspaper Activity
Overview: In this activity, students first review typical newspapers from the Civil War era from online resources. After the review, students will work in groups to create newspaper “front pages” where they will interpret the event as the lead story, as well as other relevant information.
Method: Begin the lesson by discussing the impact of newspaper page layout, headlines, etc. on relating the story to the public. If the teacher has access to actual front pages from historic events, such as the Kennedy assassination, moon landing, Nixon resignation, or September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, they may wish to display those so students can view how newspapers conveyed that news.
Next, ask students (either individually or in groups) to review newspaper archives of the Civil War era. Some examples of online archives include:
The “Valley of the Shadow” Civil War Newspaper Archive (http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/xml_docs/valley_news/html/opening.html)
Harpers’ Weekly Civil War Newspaper Archive (http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/xml_docs/valley_news/html/opening.html)
United States Civil War Center Journalism links
If the teacher has alternative sources or bound copies of newspaper reproductions, they may elect to substitute those instead of the examples listed here.
After students have had sufficient time to view representative newspapers and stories of Civil War events, have the students construct hypothetical front pages of fictitious newspapers. These newspapers should be representative of the “typical” newspaper of that era. The “lead” story of the paper should be an event, battle, or campaign described in the presentation, but other information should be included as well, gathered from student research of Civil War era newspapers and stories, as well as other research about the date(s) they have selected.
Events and information students may wish to include in their “front pages”:
Other news events of that date/period
Advertisements and products for sale
Sports (if any)
Pictures/engravings of persons or events
Any other information the students/teacher feels appropriate
Once the information is gathered, students can use poster board for the pages. (The teacher may desire to have students provide a “dummy sheet” layout of the page prior to page construction for a preliminary evaluation.) Dependent on the time allotted for the activity, the teacher may also wish for students to “typeset” stories in word processing software, then pasting the printed output onto the poster board. Students may either print pictures or engravings for the stories from existing web sites, scan them from books, or if students are artistically inclined, may wish to draw pictures of the event or persons involved.
As an alternative assignment, if publishing software (such as Microsoft Publisher) is available, the teacher may elect to have students develop their front pages through the software rather than poster board. These can be printed, or made in to web pages.
Assessment: The teacher will want to evaluate the finished product according to his/her own criteria and grading scale. However, some suggested criteria for evaluation include:
• Historic accuracy
• Spelling and grammar
• Artistic merit (particularly if students draw their own illustrations or pictures)
For more resources on teaching this era, check out our:
US History PowerPoints:
1. Causes of the Civil War
2. The Civil War
Classroom History games:
1. CRITICAL DECISIONS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN 1860-1862
2. CRITICAL DECISIONS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN 1862-1865
3. CAUSES OF THE CIVIL WAR GAME