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Lincoln: Through the Lens - Lesson Plan

Page history last edited by Steph Nyberg 13 years ago

The Story in a Civil War Photo


Objectives of Lesson/Learner Objective


You will show critical thinking skills and knowledge of Civil War events by creating a story behind a Civil War Era photograph through a student centered lesson utilizing media literacy and primary sources.  Essential question: What is a picture worth?



Minnesota Social Studies Standard -

Grades 4-8

I. U.S. History

F. Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850s-1870s

(1) Students will know and understand the roles of significant figures and battles of the Civil War Era and analyze their significance, including Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Harriet Tubman and Battle of Gettysburg. 


National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) Ten Themes -

II. Time, Continuity, and Change


Anticipatory Set/Motivation/Snappy Launch 



Photography was a relatively new technology in the 1800’s and because of this the Civil War was the first war that was extensively photographed.  As seen in the book, Lincoln: Through the Lens, a story can be told using photographs.  Photographs capture an event as it is happening.  This new technology was able to tell a story better then the best writers of the time.  This led to the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.”




You are employed by the government to sort and classify old photos of the Civil War.  You are to take photos and file them away in the correct folder.  As you work on the stack of photos from the Civil War, you begin to daydream as you stare out the window.  As you are looking out the window, a gust of wind blows the description/story behind the photograph in your hand out the window.  You will most certainly lose your job if anyone finds out.  It is up to you to analyze the photograph and write a paragraph about it to replace what you have lost.




Select a photograph

Select a photograph from the Civil War era from one of the sources listed below to analyze and write a paragraph about it.  Make sure that the photograph contains Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis.  This photo will be the photo that you lost the description for in the scenario above.  Make sure to include the photograph in your final project by making a copy of your photograph or inserting it into your document. 


Analyze the Photograph

Watch the PowerPoint/slide presentation based on the book Lincoln: Through the Lens to get a feel for how a picture can tell a story in history.  Then analyze the photograph that you have chosen.  Use the Analysis Form to help form the framework of your analysis and subsequent description.  The four  main things to consider when analyzing your photo are:

  • What do you see?
  • How does the photograph make you feel?
  • What do you know from looking at the photograph? 
  • What can you conclude?


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Slides with Notes (.pdf)



After deciding on a photo to use for the assignment take one day/class period for research and analysis and bring your rough draft to the next class.  The next day/class, pair up with a partner to complete a peer review using the form provided.  Use this opportunity to help your peer make his/her paragraph better.  Then revise your paper using the suggestions that you recieve.   


Peer Evaluation

Complete your final draft using the remainder of the class period and as a take home assignment and bring it back to class with you with the photo attached to the writing.  Format your project by having the photograph on page one with an appropriate citation then follow with your paragraph description of your photo.  Exchange projects with the peers in your immediage area (if time permits allow the students to read every student's projects).  Using the form provided, reflect on your peers' writings.  This is your chance to be the teacher and be critical of your peers' projects.





Lincoln: Through the Lens

Author: Martin W. Sandler

Pages: 97

Grade Level: 5th


Civil War (Eyewitness Books)

Author: John Stanchak

Pages: 64

Grade Level: 5th


Eyewitness to the Civil War

Author: Kagon Hyslop

            Pages: 416

            Grade Level: 6th



Search engine for photos - http://images.google.com

Civil War photos online - http://www.civilwarphotos.net

National Archive Civil War Photo Site - http://www.archives.gov/research/civil-war/photos/

Library of Congress Civil War Photo Site - http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/cwphtml/cwphome.html

Center for Civil War Photography - http://www.civilwarphotography.org/olexhibits.html



  1. Peer Review Form
  2. Peer Final Assessment Form





There are several components that make up your grade for this project.  You will be graded on the following criteria: 



Photograph Analysis

         10 pts


         10 pts

     Content (5 pts)


     Grammar and Punctuation (5 pts)


Peer participation (Review and Evaluation)

         5 pts


25 pts


Lincoln: Through the Lens (The Book Page)




Comments (1)

Karen Schulte said

at 5:08 pm on Oct 18, 2008

I really liked how you worded your task! What a fun way to engage students in the assignment!

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