Learning from the Source: Primary Source Perspectives of the Civil War


Primary sources can  help students grasp the reality and impact of historical events. This project connects students to people, events and daily life during the Civil War by having them report on selected topics using primary sources to research and illustrate their learning.

To complete this project, students will . . .

  • familiarize themselves with key Civil War events and people.
  • gain an understanding and appreciation of the perspectives of the North and the South during the Civil War.
  • learn and practice how to write news and feature articles.
  • learn and practice how to analyze primary sources and use the primary source evidence in writing.
  • synthesize learning by creating a Civil War newspaper.

Objectives Upon completing this project, students will be able to . . .

  • explain the northern and southern points of view towards the war.
  • identify key Civil War battles and people.
  • describe the daily life of a Civil War soldier.
  • analyze primary source documents.
  • write in newspaper and feature article form.
  • utilize technology during research and product creation.

This project meets the following Common Core English Language Arts Standards for grades 5-12.

Reading Standards for Informational Text: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies (6–12): 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10

Writing Standards: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Speaking and Listening Standard: 1


Project preparation: Students will need background knowledge of the Civil War, including familiarity with  geographic boundaries and points of view of the North and the South; a good understanding of primary sources and primary source analysis; and an understanding of the format and function of newspaper writing, particularly news and feature articles.

Prepare materials for implementation: Each student will need access to the Internet to conduct research.

Be flexible with implementation: Consider including students of mixed-ability levels on each newspaper staff; select a subsection of resources based on student readiness level; modify rubrics as needed.

Allow for sufficient time to implement: You will need approximately four 40-minute sessions plus time for independent and group work to complete the project.


Project Links

Civil War overview

Civil War timeline

The South during the Civil War

The North during the Civil War

Background information & primary sources

Analyzing Primary Sources

Project Documents

Point of view lesson (.pdf)

Analyzing a primary source worksheet (.doc | .pdf)

Primary source analysis tool (.pdf)

Primary source analysis rubric (.doc | .pdf)

Newspaper writing lessons (.pdf)

Newspaper article assignments (.doc | .pdf)

Newspaper article checklist (.pdf)

News article rubric (.doc | .pdf)

Feature article rubric (.doc | .pdf)

Newspaper design rubric (.doc | .pdf)

Session 1: Point of View
  1. Complete the point of view lesson with students.
  2. Connect this idea to your study of the Civil War through the eyes of a Union sympathizer and the eyes of a Confederate sympathizer.
Session 2: Introducing Primary Source Documents
  1. Model analyzing primary source documents with an image not used in this project (see Selected Civil War Photographs) using the analyzing a primary source worksheet or select questions from the analyzing primary Sources question banks and use the primary source analysis tool.
  2. Monitor and assist, as needed, while students work in pairs to analyze another image.
  3. Direct students to share their discoveries in small groups, assessing their work using the primary source analysis rubric.
Session 3: Newspaper Writing – News & Feature Articles
  1. As a class, read a news article of a current event and identify the main components (who, what, where, when, why, and how), paying attention to inverted pyramid style. If needed, have students repeat the activity as homework.
  2. As a class, read a feature article and discuss how it differs from a hard news story.
  3. For more ideas on reinforcing this understanding with students, review the newspaper writing lessons online resources.
Session 4: Beginning the Project
  1. Divide students into groups of four. (You may choose to group by ability or mixed-ability, but it is recommended that students do not choose their own groups.) When forming groups, think about the perspective (Northern or Southern) the students will assume. For students in Illinois, a Southern perspective will usually be more challenging. A straight news story is typically more challenging to write than a feature story.
  2. Walk students through the project, noting where task instructions and background information & primary sources are located.
  3. Review how students will construct their newspapers—offline or using software or online tools (Google Docs templates, Word® templates, PowerPoint® templates,  Thinkfinity Priniting Press, more digital newspaper creation tools)
  4. Review the sample project and the project rubrics with students.