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The Civil War: Where English, History, And Mystery Converge
I looked around to see where I could take my students, building bridges from my English curriculum while still teaching those important reading and writing skills. My history minor and a wonderfully cooperative American Studies teacher, Rob Wellen, inspired me to begin with the Civil War.
Rob and I wanted to build the mystery, help students get outside the classroom and suspend disbelief. Our first task was to connect them with actual Civil War documents. The Internet is filled with excellent primary source material on this era, including original letters, photographs, detailed descriptions of troop movements, and death records. How could we give our students an authentic learning Omega Replica Watches experience with all this original material? In my research, I found Ken Burns' PBS Civil War site and a lesson plan (Schur) that I thought would work: students writing letters from one side of the war to the other. They research the era, read and analyze 19th-century letters, write a biography for a Civil War character, and then, as that character, exchange letters with another character. In the prepared lesson plan, all of this was to take place tidily in the classroom.
Rob and I wanted to push the students' imaginations beyond the classroom walls. One way to do that would be to help them create memorable fictional characters. Rob and I sat around one giddy day, conferring in the cafeteria, making up names for Civil War characters. He offered Jefferson Q. Slaughter IV, a plantation owner from Mississippi. I countered with Charity Taggart, a farmwife from Wisconsin. We included the names of our best friends, locations we loved, important places and backwaters. In addition to the obvious Tennessee, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, we placed our characters throughout the country, adding many ethnicities and professions. Sarah Arnold is a free black laundress in Delaware. Martin L. White is a chaplain from Pennsylvania. Maria Chavez runs a ranch in New Mexico. We divide our classes, half Southern and half Northern.
At that point, the students draw names out of a hat. Boys stay boys and girls stay girls, but be-yond that, choices are completely random. We ask them to keep their names a secret and then go to the library so they can write a story for their characters. Our librarian, Barb Etchingham, has learned far more than she ever wanted to know about 19th-century German immigrant Boston shoemakers and young St. Louis shop owners. She guides the students on their journey around the library Omega Replica stacks and the Internet. They wrinkle up their noses and ask, "What's a milliner?" They all want to send their women to college and have their men wear sabers. They ask unusual questions, "Could I be a spy?" "Would I wear this dress?" And my favorite, "Could I have an affair?"
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