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The Civil War. A Film by Ken Burns
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What Teachers Are Saying

Actually I designed and put together a book called Art and the Blues. It is an arts-based unit that begins from Reconstruction and works its way to the present day creating art based on the era. The blues developed as an art form around the same time as the Civil War, so the unit links art to what the students are learning in social studies.
One lesson talks about political art. I have the students read the Jim Crow laws and create protest posters. We also were in the midst of creating an anti-hate quilt (quilts are popular in African American folk art-- many slaves sewed for their mistresses and had swatches of fabric scraps to use for creating folk art) when September 11th came and suddenly the quilt seemed more relevant than ever. We donated the quilt to the International House of Blues in Cambridge. A culmination of my year with 8th grade is taking the entire year to the House of Blues for a look at the folk art there as well as a live blues performance.

Barbara Marder
National Board Certified Art Teacher
John F. Kennedy School
Somerville, Massachusetts


We use "The Civil War" laser disk set in class. Another teacher and I wrote a second by second database for the disks. The students can type in a query and it searches the database. Matches to the query appear on the screen and the students can click on the match they want to see. If the proper disk is in the player, it will play the segment, if not the player will eject the disk and the computer will prompt for the correct disk. This becomes an independent workstation. As teachers we can choose specific segments to show in class.

Jim Sturm
Wydown Middle School
Clayton, Missouri


Yes, I have used "The Civil War" series several times in our English (American Lit) and American History classes; we usually show video both hours to speed the process. We begin by letting the history teacher background the Civil War---and I try to reach the abolitionist writers in American Lit (with luck, Walt Whitman) before we start video viewing. We show film for 40 minutes, stop, write in daily journals in response to what we viewed, heard and learned--whether it be the bloodletting of a Gettysburg, the irony of Shiloh, the terrible victory or defeat of Vicksburg and so forth.
The history teacher has used the Q&A material PBS has provided for each segment. I focus on the letter writing, diaries, and commentary of not-so-ordinary folk who commented throughout. The success or failure of the project usually hangs on the extent to which the history teacher preps classes--they sometimes have trouble with North/South generals, strategies, etc. I have posted maps, too, and bought a copy of the companion volume for our little school library.

Mary B. Schwindt, English instructor
Pawnee Heights High School
Rozel, Kansas


I teach US history to fifth graders at Middle Years Alternative for the Humanities. I found the scenes telling the story of the prelude to the Civil War very useful and also, the scenes depicting the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address. Many of my students notice the connection between the famous photos and paintings in their history books and their use in the documentary.

Joan Daniels
M.Y.A. School
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


I am a homeschool mom and used Ken Burns’s "The Civil War" for American History this past year. Although my son, who just completed 9th grade, has been very interested in 20th century history since he was seven, he never had an interest in this era--until after seeing the Burns film.
We watched the film over several weeks. He also referenced a map book of Civil War battles, read several fictional accounts, watched several movies and read chapters from an American History textbook. The Burns film caught his attention and made him develop an interest to know more. He just ordered a set of books on the Civil War.
I don’t have any real new methods, but thought you might want to know that homeschoolers can use this film as a major source.

Nancy A. Bekofske
Lansing, Michigan



For the past two years I have assigned the viewing of "The Universe of Battle:1863" Episode Five of Ken Burns’s "The Civil War" film series, with the reading of the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This is the centerpiece of a unit called A House Divided: Slavery and the Civil War.

Objective: Students will read a variety of literary pieces to recognize distinctive and shared characteristics of cultures and to connect literature to historical contexts, current events, and their own experiences.
1. Read "Coming of Age in Mississippi" by Anne Moody (civil disobedience to combat enslavement).
2. Read excerpt from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass (horrors of slavery).
3. Compare/contrast the subject, purpose, tone, and style of the two pieces, showing the irony involved in the 100-year separation between the two pieces.
4. Read "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce (divided loyalties of North and South).
5. Read "The Gettysburg Address" (aftermath of turning point battle of Civil War).
6. Read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Log passages that provide sensory details of the heat, hunger, tiredness; subjective feelings/values of the fighting men, and key facts of the battle.
7. View the correlating parts of "The Universe of Battle: 1863" as days of the battle are completed. Compare/contrast the emphasis on sensory details, subjective feelings, and facts with those in the novel.
8. Read the memories of a teenage girl Tillie Pierce about the Civil War. Compare/contrast the point of view with that of The Killer Angels.

Doris Repko
Creekview High School
Carrollton, Texas


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