A few weeks ago I was trying to work out how to liven up the teaching session on the Civil War for my first year undergraduates.  I decided to check out Emma Kennedy’s really useful teaching and learning advent calendar for ideas, as it was me that suggested that she could source teaching ideas for it from an appeal on Twitter in the first place.

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Now, several of the teaching strategies are things that I use routinely, like ‘Get Students Talking First’, or at least fairly regularly, like ‘Use Visual Art as a Way Into a Period of History’. Furthermore, as the course is not mine in the first place, the work itself and the questions to be discussed are set by the course leader.  But I wanted to do something a bit different with the week’s material and I did manage to find a couple of ideas.  I have reproduced their work here with their permission.

The session objective was to understand the causes of the civil war and some different interpretations of it, so I started with an art activity.  I asked the students to work individually to draw a picture which represented their understanding of the causes of the civil war.


Next, they were to discuss their drawings in groups of four and come up with a composite drawing, which they were then to transfer to the white board using different coloured markers.

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A spokesperson from each group was then asked to explain their drawing to the rest of the class.

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Next, I used my slideshow of images of Charles I, carrying on the artistic theme of the evening, before we moved over to a discussion of why Barbara Donegan’s interpretation of the civil war in the set reading for the week was different to the other interpretations that they were familiar with.  We looked at the difference between the rules for foreign war and civil war, and talked abotu various civil war atrocities. I gave the groups different examples to work on an asked the other group to identify what specifically was outrageous about each event.  This led us on to discussing breach of contract.

Returning to the theme of imagery, we looked at the images from various civil war pamphlets and talked about how they might have affected their audience.  Finally, I asked each individual to write in big letters on a piece of paper the one or two words which for them summed up the difference between the first and second civil wars. They folded them in half, swapped them randomly among each other and then read them to me. I wrote them up on another whiteboard and we looked at which themes dominated those words.

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All in all, it was a very successful evening, as it stimulated a lot of informed discussion while taking the pressure off individuals to answer questions.  It combined individual, group and whole class work and used a variety of techniques to get the students talking, both to me and to each other.