Reconstruction Era Activities

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Learning about the Reconstruction Era gives students an important opportunity to understand racial history in the United States. This lesson offers activities that bring the Reconstruction Era into sharper focus.

Studying Reconstruction

The Reconstruction Era is usually thought of as the part of United States history that occurred following the Civil War. Often, this comes with a particular focus on the reshaping of Southern life and politics between 1863 and 1877 as was mandated by Congress. It was a time when the United States was working to define itself as a unified country and also to work toward full emancipation and equality for newly-freed African Americans.

If your students are learning about Reconstruction, it's a good idea to work on making them as engaged as possible in your instruction. It can help to use activities that let them take ownership of their learning and work from a variety of learning styles and strengths. The activities in this lesson will help your students think deeply and critically about the Reconstruction Era.

Visual Activities

Here, you will find activities that meet the needs of learners who benefit from working with images and graphic organizers.

Reconstruction Political Cartoons

As students learn about history, they are likely to have several encounters with the phenomenon of the political cartoon. After your students have seen political cartoons from a few different historical times or even from current events, they will be ready to try their hand at creating them.

Let students work in small groups or partnerships to create political cartoons that they think might have existed during Reconstruction. They can try to get at a few different perspectives, such as that of people supporting Reconstruction efforts, people opposing the efforts, and newly-freed slaves. Then, have a cartoon gallery where students can view and comment on each other's work.

North, South, Before, After

The Reconstruction Era had different effects on people in the North and the South of the United States, both in terms of politics and in terms of daily life.

Ask your students to work with partners to complete two Venn diagrams. One should compare and contrast life in the North and South prior to Reconstruction, and the other should compare and contrast life in the North and South after Reconstruction. These diagrams will show what Reconstruction did and did not accomplish in terms of unifying these regions of the nation.

Kinesthetic Activities

This section offers activities that help students use their hands and bodies in support of their learning.

Mime an Amendment

Break your students into three groups and assign each group one of the Reconstruction Amendments: the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments of the Constitution. Ask the groups to read the amendments carefully and familiarize themselves with their meaning.

Then, each group is responsible for preparing a mime or dance performance that enacts the meaning behind the amendment they are responsible for. Students can get creative in their representation but should focus on communicating the constitutional import at hand. Finally, host a performance so that students can watch each other's creations.

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