Make Your Virginia Studies Civil War Unit Memorable

Welcome back to the next part in our series about teaching Virginia Studies (see the list at the end of this post to find the other Virginia Studies posts in this series). I’m Meghan Vestal from Vestal’s 21st Century Classroom and finding creative ways to teach social studies, particularly Virginia Studies, is my jam! I believe that Virginia Studies lessons should be fun and hands-on so that we can create students who love learning about history.

In this post, you’ll learn some of my favorite strategies and activities for teaching my Virginia Studies Civil War unit. With these activities, your students will not only have fun learning about Virginia’s role in the Civil War, but they will also use critical thinking skills that will help them retain the information for the Virginia Studies SOL test.

Compare the Confederacy and the Union

An important part of any history unit is helping students understand past ideas and what drove people of the past to certain actions. One way I do this during my Virginia Studies Civil War unit is by dividing my class into Confederate states and Union states. Each side must research things such as why their side supported or opposed secession, the states that were a part of their side, and the leadership for their side during the Civil War. Each side also creates a visual presentation with their findings. This is a great research-based activity to help students understand the ideological differences between Americans during the Civil War.

Review Virginia Geography

Virginia experienced some of the most significant changes as a result of the Civil War. The geography of the state looked entirely different when the war ended. During my Virginia Studies Civil War unit, I always have students create foldables to explain why West Virginia became a state and the key differences between the two Virginias. When making these foldables, it is a great time to review what students already know about Virginia geography such as regions, rivers, and other geographical features.

Create a Timeline of Virginia History

One of the things my students tend to struggle with the most when it comes to the Virginia Studies Civil War unit is remembering all the events. As part of SOL VS.7, students are expected to remember a lot of events such as events leading to the war, secession, and major battles. It can be a challenge for students to remember the significance of each event and the order in which they happened.

To help students retain all this information, I have them complete several Virginia history timeline activities throughout the unit. In one activity, students create a timeline foldable. In a center activity, students are given cards with various Civil War events and must sequence the events in the correct order. I also keep timeline cards on hand throughout the unit. At the beginning or the end of a lesson, I will pull out the cards and have the class work together to put the events in order. After the class has sorted the events, I call on different students to explain each event. The key here is repetition. Through the Virginia Studies Civil War unit, students should regularly be sorting and explaining the various events in order to retain the information.

Visit Civil War Battlefields and Historic Sites

Many important events that led to and were part of the Civil War took place in Virginia. That means there are lots of great places to take students for a field trip. Here are a few of my favorites:

Budgets, locations, and time constraints don’t always make it possible to take a field trip. If you’re not able to actually visit one of these sites in person, that’s okay! If you’ve read any of my other Virginia Studies blog posts, you know I am a huge fan of using the Virginia Trekkers videos to take virtual field trips. The Virginia Trekkers are a team that visits historic sites throughout Virginia and creates Virginia Studies SOL-aligned videos for students. Make sure to check out the Virginia Trekkers website. There, you can find lots of videos where the Virginia Trekkers visit Civil War battlefields in Virginia and other important Civil War sites. When taking a virtual field trip, make sure to have students document what they see and learn. I like to have students draw pictures and write a summary about their virtual field trip.

End with Virginia Studies SOL Test Prep

I end all of my Virginia Studies units with SOL test prep and my Virginia Studies Civil War unit is no exception. I use lots of fun Virginia Studies games and activities to help my students review for their unit test and SOL test in fun ways.

My favorite way to review for a Virginia Studies test is with an escape room. Escape rooms require students to use lots of critical thinking skills and students absolutely love them. I made an escape room with seven puzzles and activities to help students review Virginia Studies SOL VS.7. It includes activities such as:
  • assembling puzzles to identify Civil War leaders
  • decoding places on a map of Virginia to review important battles
  • unscrambling information about the Confederacy and the Union
  • solving math problems to identify true and false facts about the Civil War

Task Cards are also a fun way to review for a Virginia Studies Civil War test. I am always looking for new ways to use task cards in my classroom and I recently stumbled upon a “task card parking lot” idea. To create a task card parking lot, put all of the task cards on a table in numerical order. Students go to the table and take one task card back to their seats. After they answer the question on a response worksheet, they return the task card back to the appropriate spot on the task card parking lot. This system for using task cards requires little set up and still gets students up and moving. The task card parking lot strategy is a great strategy to use with these Virginia Studies Civil War task cards.

Finally, you may be in a position where you have a limited amount of time to teach social studies. I worked in one school that only allowed 20 minutes per day for Virginia Studies. With such a short amount of time to teach, it can be difficult to work in a lengthy Virginia SOL review at the end of each unit. If that describes you, try using simple activities such as Civil War crossword puzzles and word searches to review. You do not have to work these into your Virginia Studies teaching time. Instead, you can use them as morning work or homework.


If you are looking for ways to incorporate more fun and critical thinking elements into your Virginia Studies Civil War unit, be sure to try out some of the activities listed above. With these activities, students will be engaged and will retain the information they learn. The activities described in this post can easily be replicated in your classroom, but I know planning time is limited. If you’re short on time, I’ve got you covered! My Virginia Studies Civil War Unit and Virginia Studies Bundle each have all of the activities listed here and LOTS more. My Virginia Studies Civil War Task Cards and Virginia Studies Civil War Escape Room can also help cut down on the amount of time it takes to plan your review activities.

As a lover of American history, I am passionate about helping teachers find ways to make history fun. Here on Virginia is for Teachers, I share some of my favorite Virginia Studies activities and tips. Make sure to check back next month. I plan to share strategies for teaching the Reconstruction of Virginia at that time.

Pin for later.

Until then, be sure to check out these other Virginia Studies and hands-on history blog posts:

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