View Full Version : School Presentation

Graves Mercantile
02-15-2006, 06:57 PM
I have recently been asked to make a school presentation to my local middle school. Normally I would have searched the archives for answers to my questions, but that is not quite available......

I don't really know where to begin.... Any suggestions for what material to cover and how to pull it off? This is likely to be a one man show and maybe 20 minutes? Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

02-15-2006, 07:09 PM
Find out what the teacher is been discussing, and go from there.
Leave yourself time to answer questions.

If the teacher has covered the basics, then you could do a talk on the common soldier. What life was like on a day to day basis, and go over the uniform,accouterments, etc.

02-15-2006, 08:11 PM
OK, you've got to scope out your audience first. I did one for my son's 8th grade class several years ago, which turned into doing 3 more classes. Two went pat the bell and two I had to tap dance. It depends on the student's interest. Take your uniform, an, if approved by the school, take your gun(s) and be prepared for a lot of questions.

02-15-2006, 09:49 PM
Try to talk to the teacher beforehand and see what part of the war they are studying. Do your presentation based on this period and discuss the life of a common soldier. If you can find some lesser known but interesting fact abot the period, it would be a great attention getter.

One presentation I did was on the Confederate National Flags (something most text books don't discuss). You wouldn't believe how many students thought the Bonnie Blue was a navy flag and the 1st National was an early US flag. Of course the battle flag, 2nd and 3rd nationals were readily identified although some thought the 2nd and 3rd were the flags of surrender. I used the discussion of the flags and their significance in battle to lead the discussion into the life of a soldier.

02-15-2006, 09:51 PM
First, take into consideration the age of your audience; middle schoolers. They're more sophisticated than elementarly schoolers, but but less so than high schoolers. They can handle some things above the basics, but not on strategy and tactics, subtlies, etc.

For a 20 minute time period, you can leave about half for questions, but be sure to have additional information in case they don't ask. You can pretty much take up the time discussing only gear and food; you'll be surprised how fast it can go by.

The fact that more men died in the CW than in all other USA wars combined works well. You can even divide the class into parts to simulate the percentages between killed, captured and wounded.

Also good to mention something about the ladies' role in the period, and that there were indeed a small number of women that fought.

The absolute most important thing to do is to make it interesting. Avoid "lecture mode" at that age. Draw them in and move through the room, engaging one on one occasionally, especially towards someone who looks bored.

Don't forget to have fun. Talk about things that interest you, and they'll pick up on that.

Curt-Heinrich Schmidt
02-15-2006, 09:54 PM

Aside from "tailoring" the talk to the age and "sophistication" of the audience... (hands-on "pass arounds" are great, and for 4-5th graders they really get a bang out of "drawers" and "hardtack...")

I would first strongly suggest, if not already done, checking out the local and state laws where you live concerning the bringing of "dangerous" things like guns and knives onto school property.

In the post Columbine World, in this state, it is a felony to bring even our Rev War or CW "muskets" and bayonets onto school property without the expressed written permission of the school board (individual school principals or teachers do not count).
While it is likely "nothing" would come of it, all it would take is an "anti gun" or overly concerned or panicked parent sitting in their car with a cell phone to call the police, SWAT team, etc... as you were going in.

Curt-Heinrich Schmidt

02-16-2006, 10:39 AM
“Why did they stand so close?” it seems to be asked by every history class I have taught. Granted it takes sometime to explain Napoleonic tactics and accuracy of 18th – 19th century arms. One of the kids (high schoolers) favorite things is to get into two ranks and see what it would be like if your unit takes 15-30-50% casualties. It gives them a greater appreciation for the actual losses involved in a single battle. What is cooler still is I had my AP class assume a personality of a CW soldier. They had to write a biography about their parents, siblings, life at home, sweethearts, then we did the demo of forming two ranks and taking 50% casualties. Amazing how so many “toughened” high school kids become attached to that created personality. This is a great lesson for AP-Special Ed. It promotes group involvement, which is a requirement in Ky classrooms.

Now can you do that in twenty minutes, no. But they will be as interested as the speaker is. Best bet is a haversack talk. Put stuff in it that would be there. FOOD! When kids see a lump of salt pork, or better, a green lump of salt beef, they start to see it a bit more personal. Some good, hard, hardtack, maybe some green coffee beans, some desiccated veggies, and a canteen half. Throw in corn meal for hard tack for the Rebs in the crowd. By the time you finish talking about food, or the lack there of, and its preparation, you will be 10-15minutes into your talk. Take the questions at the end. If things get a bit slow and you have time at the end, start talking about your accouterments. Weapons are generally ok here in Ky, but you need to get in touch with the Principal and SRO of the school. I have seen fully functioning Garands, Carbines, and 1911’s in demos for WWII. The SRO did a weapons check to insure they were clear. Sharp, pointy objects are best kept on your person and not passed around. I would advise against popping any musket caps (or pistol). The risk of a spark or piece flying off and hitting someone is not one to take. Show up in uniform, and be ready for, “don’t it get hot in all them clothes”.

02-16-2006, 05:37 PM
One of the most annoying things that can possibly happen that I've seen when reenactors give school talks is the overwhelming amount of reenactorisms and myths that they spout as truths. Stuff like "all you needed to be in the army was two opposing teeth and fingers," and "they always marched in, shoulder-to-shoulder, because you were a coward if you took cover," followed closely by parroting the dreaded Shelby Foote "the technology was far ahead of the tactics" quote, and so forth.

When I do a school presentation, I want my listeners to come away with respect for the soldiers who fought the war, I don't want them to go away thinking "boy, people were stupid back then." On the contrary, I like to draw attention to the fact that the light infanty drill was being introduced, and that it was quite sensible considering the technology. Soldiers entering the battlefield at the run, fighting as skirmishers, being trained how to load and fire while prone, the soldier being able to control his own rate of fire, etc., are things I like to emphasize. I've also heard "the bayonet was almost never used as a weapon" dished out all too often. Harrison Jeffords and Charles Gould would disagree with that. Talk about the bayonet and its use not only as a physical and psychological weapon, but the use of bayonet exercise as a method of conditioning the troops to think for themselves and become confident in their self-defense ability.

Also, hit a few diaries and pull out some cool human interest stories. There are millions of them. Stuff that puts a REAL face on the Civil War, and emphasizes that history is not just great and famous decision-makers, that it's also the 16-year-old kid who gets killed hundreds of miles from his home, that history is each and every one of your audience, too. If they leave your presentation with this in mind, even if they don't come away remembering what a cap pouch is, then you'll have done a valuable service.

02-16-2006, 06:48 PM
One thing that I like to do with my extra gear is get a volunteer from the audience, and you you explain the different parts of the gear help the volunteer to put it on.the students seem to enjoy it and it helps draw their attention.
Another thing I like to do,altough you might not have enough time, is to form the students up and teach them a little of the drill from the manual.

bob 125th nysvi
02-16-2006, 10:05 PM
Again age group is important but I tend to stay away from what the teacher is covering, you'll already be covering a topic the teacher has in mind and what you say may conflict with what they say putting the students in a quandry.

A full pack is usually a pretty good prop. Walk into the class ask the kids to stand up put it on the first student so they can feel the weight. Ask that student to put the pack on the next kid and so on. Mention that this was virtually everything the soldier had with him and he carried it upto 20 miles each day.

Bring a couple of pieces of clothing (hats, sack coats, etc.) pass them around and ask the kids to try them on. Hold up a pair of drawers, you'd be surprised about how fascinating the kids find them.

Find out how many kids are in the class and bring a piece of hardtack for each. Explain how much of a soldiers diet was made up of the biscuits. Talk about what a soldier ate, wait till you see the faces the kids make.

Talk about what the area the school is in was like during the civil war. For example the kids living in metro Atlanta have a hard time imagining that their school stands on what used to be farmland and that a soldier who lived on the land would have been a farmer and maybe never been more than 25 miles from home before he joined the army.

Tell them what an average day was like in a soldiers life. Camp work drill the games he played.

If asked about how many men were killed, emphasize how many died of disease verses combat.

Say something and then ask aquestion. See where the kids lead you.

We do a day at a local middle school where we setup a company street, chaplin and sanitary commision tents. We have a food demonstartion and lay out everything a soldier would carry in his pack and haversack. We let them hand a musket and handle nullets. We run them through a drill and actually have them charge a line fo soldiers shoulder to shoulder.

Interestingly the girls pay more attention and ask better questions than the boys.

Good Luck

Bob Sandusky
Co C 125th NYSVI
Esperance, NY

02-17-2006, 01:20 PM
In the past I have done presentations for Boy Scout groups. Unable to decide what was most important to discuss in the limited time available - and consequently their level of interest - I used an old method. I started with this very original idea, "Do you have any questions for me?"

At first only one kid will put his hand up, but usually it will be a good question. That segways very nicely into other questions. Check your timepiece - best if it s a wall clock! - because your time will expire before you know it.

This is best - in my opinion - because (1) it makes it easier for you to decide what to cover, (2) reminds you how informed you better be going in, (3) you cover those things they want to know about, and lastly (4) keeps all the kids involved.

Being a history teacher (US and AP US) in high school I can attest this is how any good teacher approaches his/her lessons (with varying detail in item 3 of course).

Have fun with it. I've read several other posts discussing sharing food, etc... You should check with the teacher first concerning any food allergies some of the kids may have. Also, check with the teacher prior to the presentation anyway. They may allow you to rearrange the desks to a format favorable to your presentation style.

Hope it's helpful. I also hope your presentation goes well. Please let us know how it turned out, thanks.

02-17-2006, 01:47 PM
I would utterly AVOID talking solely about the clothing and guns. It is BORING as heck for kids to sit there and hear some guy drone on about where a soldier got his shirt and jacket! ****, most reenactors don't care to talk only about their jacket (unless you are a certain type of reenactor, then that is ALL you want to talk about... EVER).

I start out with about 10 minutes of the three major causes of the war- Slavery, tariff, states rights

Then I go to what would happen when a young man joins the army - this encompasses the clothing, equipage, health, etc. of the soldier

Then I talk about what happened in a battle- wounds and medicine, battles

Then I talk about the number of casualties and some things that happened after the war- rid of slavery, made us a consolidated nation, began to give women more civil rights

Then I show them how they loaded (and fired if it is an outdoors talk) a musket

Then I take questions

02-17-2006, 03:12 PM
If talking to high schoolers then the political business can be discussed, however middle and elementary schoolers find that boring. You may want to take a few items along to hold their attention- such as relics or repro stuff. Bullets, personal items, gun if allowed, etc. If you are going to take uniforms, hopefully its not the "skinner row" stuff as we all know most of that stuff is historically incorrect. You being a sutler type know what I'm talking about.
Here in E. Ky I have found most of these kids think the War was fought in Tn and Va. They are very excited to learn that history happened in their own backyard. You may want to talk about that since you only have 20 min.
good luck,

02-23-2006, 10:25 AM
Sir (and all)

Below are the Virginia State Standards of Learning for US History - Civil War and the causes.

If doing a school presentation for that age-group it's GOOD to hit on as many of these as possible.


Issues Dividing the Nation

The student will demonstrate knowledge of the causes, major events, and effects of the Civil War by
a) describing the cultural, economic, and constitutional issues that divided the nation.
How did cultural, economical, and constitutional issues create bitter divisions between the North and the South?

Cultural, economic, and constitutional differences between the North and the South eventually resulted in the Civil War.

Issues that divided the nation

Slavery Cultural Economic Constitutional
• While there were several differences between the North and the South, the issues related to slavery increasingly divided the nation and led to the Civil War. • The North was mainly an urban society in which people held jobs.
• The South was primarily an agricultural society in which people lived in small villages and on farms and plantations.
• Because of their cultural differences, people of the North and South found it difficult to agree on social and political issues. • The North was a manufacturing region, and its people favored tariffs that protected factory owners and workers from foreign competition.
• Southerners opposed tariffs that would cause prices of manufactured goods to increase. Planters were also concerned that England might stop buying cotton from the South if tariffs were added. • A major conflict was states’ rights versus strong central government.

States' Rights and Slavery

The student will demonstrate knowledge of the causes, major events, and effects of the Civil War by
b) explaining how the issues of states’ rights and slavery increased sectional tensions.
How did the issues of states’ rights and slavery increase sectional tension between the North and South?

The South feared that the North would take control of Congress, and Southerners began to proclaim states’ rights as a means of self-protection.

The North believed that the nation was a union and could not be divided. While the Civil War did not begin as a war to abolish slavery, issues surrounding slavery deeply divided the nation.

Issues that divided the nation Compromises attempting to resolve differences Southern Secession
• An important issue separating the country related to the power of the Federal government. Southerners believed that they had the power to declare any national law illegal. Northerners believed that the national government’s power was supreme over that of the states.

• Southerners felt that the abolition of slavery would destroy their region’s economy. Northerners believed that slavery should be abolished for moral reasons. • Missouri Compromise (1820): Missouri was a slave state; Maine, a free state.
• Compromise of l850: California was a free state. Southwest territories would decide about slavery.
• Kansas-Nebraska Act: People decided the slavery issue (“popular sovereignty”).
Lincoln and many Northerners believed that the United States was one nation that could not be separated or divided. Most Southerners believed that states had freely created and joined the union and could freely leave it.

Following Lincoln’s election, the southern states seceded from the Union. Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter, in South Carolina, marking the beginning of the Civil War.

Civil War Leaders

The student will demonstrate knowledge of the causes, major events, and effects of the Civil War by
d) describing the roles of Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Frederick Douglass in events leading to and during the war.
Who are considered leaders of the Civil War?

How did Lincoln’s view of the nature of the Union differ from Lee’s?
• Abraham Lincoln
– Was President of the United States
– Opposed the spread of slavery
– Issued the Emancipation Proclamation
– Determined to preserve the Union—by force if necessary
– Believed the United States was one nation, not a collection of independent states
– Wrote the Gettysburg Address that said the Civil War was to preserve a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” • Robert E. Lee
– Was leader of the Army of Northern Virginia
– Was offered command of the Union forces at the beginning of the war but chose not to fight against Virginia
– Opposed secession, but did not believe the union should be held together by force
– Urged Southerners to accept defeat at the end of the war and reunite as Americans when some wanted to fight on.
• Ulysses S. Grant
– Was general of the Union army that defeated Lee

• Frederick Douglass
– Was a former slave who escaped to the North and became an abolitionist • Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson
– Was a skilled Confederate general from Virginia
• Jefferson Davis
– Was president of the Confederate States of America

Major Civil War Battles

The student will demonstrate knowledge of the causes, major events, and effects of the Civil War by
e) using maps to explain critical developments in the war, including major battles.
Where did critical events of the Civil War take place?

Where were the major battles fought?
What are the ways location and topography influenced important developments in the war, including major battles?

Major battles and events
• The firing on Fort Sumter, S.C., began the war.
• The first Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) was the first major battle.
• The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation made “freeing the slaves” the new focus of the war. Many freed slaves joined the Union army.
• The Battle of Vicksburg divided the South; the North controlled the Mississippi River.
• The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the war; the North repelled Lee’s invasion.
• Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House in 1865 ended the war. Influence of location and topography on critical developments in the war
• The Union blockade of southern ports (e.g., Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans)
• Control of the Mississippi River (e.g., Vicksburg)
• Battle locations influenced by the struggle to capture capital cities (e.g., Richmond; Washington, D.C.)
• Control of the high ground (e.g., Gettysburg)

Civil War Perspectives
(white & black soldiers on both sides, women, slaves)

The student will demonstrate knowledge of the causes, major events, and effects of the Civil War by
f) describing the effects of war from the perspectives of Union and Confederate soldiers (including black soldiers), women, and slaves.
What hardships were experienced during the Civil War?

How did the Civil War change the lives of soldiers, women, and slaves?

Life on the battlefield and on the home front was extremely harsh. Many died from disease and exposure.

General effects of the war
• Families and friends were often pitted against one another.
• Southern troops became increasingly younger and more poorly equipped and clothed.
• Much of the South was devastated at the end of the war (e.g., burning of Atlanta and Richmond).
• Disease was a major killer.
• Clara Barton, a Civil War nurse, created the American Red Cross.
• Combat was brutal and often man-to-man.
• Women were left to run businesses in the North and farms and plantations in the South.
• The collapse of the Confederacy made Confederate money worthless.
Effects of the war on African Americans
• African Americans fought in both the Confederate and Union armies.
• The Confederacy often used slaves as naval crew members and soldiers.
• The Union moved to enlist African American sailors early in the war.
• African American soldiers were paid less than white soldiers.
• African American soldiers were discriminated against and served in segregated units under the command of white officers.
• Robert Smalls, a sailor and later a Union naval captain, was highly honored for his feats of bravery and heroism. He became a Congressman after the Civil War.

02-23-2006, 11:41 AM
Excellent stuff. Thanks! I'll use it to improve my rambling middle school presentation (well it WAS organized in 1998....).

Sad to think how many Americans couldn't get most of this right.....and how many ACW reenactors couldn't get this stuff right.

RJ Samp

02-23-2006, 05:46 PM
I would avoid it too. Why would you assume because I open it up for questions that would be the only topic discussed? Give the kids and presenter some credit. A skilled teacher can take a kid's question and engineer the following question to hit on other topics.

The big problem with coming into a classroom and lecturing the kids about the causes is that it may have already been covered by the teacher. Redundant info can be equally boring to kids.

All the other topics you address can be worked in through Q&A, if you know how to do it. Since teaching is my profession, I find it rather easily done.

02-23-2006, 05:54 PM
Sad to think how many Americans couldn't get most of this right.....and how many ACW reenactors couldn't get this stuff right.
RJ Samp

That's because they're all sitting under their gabled tent flies in front of their tents, working hard not to learn bugle calls..... :wink:

Graves Mercantile
02-23-2006, 06:07 PM
I want to thank everyone for all the wonderful ideas and input. The event is question will be taking place later this semester and will probably involve more members of my company. The teacher has requested that we set up a small company street and perform a little outside song and dance for several classes. We will be avoiding the dangerous subject of causation for the war. Again thank you for all of your time and valuable input.