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Elementary Lesson Plan:
African American Surgeons and Nurses in the U.S. Civil War


Grade Level: 4-6

Time Needed: two to three 40-minute class periods

Description: Students learn about four African American surgeons and nurses who served in the Union during the American Civil War. In Class 1, students consider African Americans' experiences of being limited by others in what they could do due to slavery and prejudice against them. Students closely examine Dr. Augusta's letter to President Lincoln, written in 1863, as a case study of an African American who became a doctor and worked with African American soldiers in the Union army. In Class 2 (and 3 if needed), students read the biographical sketches of Dr. Augusta and one of three other Civil War African American doctors and nurses. Students reflect upon what they have read and learned, and then write about that reflection.

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Learning Outcomes: Students will be able to:

  • demonstrate reading strategies that lead to improved comprehension
  • summarize and reflect upon readings and class discussion
  • understand how use of words may change over time
  • describe how African Americans overcame prejudices against them and served as surgeons and nurses in the military during the U.S. Civil War.
  • appreciate how African American surgeons and nurses helped expand the role of African Americans during the United States Civil War.

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Background Information: The Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine exhibition examines the lives and contributions of several African Americans who served the nation as surgeons and nurses during the American Civil War. They moved beyond prejudices, challenged the prescribed notions of both race and gender, and pushed the boundaries of the role of blacks in America during a time of conflict. Teachers are encouraged to preview all sections of the online exhibition. This lesson plan draws its instructional materials from the following areas of the exhibition:

Details about the creation of the U.S. colored troops is provided online at "War Department General Order 143: Creation of the U.S. Colored Troops (1863)" on the "Our Documents" website.

The Library of Congress provides rich historical content specifically about the African American Civil War experience online at The Civil War section of The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship.

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Vocabulary:

The following words may be introduced or incorporated into the classes depending on students' previous knowledge. In addition, teachers are encouraged to review the biographical sketches to determine whether there are other words that students may need to review and/or acquire.

  • general terms: abolitionist, apothecary (pharmacist), contraband, discrimination, emancipation, freeborn, freedman, fugitive, prejudice, provoked, surgeon
  • military terms: commission, infantry, insignia, regiment, superior officer, troops
  • scaffolding terms: contraband—an escaped slave during the Civil War who fled to or was taken behind Union lines (accessed at http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/contraband on 10/01/2010); colored/coloured—clarify different spellings of color vs. colour, and the use of "coloured" in the context of the phrase "coloured troops" to refer to African American soldiers during the Civil War. See details online at the "War Department General Order 143: Creation of the U.S. Colored Troops (1863)" website.

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Materials:

Handouts:

  • Biographical sketches:
    • Alexander T. Augusta (PDF)
    • Charlotte Forten (PDF)
    • William P. Powell, Jr. (PDF)
    • Susie King Taylor (PDF)
  • Capable But NOT Allowed (PDF) (MSWord)
  • Teacher's Capable But NOT Allowed (PDF)
  • 1863 letter from Dr. Augusta to President Lincoln:
    • original letter (PDF)
    • letter transcript (PDF)
  • Vocabulary List for Dr. Augusta's Letter (PDF)
  • What the Letter Tells Us (PDF) (MSWord)
  • Teacher's What the Letter Tells Us (PDF)
  • Reading Summary of a Biographical Sketch (PDF) (MSWord)
  • Teacher's Reading Summary of a Biographical Sketch (PDF)

Other materials and set-ups:

  • a display set-up for the class (e.g., overhead projector and screen, smart- or promethium-board, etc.)
  • materials for class display include all student handouts listed above, as well as the following:
    • original letter from Dr. Augusta to President Lincoln (PDF)

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Class 1 Procedures:

[Note: The Class 1 starts with an assumption that students have a basic knowledge of the American Civil War and slavery. If needed, teachers may incorporate an introduction or an overview of these two subjects before or during this class.]

  1. Use the Capable But NOT Allowed transparency/handout, and guide students to share experiences of others limiting what they can do. See Teacher's Capable But NOT Allowed for suggested discussion guide.
  2. Connect those personal experiences to other groups by asking students to identify groups who were allowed few opportunities in the United States during the American Civil War (1861-1865)—e.g., African Americans, Native Peoples, or women.
  3. Focus on the African Americans and ask students to name some notable African Americans who lived and fought against slavery during the Civil War and their accomplishments—e.g., Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, African American soldiers, etc.
  4. Tell students that they will add to that knowledge by learning about African American doctors and nurses who, despite prejudice and discrimination, served the country, helped other African Americans who fought for their freedom during the U.S. Civil War, and helped expand the roles African Americans could play.
  5. Ask students why being a doctor or a nurse is considered a difficult job and a difficult one to learn. What does it take to become one? Can anyone become a doctor or nurse? Guide students in thinking about what might have been different during the time of the Civil War, and explain that they will be learning about how African Americans became doctors and nurses during the war.
  6. Display the original letter from Dr. Augusta to President Lincoln and tell students that the letter was written in1863 by an African American doctor. (Optional: If appropriate, explain to students an original historical document such as this letter is called a "primary source.").
  7. Replace the original letter with its transcript for better legibility and read it aloud for the class, allowing students to follow the text visually and auditorily.
  8. Have students volunteer any information they gathered from the read-aloud and assess level of vocabulary support needed.
    [Optional: If strong vocabulary support is needed, conduct the following letter examination as a teacher-guided activity, during which some words are reviewed and defined as needed using the Vocabulary List for Dr. Augusta's Letter handout.]
  9. Project and review the What the Letter Tells Us worksheet as a class first, then distribute copies of the letter transcript, Vocabulary List for Dr. Augusta's Letter, and What the Letter Tells Us to each student.
  10. Have students work in pairs to read the letter closely and complete their What the Letter Tells Us.
  11. Debrief by having student pairs volunteer their answers to the questions on the worksheet. See notes on the Teacher's What the Letter Tells Us for a discussion guide.
  12. Class 1 Evaluation: Collect the completed What the Letter Tells Us worksheets from the students for evaluation.

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Class 2 Procedures (and Class 3 if needed)

  1. Return the What the Letter Tells Us worksheets to students, review the information gathered, and summarize the key aspects of the letter. Using the Teacher's What the Letter Tells Us, focus on the substantive questions, numbers 3 and 6-8.
  2. Tell students that they will learn more about Dr. Augusta by reading a short biographical sketch that highlights his life as a military surgeon during the American Civil War.
  3. Display and hand out copies of the biographical sketch of Alexander T. Augusta. Review the title, quote, and the image as a class, and then assign volunteers to read aloud a paragraph each.
  4. Distribute copies of Reading Summary of a Biographical Sketch and use it to guide students' reading and comprehension. See Teachers Reading Summary of a Biographical Sketch) for a discussion guide.
  5. Tell students that they will read another short biography of an African American Civil War doctor or nurse on their own to add to their knowledge.
  6. Give each student a copy of Reading Summary of a Biographical Sketch and one of three biographical sketches—Charlotte Forten, William P. Powell, Jr., Susie King Taylor—to read and complete as they had done with Alexander T. Augusta.
  7. Allow students to read and complete the Reading Summary of a Biographical Sketch, and then have them volunteer to present the doctor or nurse they learned about to the class.
  8. Have students reflect on their completed work and biographical sketches. Ask them to think about how their knowledge about African Americans' Civil War experience has increased or changed.
  9. Assign students to write two paragraphs on their reflection that describe the change in their knowledge. Tell students to include at least three pieces of factual and historical information in their writing.
  10. Class 2 Evaluation: Collect the completed Reading Summary of a Biographical Sketch handouts and the two-paragraph written responses for evaluation.

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Evaluations

In addition to observing and assessing students during class discussions, teachers can evaluate student progress and understanding by reviewing completed What the Letter Tells Us worksheet, the Reading Summary of a Biographical Sketch handout, and the two-paragraph written responses collected from each student.

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Extension Activities:

  1. Have students work in pairs to create and present a poster that introduces the African American doctors and nurses they learned about to other classes.
  2. Assign students to visit one of the two online exhibitions—Opening Doors: Contemporary African American Surgeons and Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America's Women Physicians—then select one of the featured doctors and make a presentation about that doctor to the class. Provide students with criteria for the presentation that includes information about the education and the specialty of that selected doctor and any obstacles he/she had to overcome.

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National Education Standards

History

  • The course and character of the Civil War and its effects on the American people

Social Studies

  • experiences that provide for the study of culture and cultural diversity.
  • experiences that provide for the study of the ways human beings view themselves in and over time.
  • experiences that provide for the study of individual development and identity.
  • experiences that provide for the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions.
  • experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.
  • experiences that provide for the study of the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

English Language Arts

  1. Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  4. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  5. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

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