Tweeting the Civil War: Tweeting & Engaging During the 1860s

Emmancipation Proclomation for the Win
I have seen a debate between Daniel Webster and John Calhoun escalate into name calling.  I have seen people celebrate the death of John Brown and mourn the assignation of Abraham Lincoln.  I witnessed the US Civil War evolve in 140 characters or less.

The context

  • Course:  Grade 9 IGCSE History*
  • Unit: The causes and effects of the US Civil WarTweet conversation 1 (w/RM)

The Assignment

      • Students were assigned a variety of major/minor players in the US Civil War to role play during the eight week unit
      • Students set up a Twitter account in class based and had to create biography and introduce themselves to the classSTruthYISRM

During the Unit of Study:  Tweet, Retweet, Link, Engage**

  • As we study the Civil War everyone in the class should be tweeting about the specific topic we are studying.  For example, if during class we are studying “States Rights” (#statesrights) people should be talking about that on Twitter.
      • Tweet: You can tweet actual quotes from your person OR you can tweet what you think the person would have said. You must stay in character.

    RE Lee/Calhoun Tweet

      • Retweet: If you agree or disagree with a person’s post you can RT it.  I would like that you add a little to the tweet to make it more specific for your character.
      • Link:  You can link to videos, primary or secondary documents that are appropriate to the conversation.  To make the links smaller go to to save space. John Brown Tweet
      • Engage: If you want to have a engage in a conversation with a person/people you should include their name in the tweet.  For example if you want to ask Lincoln a question (or just mention Lincoln) you should include @alincolnyisrm in the tweet.
      • Fugitive Slave Act Tweet

My role: 

I found myself saying the words I never though I would say.  Get out your cellphones***.    Adam, the other history teacher who was doing this assessment, and I were surprised that kids didn’t just Tweet because we thought it was cool and it was techy.  It’s new and difficult to summarize ideas in 140 characters and the kids didn’t always want to do it.  Students were asked to tweet during class discussions or when they were doing readings. Often I had to remind them or reward them (#tweetoftheday became a coveted retweet).   I made tweeting homework, which was a great way to check understanding with minimal reading on my part.  I created a account, which was an easy way to see who was tweeting links of primary and secondary documents.  I showed them that they had an authentic audience by retweeting their tweets on my personal account and posting a the Twitter feed on my blog. It felt more alive than any research project I could have assigned.
Little Giant Diss

My students really understood their roles by the end of the unit.  Equally important, they understood other people’s perspectives.  I do worry they don’t fully understand the specific content about the other characters and not every student fully participated. But I am confident they all have an overall perspective of a conflict they knew nothing about when we started.  They also demonstrated an ability to be clear and concise in their writing. By the end, most of my students were pulling out their phones as soon as something resonated with them.  My students were finding, sharing, and applying primary documents without me telling them to. And it was assignment I enjoyed marking***** . I loved going back and looking at the conversations they had throughout the unit.  Using technology didn’t make my job easier, but it sure made it more interesting.Insult Webster Tweet

While I won’t teach US Civil War again this year, it is one I can easily adapt for other eras. I think tweeting as a historical or fictional character has real value.  It allowed for for engagement between students and allowed students to be empathetic to historical figures.  History became a little more real for them.  And I know for sure that this is an assignment I couldn’t have done without Twitter.


Understanding by Design Unit Planner:  Tweeting the Civil War
* One of the reasons I chose Twitter is that my international school students had zero background knowledge on the American Civil War.  In years prior, I taught US Civil War at Robert E. Lee High School in Virginia, where this stuff was part of my students psyche..  Twitter gave me a way to introduce content and track on-going understanding quickly.
** I think it really did help that I was Tweeting personally before doing this assignment.  It helped me model how to Tweet and how Twitter bests work in fostering discussion.  I set up a twitter account for school, because my personal/professional Twitter is full of stuff that isn’t interesting to them.  If you’re a teacher and not on Twitter, you’re really missing out.  End of sales pitch.
*** We weren’t 1:1 yet so kids brought their own devices.  I actually liked cell phones better than laptops, because they felt less distracting and didn’t put up a physical barrier. I still got nervous when an admin walked past my classroom and all my kids were texting…it just looked like I had lost control of the class.
**** The March 11th earthquake happened while I was teaching this unit.  There wasn’t as much reflection (students or me) on this assignment when we got back from break.  This is me looking back over 6 months later.
***** This is a non-MYP humanities class, so the rubric is created by the department at YIS. I actually saw this rubric for Tweeting in the Classroom in my Twitter feed. Have I mentioned I love Twitter?   Twitter Rubric: “Adapted and used with permission from Karen Franker Original at:

About Rebekah Madrid

MYP Humanities Instructor. International School Teacher in Japan. Google Certified Teacher. Apple Distinguished Educator. National Board Certified Teacher. Traveler & TV Watcher. This is where I write my thoughts about all of the above.
This entry was posted in COETAIL @YIS, MYP Humanities, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Tweeting the Civil War: Tweeting & Engaging During the 1860s

  1. Kim Cofino says:

    Love this project! Thank you so much for writing it up so eloquently too! Will be using this as an example of transformative use of technology in my NESA workshop this weekend (with full credit to you, of course). Well done!

  2. Russel Tarr says:

    You might also be interested in, which allows you to create fake Twitter updates without having to sign up for a real account.

    • Thanks for that resource. I could see that it could work for a bell ringer/ end-of-class activity. Or if I couldn’t use Twitter b/c of a firewall of some sort. But I don’t think it would work to have a continuous conversation, as I used it in this class.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wow, Rebekah, Love your idea and great use of twitter for students. What age group were these students? Did you get feedback from them? If so, what were their reflections. I shall use this as an example for eT@lking webinar tomorrow night. The topic is Twitter with Students. If you should be around and could come along and talk about it, it would be fabulous. Here is the post on the session and the link to the room is there.

  4. Pingback: Making the Connection | always learning

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