The Reconstruction Era 3-Week Unit | Facing History & Ourselves
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The Reconstruction Era 3-Week Unit

Teach a 3-week study of the Reconstruction era guided by the essential question "What can we learn from the history of Reconstruction as we work to strengthen democracy today?"




  • History




English — US



About This Unit

This 13-lesson unit, adapted from our Reconstruction Era book and part of a larger collection on the history of the Reconstruction era, is designed to fit within approximately three weeks. In this unit, students investigate the challenges of creating a just democracy in a time of deep division. 

The resources included here have been selected and sequenced to deepen students’ ethical and moral reasoning, challenge their critical thinking and literacy skills, and engage them in a rigorous study of history. Each lesson includes guiding questions, pedagogical rationales, historical overviews, resources to use in your classroom (documents, images, videos, websites, etc.), and activity suggestions.

This unit supports Facing History's US History Curriculum Collection: Democracy & Freedom. The flexible units, C3-style inquiries, and case studies in this collection help you explore themes of democracy and freedom throughout your US history course.

  • What can we learn from the history of Reconstruction as we work to strengthen democracy today?

This unit supports a 3 week exploration of the Reconstruction era. It includes:

  • 13 lessons
  • 45 primary source readings, available in English and Spanish
  • 5 handouts, available in English and Spanish
  • 5 videos

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this unit, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

In this unit, students will encounter histories of race, racism, and racial violence that are likely to be emotionally challenging and elicit a range of responses. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of previewing the resources in this curriculum to make sure they are appropriate for the intellectual and emotional needs of your students.

It is difficult to predict how students will respond to such challenging readings, documents, and audio material. One student may respond with emotion to an account or source, while others may not find it powerful in the same way. In addition, different people demonstrate emotion in different ways. Some students will be silent. Some may laugh. Some may not want to talk. Some may take days to process difficult stories. For some, a particular firsthand account may be incomprehensible; for others, it may be familiar.

We urge teachers to create space for students to have a range of reactions and emotions. This might include allowing time for silent reflection or writing in journals, as well as facilitating structured discussions to help students process content together. Specific strategies are mentioned in the lesson activities, but we encourage you to explore the additional Related Materials below. 

Some students will not want to share their reactions to emotionally challenging content in class, and teachers should respect that in discussions. For their learning and emotional growth, it is crucial to allow for a variety of student responses to emotionally challenging content.

Journals help students develop their voices and clarify their ideas as they keep a record of their thinking and learning that will ultimately help them answer the essential question being considered. There are a number of ways that you might incorporate reflective journal writing into this curriculum, and we recommend that you spend time answering the questions posed in our description of the teaching strategy (Journals in a Facing History Classroom) in addition to making note of the many creative suggestions found there for using journals in your classroom. While journals provide an important space for thoughtful reflection, you might also use them as a means of assessing students’ intellectual and emotional engagement with the material. If you choose to do so, it is important at the outset of the unit that you establish clear expectations and procedures for how and when you will assess journals and communicate this information to your students.

The n-word appears in the readings "The Honoured Representative of Four Millions of Colored People" (Lesson 7) and A Teacher Describes Violence and Intimidation (1875) and Election Day in Clinton, Mississippi (1875) (Lesson 12). In these documents, we have chosen to let the word remain as it originally appeared, without any substitution. 

In life and in school, many students will encounter language that has been historically used to perpetuate racism and/or dehumanize people. Such language might be used to intentionally cause offense, it might be something they encounter in lessons, when reading literature or historical texts, and it might also be something that some marginalized groups have reclaimed and now use to express familiarity and friendship.

Teaching a text that includes racist slurs, derogatory words and/or anachronistic language can elicit fear and anxiety in educators. As educators, we know that unless we prepare to address language with intention and care, we risk causing harm and creating inhospitable classroom environments where students may feel like they do not belong, and where they cannot learn. Some racist and dehumanizing terms, such as the n-word, have the power to destabilize a classroom environment if they are encountered without adequate preparation or groundwork. In her talk Why It’s So Difficult to Talk about the ‘N’ Word, Dr. Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor states: “I hear from students that when the word is said during a lesson without discussion and context, it poisons the entire classroom environment, the trust between student and teacher is broken (11.31).”

Such terms can also make students who belong to the groups targeted feel uncomfortable and singled out. In her talk, Dr. Stordeur Pryor goes on to state that, “My black students tell me that when the word is spoken or quoted in class, they feel like a giant spotlight is shining on them (12.32).”

The dehumanizing power and loaded history of the n-word cannot be ignored, nor can the impact it can have on students if not handled sensitively. We advise against speaking this word out loud in the classroom, but if it appears in texts or resources that are being used, it is necessary to acknowledge it, understand its problematic nature, and set guidelines for students when reading aloud or quoting from the text (e.g., to say “the n-word” when students encounter the word spelled out in full in a text). Otherwise, the presence of this word might both harm students and distract them from an open discussion on a particular topic.  If you realize that you will be asking students to hear, process, and discuss passages with dehumanizing language on a regular basis, however, it is important to reflect on the purpose of the text and its cost to students’ emotional well-being.

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Lesson Plans

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

Get all the materials you need to teach this 3-week unit in Google Doc format. This includes both teacher guidance and student materials.

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