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DEFINING MOMENTS Downloadable Lessons

  • Abolition and John Brown's Raid

    Using contemporary accounts, newspaper cartoons, replicas of authentic maps, and other primary sources, students explore the life of the abolitionist figure, John Brown—from his early days of agitating against slavery to the raid at Harper’s Ferry to his conviction and execution.

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  • The Battle of Gettysburg

    During the three-day battle of Gettysburg, the fortunes of the Northern and Southern armies rose and fell with every passing hour. The focal points of this lesson discuss how different decisions within the battle could have altered the outcome and how a Confederate victory might have affected the course of the war.

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  • The Battle of Saratoga

    In 1777, under the command of General John Burgoyne, the British Army attempted to divide America’s colonial forces in half by controlling the route from Montreal to the Hudson Valley—a plan that ultimately collapsed with the surrender of Saratoga. How viable was the plan to begin with? How did it fail? What if it had succeeded?

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  • The Civil Rights Movement: Martin Luther King, Jr.

    This lesson focuses on Martin Luther King's significant contributions to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, including the Birmingham boycott and his spellbinding "I Have a Dream" speech, as well as the impact of his 1968 assassination. Activities include creating an ad campaign using King's image to inspire activism and speculating how he might have led a 21st-century civil rights movement.

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  • The Compromise of 1850

    With this lesson, students hold a mock Senate debate on the agreement that temporarily forestalled the American Civil War, including the positions of those who wanted new states free, those who wanted new states open to slavery, and those who wanted each state's citizens to decide for themselves. Students also think through possible outcomes had the Compromise in fact kept the nation at peace.

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  • Counterculture

    Go beyond the stereotypical images of peace signs and flower power-era hippies and involve students in the social and political forces that fostered the 1960s and 1970s counterculture. Activities focus on the important events and lasting influence of the Women's Movement, the Black Power Movement, the American Indian Movement, and the Youth Movement, and poses questions about these groups' lasting impact had a fatal drug or sexually transmitted disease spread through the Summer of Love.

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  • The Election of 1980

    In November 1980, reeling from a stagnant economy and frustrated by the Iran hostage standoff, American voters went to the polls to choose a president. Would Jimmy Carter have been reelected had he successfully dealt with the Iran hostage and oil crisis? Students will see that the election of Ronald Reagan was more than just a change in leadership; it was a wholesale political shift that would remake the country—and an example of a reemerging conservatism that was happening throughout the Western world.

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  • The Emancipation Proclamation

    Here students follow the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's position toward emancipating slaves and gauge the ramifications of the landmark proclamation on the course of the American Civil War and the future of the nation.

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  • The First Battle of Bull Run

    How devastating was the Battle of Bull Run for the defeated North? What if the Union Army had won? In this lesson, students use actual correspondence from battle participants to follow the action, and with the help of maps, devise a strategy for a Union victory that could have shortened the war dramatically.

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  • First Contacts

    The first encounter between Christopher Columbus and the inhabitants of Hispaniola was the beginning of widespread exchanges across the hemispheres—food, goods, gold, and, to the devastation of many Native Americans, disease. With this Defining Moment, students investigate this momentous meeting, and speculate: What if it had been the Europeans who carried home a highly infectious and deadly disease?

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Defining Moments

Introducing ABC-CLIO's latest tool for social studies educators.

Defining Moments is a unique series using alternative history — posing questions such as "what if key events had come out differently?" — to teach both history and critical thinking skills. This new series of primary source-based lessons covers the whole American history using the novel device of alternative history.

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