Bull Run Unit Study Ideas

Paul Fleischman’s Bull Run is one of my favorite Civil War novels.  So, when Firecracker wanted to learn about the Civil War last fall, I knew that I would use Bull Run to teach him about the beginning of the war.

I’ve been going through my notebook where I keep my writing ideas, and I realized that even though we worked through Bull Run back in October and November, I’ve never actually shared a round-up of what we did to learn about the book and the battle.

Bull Run Unit Ideas

Bull Run is a novel that covers the very beginning of the American Civil War.  It begins with chapters about Ft. Sumter, stretches through the call for volunteers for troops and finally ends at the end of the Battle of Bull Run.

The thing that makes this novel so distinctive (and pleasurable) is that Fleischman uses sixteen different “voices” to tell the story.  The accounts are all written in first person, and all advance the story.  However, you’re reading from sixteen different perspectives.  There are men and women, slave and free, black and white, and Union and Confederate all mixed in together to tell one tale.  Some would say that a third grader couldn’t comprehend the voice changes and shifting perspective.  They are wrong.  It may take a little coaxing, but children can and do comprehend the changes in the novel.  Don’t let that be the reason you skip this amazing read!

Bull Run starts with the battle of Ft. Sumter.  To enrich our learning we watched an animated battle map of Fort Sumter.  You can also print off a copy of the battle map from the Civil War Trust website.  I printed it off and we traced the battle map, so that we could get a more concrete understanding of how the battle played out in the harbor.

fort sumter


Then, of course, came the call for volunteers and the troop build up leading up to actual Battle of Bull Run.  We used History Pockets: The American Civil War to get the “parade of uniforms” and the Confederate and Union uniforms that we colored so that we could see what a “normal” soldier in the battle would look like.  Once you complete this activity, you’ll find it easy to see why so often the soldiers couldn’t tell which side was which.

civil war uniforms


The next step for us was to watch the Battle of Bull Run Interactive Map from Civil War Trust.  Once we’d watched that a few times, it was time for us to re-enact it in game board style.

I’m completely indebted to Tricia at Adventures in Mommydom for this idea.  Go visit her post to get an idea of the rules we used for play.  We used the map at Junior General to make our own playmap for our reenactment.

Unlike Tricia’s group, we had a one-on-one game because I only had two children in my fall semester co-op class, and it wasn’t quite so chaotic.  In fact, Firecracker, as the Union army actually one the battle of Bull Run in our simulation because he was a lot more aggressive than the little boy who controlled the Confederate army.

bull run


For homework, as we read the book, the students were supposed to make character sheets for each character/narrator in the book.  I used the simple biography pages from the Notebooking Fairy.  I don’t think I managed to take any pictures of those, but these notebooking pages are very simple speech bubbles with, “I am famous for…,” “I want…”, “I like to…”, etc.  There’s also a figure in the middle of the page that you can put the appropriate clothing on.

We also read a little about Stonewall Jackson, the hero of Bull Run.  I assigned a couple of chapters out of Jean Fritz’s excellent biography, Stonewall, and had my students make a biography page on them.

Finally, for the end of our time with Bull Run, I had each student dress up as their favorite character from the book and present who this person was an why he was their favorite character.

bull run characters

Have you studied the Battle of Bull Run or used the book Bull Run?  How did you make the battle come alive?


3 thoughts on “Bull Run Unit Study Ideas

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