Picture Lincoln

This lesson plan involves a detailed study of photographs taken by Alexander Gardner, of President Lincoln shortly before his death. Using various resources, including a poem template and a biography, the lesson plan intends for students to discover more about Lincoln’s personality and demeanor through the photos. In the process, students also get to create their own depiction of Lincoln and learn about the photography process during the Civil War.

Source National Endowment for the Humanities
Dates and Eras The Civil War
Themes Leaders, Politics
Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.5 CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 USI.9 d USII.3 c VUS.7 b,c

Suggested Questions

  1. How do you perceive Lincoln based on the photograph? Do you have any new opinions on the man?
  2. Which picture interests you the most and why?
  3. Why do you think the use of photography was important to Lincoln? Why do you think he still commissioned a painting regardless?

Suggested Activities

  1. Following the guideline for activity 1, have students analyze the photograph, then fill in the photo analysis chart created by the National Archives. Then, compare it to another chosen Civil War- Era portrait, possibly using a figure that relates to or contrasts to Lincoln. Students should be taking note of aspects of the photograph and Lincoln’s appearance, using those attributes found to make inferences about the man, and writing down questions about the man.
  2. Following activities 2 and 3, use the biography and corresponding worksheet. The student should read the biography and annotate it, then answer the questions in multiple sentences, making sure to explain, instead of quoting the passage. Students should include, if possible, some of their own annotations. Then students should use the information given to fill out the worksheet on the “I am” poem sheet. Students should do their best to be creative, using a thesaurus and other resources if needed. Students should, however, stick to the template.
  3. Students should create a portrait of Lincoln, whether exact or abstract, based on the student’s perception of the man. At least three different types of mediums should be used, including traditional art supplies and cutouts of photos. The portrait should either physically resemble the man, or depict artifacts that represent him. The portrait should be accompanied by a paragraph explaining the artwork, and the meaning behind each aspect. An advanced version of this assignment can include requirements of Civil War-era American Art standards as seen in this resource.