Standard Lesson

Comparing Electronic and Print Texts About the Civil War Soldier

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 45-minute sessions
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With the growing popularity of online research, many students may think that doing research in printed texts is a thing of the past. Is there a difference between looking for information in print and online texts? This lesson has students explore the answer to this question by responding to statements about a Civil War soldier's daily life, searching a website to confirm or refute these statements, and comparing the site's organization with that of a print text. Students then read a print article and compare the information it contains with that found on the website. Finally, they develop a chart of content and text structure similarities and differences between electronic and print texts. Although this lesson uses a Civil War soldier as an example, it can be adapted for use with any research or content area topic.

From Theory to Practice

  • Teachers who provide explicit and systematic instruction assist students to develop reading comprehension strategies including expository text structure awareness.

  • Children with a good understanding of expository text structure have fewer problems with comprehension.
  • Students should be taught to comprehend the process of information selection, evaluate the quality of the content presented, and think metacognitively about their seeking strategy.

  • When explicit instruction in comprehension strategies for online texts occurs, students realize that these are steps that good searchers and good online readers use.
  • Web literacy demands an incorporation of key reading or navigation skills.

  • Successful online reading requires evaluation of text and nontext (graphics, multimedia, and images) as students must differentiate between important visual images and mere beautification of sites.

  • The Internet provides opportunities to extend thinking skills beyond the hierarchical, linear-sequential model that serves so well in the world of print text; the Web's multimedia elements add to the visual literacy skills that students require.


Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Encyclopedia article or textbook chapter about the U.S. Civil War
  • LCD projector (optional)
  • Table of contents for a textbook about the Civil War
  • Two large sheets of paper or two posters




1. Choose an appropriate topic. Although this lesson plan uses the American Civil War as its focus, any content area topic for which you can locate both print and an online resource with well-designed organization and navigation features will work. You might also consider integrating this Web-based research activity into other curriculum instruction (e.g., the study of a novel featuring characters engaged in the American Civil War, a history lesson that explores the causes or a battle of the American Civil War, or a current events project comparing soldiers engaged in modern warfare with that of the 1860s).

2. Reserve your school’s computer lab for Sessions 2 and 3. If possible, arrange to use an LCD projector during Session 2 as well.

3. Bookmark the Gettysburg National Military Park, Camp Life: Civil War Collections website on the computers students will be using. Familiarize yourself with the site using the Life in a Civil War Soldier’s Camp Assignment Sheet.

4. Make one copy of the Life in a Civil War Soldier’s Camp Assignment Sheet, the Life in Camp Worksheet, and Who Was the Common Soldier of America’s Civil War? for each of your students.

Note: For the last resource, you can scroll to the bottom of the article to find an icon that links to a printer-friendly version. You can also click a box at the bottom of the printer-friendly version to print the article’s references.

5. Locate a print encyclopedia article or a textbook chapter about the American Civil War at an appropriate reading level for your students. Each student will need a copy of the article or chapter as well as a copy of the table of contents from either a textbook or another nonfiction text about the Civil War.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Demonstrate and apply their knowledge of the structure and conventions of print text to determine the structure and organization of an electronic text

  • Demonstrate and apply their understanding of the structure of electronic text to predict and verify the location of specific information

  • Demonstrate comprehension by using specific search strategies to locate information in online and print texts

  • Compare and contrast the structure and content of a print article and an electronic text

Session 1: Prereading

1. Prepare students for this activity by activating their prior knowledge of research techniques. Have students survey the article or chapter about the Civil War you have selected as well as the table of contents (see Preparation, Step 5) and ask them to tell you how the author and publisher have organized the material to help make it easier to read and understand. They should note the use of paragraphs, titles and headings, boldface words, photographs and other graphics, and other conventional text structure elements. They may mention the length of the article or chapter as either an aide or an obstacle.

2. Ask students to reflect on what problems they typically encounter while doing research. Complete the chart below during the class discussion. Three suggestions have been provided to illustrate how you can recommend solutions to potential research problems. This process allows students to recall and evaluate what they already know about research and suggest how to circumvent potential obstacles.

Potential Problems Suggested Solutions
Insufficient material Consider all types of materials (e.g., encyclopedias, nonfiction works, interviews); use a search engine to locate sources online
Unable to find specific information in lengthy texts Use the text's table of contents and index; use the Edit or Find feature when viewing content electronically
Unfamiliarity with content area vocabulary describing locations, persons, or events Examine the text’s illustrations and review glossary and dictionary definitions; study the graphics on the site and use a search engine to locate and identify graphics online that support comprehension
3. Explain to students that they will be learning how to locate specific information on a website by using its structure (or architecture). They will also compare the website’s structure to that of a print text. This would be an appropriate time to introduce the topic students will be focusing on, in this case the daily lives of Civil War soldiers.

4. Suggest to students that before reading about or researching a topic, it is often helpful to think about what they already know about that topic. Distribute the Life in a Civil War Soldier’s Camp Assignment Sheet and the Life in Camp Worksheet to each student and read the directions for Step 1 aloud. Next, read each of the ten statements on the worksheet aloud or select a competent reader to read them. Many of the statements contain vocabulary words that are intended to preview content area material. After all the statements have been read and their meaning is clear to students, instruct them to predict if each statement is accurate by writing true or false in the True or False column.

Emphasize that this worksheet is not a test or quiz that will be graded. Remind students that although their predictions are based upon what they already know about Civil War soldiers, they will be checking their hypothesis with information from a website and from print material. Mention that the boldface words will be used to find information about that term on a specific page of the website.

5. At this point, you may want to briefly ask students to offer some words that they associate with soldiers of that period (e.g., marching, tent, cavalry, uniform, letters, rifles, cannons, or blockade). If important content area terms are missing from the list, you can add them to the discussion. Reviewing these vocabulary words can assist comprehension in the sessions that follow.

Session 2: During Reading

If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, this session should take place in your school’s computer lab. Students will need their Life in a Civil War Soldier’s Camp Assignment Sheets, Life in Camp Worksheets, the article or chapter, and the table of contents you reviewed during Session 1.

1. Display the Gettysburg National Military Park, Camp Life: Civil War Collections website. Discuss and demonstrate the five features that students will use during the lesson as follows:

a. The browser’s navigation bar, located at the top of the screen, allows students to move backward and forward through webpages.

b. The site has a text-based navigation bar, located below the yellow bar that includes the name and sponsor of the site (links include Introduction, Living in Camp, Existing Day to Day, Battling Boredom, All Image Gallery). On the Introduction page, there is also a graphics-based navigation bar (which includes the last four links) located along the bottom of the page.

c. On all the pages except for the Introduction and the All Image Gallery, there are orange bullets labeled Back and Next at the lower right that allow the reader to move to the previous or subsequent topic.

d. The images can be enlarged. Clicking on smaller photos opens a new window with a larger version of the image and an accompanying caption.

e. The Edit–Find feature allows students to scan the page for a specific word or phrase. Go to the Edit menu in the browser navigation and then click Find. (This feature is also accessible on a PC by clicking the Control and the F keys at the same time.) Point out that carefully selecting a word or short phrase is essential; if at first they don’t get any results, a more common or precise search term might be needed. Demonstrate how they can use the Find button to locate all instances of that word or phrase on the page.

To demonstrate to students, click Edit and then Find from the browser’s navigation bar on the Introduction page, and type the word winter into the dialog box; nothing will come up because this page is a graphic and this feature can only search text. Next, click Living in Camp. Use the Edit–Find feature to locate the word tent in the text. Click on the Find Next button so that students can see that the word appears four times on the page. Caution students that a misspelled word will return no results.

2. Have students complete Step 2 of the Life in a Civil War Soldier’s Camp Assignment Sheet and discuss the similarities between the main topics found on this website and the chapter titles found in the table of contents you reviewed during Session 1.

3. Click the Park Home Page link in the lower right corner of the Introduction page. This will open a new window for the Gettysburg National Military Park. Click on the Site Index link on the left-hand side and review this page to illustrate its similarity to a print text’s table of contents. Point out that many websites offer similar guides (e.g., a site map or table of contents) that help users locate information.

4. Note the italicized words on the Gettysburg National Military Park, Camp Life: Civil War Collections pages; these are headings that indicate a shift of focus and identify a new topic. Mention that on some sites words in blue (rather than italics) might be links to other pages where additional information about that term can be found. This is a key difference between online and print text, where headings, boldface, and italicized words cannot be immediately linked to the topics they address.

5. Click on the Battling Boredom link and note the subtopic links that appear underneath the navigation at the top of the page. Compare these to the headings found within the chapter or article you shared during Session 1.

6. Have students complete Steps 3 to 5 on their worksheets; these activities have students identify where they are likely to find information on the website, verify and correct the predictions they made during Session 1, and look at photo captions for information. You should emphasize the importance of verifying the information on the worksheet rather than counting the number of correct and incorrect predictions.

Note: You may want to seat a less proficient child near a more accomplished peer for support or have pairs of students work collaboratively on this activity.

7. Explore what led some of the students to a correct response. Ask students how they correctly predicted whether each of the ten statements was true or false. Encourage explanations other than "I just knew that already" to better explicate the knowledge and thinking that went into formulating the prediction. For example, a student might say that Statement 4 must be true because baseball games were played during the Civil War and that is a very popular sport today. Also explore how students determined where to look for the information in the Battling Boredom section. What led them to a specific area of the website?

Session 3: During Reading

If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, this session should take place in your school’s computer lab.

1. Distribute copies of Who Was the Common Soldier of America’s Civil War? and have students also access the Gettysburg National Military Park, Camp Life: Civil War Collections website. Ask them to survey the text of the printed article, placing a check mark in the margin before any subheading that is similar to the content (not necessarily the phrasing) of the website’s headings. (The answers are Soothing the Savage Beast, Mess Time, Passing the Time, and Religion). Next, ask students to compare the information found in the print and electronic resources about these topics by underlining the details that the print resource has provided that were not available on the website.

2. Have students reread the print article and ask them to circle two or three topics that they believe should be added to the Gettysburg site, noting their reasoning for that decision in the margin. Ask students to share what they think should be added, as well as where this information should reside on the website. Students should defend their choices during the discussion.

3. Briefly review the chart you prepared during Session 1 that identifies potential research problems. Add any problems or solutions that they can now offer based upon their experience comparing electronic and print resources.

4. Ask students to compare the experience of conducting research by reading a print article versus looking at information on a website. Questions for discussion include:
  • What does this print article offer a student researching Civil War soldiers that the Gettysburg site does not offer? (Possible responses include information on topics not discussed on the website and a reference list.)

  • What does the Gettysburg site offer a student researching Civil War soldiers that the print article does not offer? (Possible responses include the ability to search for information on the page using keywords and phrases, colored photographs that can be made larger for viewing details, and specific information about the items photographed.)

  • Why would a student studying Civil War soldiers find it helpful to examine both print and electronic resources?

Session 4: Postreading Activity

1. Ask students to discuss how to efficiently and effectively find information online. Label a large piece of newsprint or poster board Clues for Reading Electronic Informational Texts and record all responses. Responses might include:
  • The text was divided into sections with different headings (like a table of contents).

  • Dots (bullets) or lines and space separated one idea from the next (paragraphing conventions).

  • Using the browser’s Edit–Find feature located the key words in the text and directed our attention to a specific sentence or paragraph.

  • Reading statements about the text, making predictions, and then locating these statements in the informational text (webpage) helped to pinpoint the information.

  • Linking what we already know about a topic to the new information helped us to understand the new information.

  • Graphics including photographs, drawings, and maps can provide answers as well as any text that accompanies them.
2. Post these responses in your classroom to provide a useful visual reference for students who are reading informational texts independently or in small groups.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • You should not evaluate the accuracy of the students’ predictions for assessment purposes. However, students’ final comprehension of the material should be confirmed. This can be accomplished by checking the revision columns of the Life in Camp Worksheet and using the Life in a Civil War Soldier’s Camp Answer Sheet.

  • Observe students’ proficiency with the browser's navigation bar and the Edit–Find feature to get a view of the students' hands-on facility with the technology.

  • Have students write reflections that provide evidence of developing a reading strategy that can be applied to electronic texts. You might use the following reflection questions to guide this work:
  • What characteristics do print and electronic texts share? How are print and electronic texts different?

  • Based on your recent experience with electronic and print resources, what advice would you give a student about how to read a website?

  • Which reading strategies do you plan to use the next time you examine a website for a research project?

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