I take my students to the local historical society. "Nothing big happens in our area," "The Civil War had nothing to do with us," and etc. are things I hear frequently. However, when we go to the local historical society, we find that there were small Civil War skirmishes all around our area. Nothing major, but they were part of that historical event. It's more impressive if the students find it out there than if I simply tell them.
I have my student research important battles, people, and new techonologies of the Civil War and then present it as a role play. This is definitely a unit where students can act out historical events, and it becomes a great tool for other students to understand the events.
I like to share children's books with my kids. You'd be surprised how much high school students like to be read to...they gather around me to see the pictures (trying to be cool, of course). Barefoot by Pamela Duncan Edwards is my favorite. It's from the point of view of animals in the forest as they watch the feet running through the woods from the south to the north. It's a great account from a different point of view.
One of my favorite and most successful activities in teaching The Civil War begins 41 years before the war. The year 1820, the issue Missouri statehood, the place the U.S.Congress. I divide the class representing the 11 free states and 11 slave states that were present in Congress at the time of Henry Clay's compromise. Both groups research their perspective points of view (which we discuss and interpret as a class) both sides understand what is at stake, ....Power and the balance of it. Then comes the 'great compromiser'(a student taking the role of Henry Clay) who proposes the Missouri Compromise. Although both sides hear him and come to an agreement, the students conclude that the Missouri Compromise served as a band-aid on a wound that just wasn't going to heal. Another interesting realization for me was how the students reacted towards The Missouri Compromise... they all gained insight into the 'fog of war'...the students knew The Missouri Compromise bought time....however they were clearly unsettled now that they 'felt' the war brewing within a nation that refused to REALLY COMPROMISE for the greater good of the nation.