The view from the Ford’s Theatre stage looking out to the audience. To the left of the stage is the President Box with an American flag, a framed picture of George Washington and American flag bunting draped over the box. To the right is another box with yellow and white curtains. In the center of the stage is a wooden desk. The view includes two levels of seating and rows of lighting equipment on the third level.
View from the stage of Ford’s Theatre. Photo © Maxwell MacKenzie.

Writing a Letter Inspired by an Historical Point of View

Learning Objectives and Standards:

  • I can write a letter that tells the story of Lincoln’s assassination from the point of view of a particular historical figure. (W.5.3)
  • I can participate in group discussions about “Lincoln’s Assassination Told by an Eye Witness” when making inferences about the text. (SL 5.1)


  • Say: Yesterday everyone took on the point of view of a different historical figure from Julia’s letter. We learned how this exercise helps us develop new ideas about a topic and think of new questions. Remember that even though we won’t always find answers to all our questions, our questions show we are being thoughtful and curious, and these are important qualities for learners to develop.
  • Say: Today we will take our ideas from yesterday and expand them to compose our own letters! Remember that letters can be similar to memoirs. This is true in the case of Julia’s letter. [Refer back to the memoir checklist from previous lessons].
  • Present the Writing Task to students on the board:
  1. Imagine you are ____ (use point of view from previous lesson) and you have just either witnessed or heard about President Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. Write a letter to a family member describing the events that took place, your thoughts and feelings about the events and what the assassination makes you wonder and why.

Planning and Class Discussion

  • Check for understanding by asking: “After reading the Writing Task, what do we need to include in our letters?”
  1. In addition to ensuring that students understand all sections of the prompt, make sure students know that a letter must include a greeting or salutation and a signature line.
  • Hand out the Circles of Viewpoints from the previous lesson (or students take them out of their folders).
  • Say: We will use our notes from yesterday’s Circle of Viewpoints to help plan our letters. But first, we will use partner discussion to build on each other’s thoughts and give us even more detail to include in our letters.
  • Pair students with different points of view, and guide them through “Listen & Build-On”:
  1. In pairs, students are assigned a speaker and listener.
  2. The listener retells or summarizes what their partner said to ensure a clear understanding and adds their own thoughts using a given conjunction (and, but, because).
  3. Partners switch roles.

Independent Work

  • After reviewing their Circle of Viewpoints and discussing with a classmate, students have 20-30 minutes to compose their letters independently.
  • Ensure that students are:
  1. Including greetings and signature lines in their letters
  2. Answering all parts of the Writing Task
  3. Using expanded sentences that provide precise information
  4. Using accurate information and details about President Lincoln’s assassination
  5. Describing thoughts and feelings from their point of view using detail
  6. Adhering to any other classroom writing expectations
  • To ensure all students can complete the letter, the assignment can be modified by:
  1. Providing sentence frames to start each section
  2. Adjusting the length of the letter and asking students to write only one or two sentences to address each part of the Writing Task
  3. Orally rehearsing the letter before students begin writing


  • Organize students into groups of four, ideally with one student representing each point of view (this will likely not work out perfectly).
  • Students take turns sharing their letters with the group. After each student shares, they receive warm feedback from each other, using sentence starters posted on the board:
  1. “I really like how you…”
  2. “You did a great job at…”
  3. “It was really interesting when you…”
  • Prompt students to give feedback that’s aligned to the characteristics of memoirs:
  1. Provides factual information
  2. Is written in a narrative style
  3. Is about a significant time, place, person or event
  4. Is about the author’s life
  5. Explains why the memory is significant
  6. Reveals feelings of the author or storyteller


  • Students reflect on how this mini-unit has changed their thinking using the I Used to Think… But Now I Think… Routine.
  • Prompt each student to reflect on how their thinking has changed when it comes to President Lincoln’s assassination, analyzing primary sources and considering different points of view.
  • After the discussion, prompt students to fill in the blanks in these two sentences: “I used to think ___. But now I think ___,” either orally or in writing.
  • Call on students to share their two sentences as a wrap-up to the mini-unit
  • Say: There is so much more to learn about the Civil War, President Lincoln, Ford’s Theatre and the events surrounding the assassination. And there are so many wonderful primary sources out there for us to learn from! I hope you continue to use the skills we’ve practiced during this mini-unit to analyze many more primary sources from all different places and time periods.