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In this free lesson plan, students use first-person primary source documents and perspective taking to better understand the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. For Grades 5 through 8.

By evaluating the motives of John Wilkes Booth and other conspirators, students will create an original argument to help better understand what took place and why it mattered.

Common Core Standards:


Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.


Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text.


Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.

Learning Objectives
  • Students will become familiar with the events of April 14 and 15, 1865
  • Students will summarize John Wilkes Booth’s motivations for killing the president
  • Students will adapt primary source content to develop an original argument
Guiding Questions
  • How can seeing an event from multiple points of view change our understanding of it?
Prepared by Grade Length
Kia Hunter Elementary One Class Period


Lesson Activity One: Human Timeline
  • Students will work together to create a human timeline of events leading up to and following the assassination of President Lincoln and discuss connections among the events.
Lesson Activity Two: Booth’s Diary Analysis
  • Students will read an excerpt from John Wilkes Booth’s diary and use the S.O.A.P.S.Tone Activity sheet to analyze his motivations for killing the president.
Lesson Activity Three: Primary Source Annotation and Letter Writing
  • Students will read four primary source documents that explore the many responses to Lincoln’s death and then imagine a fictional 1865 character and produce their own letter as if they were responding in real time to the event. 
  • Timeline Cards, Tape, Lined Paper, White Board Markers

Lesson Activity One

Human Timeline 
  1. Introduction: Ask the students to tell you what they know about the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln. This will act as a warm-up activity to introduce the topic of the assassination.
  2. Shuffle the event cards (found at the end of the lesson plan, pages 16-30) and hand out, one per student. If there are fewer students than events, only use the events that you think are most important. If there are more students than events, students without cards can act as “movers” to help organize the students with cards. 
  3. Once everyone has an event card, encourage students to move around the classroom, discussing their events with each other, with the aim of arranging themselves in a line, sequentially, based on what they believe to be a logical sequence of events.
  4. After several minutes, students should have arranged themselves in a single line across the classroom from earliest event to most recent, with event pages displayed. 
  5. With the students in line, you will then tape the order on the wall (or white board) so that the entire class can see the results. 
  6. Each student should then read aloud his or her event. If your students have a strong pre-existing knowledge about the Civil War/Lincoln assassination, you can have them guess the dates for each of the event cards. The teacher should write the guesses on the board.  Every time a date is suggested, the teacher should follow up with the student to defend their answer, explaining WHY. The students should also suggest possible causes of the event and can share some of the questions they had about the event and how they came to place it in the order they see on the board. Students should also hypothesize which events are related on the timeline. 
Questions to ask students to help facilitate discussion:
  • When do you think this took place?
  • Why is this event important?
  • Does this event look like it’s related to/ result of another event on the timeline?

After the class discussion about the events, the students should participate in the same activity, having an opportunity to rearrange the dates based on the class discussion. The students need to work together to reorganize the timeline. 

Answer Key (in order): 
  1. May 10, 1838: John Wilkes Booth is born in the state of Maryland, where slavery was legal.
  2. November 6, 1860: Abraham Lincoln is elected 16th president of the United States.
  3. December 20, 1860: South Carolina becomes the first state to leave the Union.
  4. April 12, 1861: Fighting between the states begins when Confederates fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, South Carolina, when the Union tries to resupply the fort.
  5. September 22, 1862: Abraham Lincoln announces that unless the Confederate states return to the Union, he will issue an Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring all slaves in “states in rebellion” free.
  6. January, 1865: Congress passes the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, outlawing slavery in all states.
  7. March 4, 1865: Lincoln begins his second term as President of the United States and delivers his Second Inaugural Address.
  8. March 17, 1865: John Wilkes Booth attempts to kidnap President Lincoln on his scheduled trip to the Soldier’s Home, but Lincoln never shows up
  9. April 9, 1865: Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, a symbolic ending of the Civil War
  10. April 11, 1865: Lincoln gives his last public address on the balcony of the White House where he discusses the possibility of giving African American men the right to vote
  11. April 14, 1865: Abraham Lincoln arrives at Ford’s Theatre for a production of Our American Cousin
  12. April 14, 1865: John Wilkes Booth shoots President Lincoln in the back of the head using a derringer pistol
  13. April 14, 1865: John Wilkes Booth flees to southern Maryland, where his broken leg is set 
  14. April 15, 1865: Abraham Lincoln dies at the Petersen boarding house, across the street from Ford’s Theatre.
  15. April 26, 1865: John Wilkes Booth is shot by U.S. Army soldier Boston Corbett in a barn in Port Conway, Virginia. 
  16. May 4, 1865: President Abraham Lincoln’s body is buried in Springfield, Illinois.
  17. December 6, 1865: A majority of states ratify the 13th Amendment, making it part of the U.S. Constitution and ending legal slavery in the United States.

Lesson Activity Two

Give the students a copy of the handout below, including background information, instructions, image and diary entry. This should be an independent activity:

At the end of Booth’s escape, he and his accomplice David Herold were sleeping in a tobacco barn at Richard Garrett’s Virginia farmhouse when U.S. Army troops surrounded them. Herold surrendered, but Booth refused. After several hours of negotiations, the soldiers set the barn on fire, hoping to force him out. Against orders, Union soldier Thomas “Boston” Corbett fired a fatal shot into Booth’s neck, ending his escape. 

The objects found on Booth’s body showed the amount of planning he had put into his escape. He had a dagger and revolver for defense and a map and compass to navigate. He also had photographs, “cartes de visite,” of his girlfriends. Most importantly, he left behind a diary, which gives us insight into his motives. John Wilkes Booth scribbled his thoughts in this 1864 appointment book while he hid in southern Maryland after killing the president. 

Read what John Wilkes Booth wrote about the assassination and use the S.O.A.P.S.Tone Analysis Guide to help you determine how Booth justified his actions. After you have completed the Analysis Guide, identify and write down 2 to 6 motivations for killing the president you notice Booth mention in the diary. 

Lesson Activity Three

Distribute excerpts of these four primary source documents representing a range of public opinions about Abraham Lincoln and his assassination. Full details for each document can be found on Remembering Lincoln.

Students should annotate each document using the Annotation Symbol Guide on page 12. After annotating each document, students then write their own diary entries as if they were hearing about the Lincoln assassination in real time (in 1865) explaining their reactions to the news, based on the documents they have read. Students should first brainstorm using the worksheet on page 13.