Social Sundays: An Argument against Teaching War Battles

I LOVE teaching World War I and World War II, but I glean over the battles as quickly as possible.  There are many who spend time on battles in detail.  Instead, I focus on the big messages - the causes, the views, and the impact.  Still some of my colleagues (and students) would like our class to spend more time on battles.  

While researching videos to accompany my US Civil War course that I am teaching, I found the best argument against spending precious time teaching battles:

I have written here before about the Crash Course videos from John Green.  These are great highlights of periods of history that focus on the big themes.  Green usually has one main point that he is trying to convey about an event or time period.  After watching his videos on the Civil War and Reconstruction, I was surprised to stumble on a Crash Course: Battles of the Civil War. I watched the video, and it was by far the best argument for NOT teaching battles.  

You need to watch the video yourself, but the long and short of it is that Green highlights just some of the 800 skirmishes in the war and still it seems like just a list of who won and who lost.  For students who are passionate about learning about battles, I invite those students to choose battles for their unit project topic.

Do you teach battles when teaching different wars?  Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.  And just a reminder for those of you who missed it last week, take a moment to do something for Earth Day this Friday, April 22nd.  There's always time for the environment.

Social Sundays is a weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message on Facebook or at the store in the question and answer section. 




  1. When teaching about Ancient India, I included a discussion of the Battle of Kalinga with my 8th graders because it was such a pivotal moment in that country's history. The textbook I used had a section about the battle and, after I was fortunate enough to go to India and see the actual location where the it was fought, I showed my classes photos of the place and of Ashoka's edicts on stone monuments. That made it so much more real for them.

    I think if you can show students real images of where a battle occurred, as opposed to just reading about it in a book, it makes it easier for students to comprehend what happened and to get an idea of the magnitude. (I think that's true for everything, though.) It was the same when I taught 5th graders about the Revolutionary War. Reading and talking about the Battles of Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga and Saratoga were not the same as watching National Park Service reenactments of what life was like at Valley Forge. (see:

  2. I find that my students have been more interested overall in the strategies and fluctuating strengths and weaknesses of each side throughout a war, rather than the ins and outs of even a fraction of all the battles. Of course for some they want to go more in depth (Bulge, Iwo Jima) and some are so noteworthy they should get a minute or two in class (like the first battle all on aircraft carriers), but in general I have found that my students would agree with this post. My husband and I love the John Green videos, nice to see him get a shout out :-)

  3. The only "battles" covered in the course I teach are Lexington and Concord. We do an overview of foreign conflicts - Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, without talking about the wars themselves, just the government's response... I am a WWII fanatic, and would love to teach a class that covers it, but I hear what you are saying... I think due to time constraints and "covering benchmarks" it would be tough to delve into the specifics of individual battles.

  4. I also do mainly overviews but tend to highlight specific battles that were game changers in the outcome of a war. I offer my students a look at the Civil War through ten battles that had a large scale impact on the war itself or how war was fought. I do not focus on any specific WWI battles- mainly the causes and effects of the war as a whole. With WWII, I highlight D-Day and Iwo Jima as students look at the differences in fighting on the various fronts during the war. I wouldn't have enough time in my school year to do much more with individual battles. I will sometimes work a larger battle into an activity so students get a closer look. Example- I do a WWII morgue with 5 "bodies" of people who died in WWII. One is a Navajo Code Talker and through examining his primary sources, students learn about the battle of Iwo Jima. In my upcoming unit, I have an activity to travel back to 1968 and one of the stations highlights the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War so students can understand the struggle Americans had in supporting the war. I usually do not test on individual battles but we do ask about major themes or reasons for certain actions taken during a war. But I agree that there are some war-buff students who end up a bit disappointed that we don't do more with battles.


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