ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

A Light in the Storm

Examining the Civil War through the eyes of a young girl living in a lighthouse in Delaware


Key Staff

Social studies or language arts teacher with opportunities to collaborate with a drama teacher.

Key Skills

Making Art: Performance Skills and Techniques
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Communication and Collaboration


This lesson is designed to have students create a historical timeline and an important personal event timeline based on the historical fiction book A Light in the Storm and its main character, Amelia Martin. Students will write to inform about events represented on the timeline. Students will then improvise a scene from the book not already dramatized in the play.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • create a timeline of important personal events in Amelia Martin's life as told in the book, A Light in the Storm.
  • research and create a historical timeline using historical events in the book, A Light in the Storm.
  • create scenes based on Amelia's journals and present them to the class.
  • write to inform why the personal events were chosen to include on the timeline.

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Information Organization
  • Reflection

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • Video Camera
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Teachers will need to be well-versed in the historical novel A Light in the Storm. Familiarity with the causes and events of the Civil War will also be helpful. The sites below provide more information about the Civil War:





List the following events on posters (these events are noted in A Light in the Storm):

  • South Carolina secedes from the United States.
  • Jefferson Davis is elected President of the Confederate States of America.
  • Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington to become the President of the United States.
  • Lincoln calls up 75,000 state militia troops to crush the rebellion.
  • Fort Sumter is fired upon.
  • The first battle of Bull Run is fought.

The following books  are but a small amount of Civil War reference books available. These are to be used as references to check facts.

  • Prelude to War, A Sourcebook on the Civil War
  • The First Battles, A Sourcebook on the Civil War
  • The American Civil War—A House Divided
  • Scholastic Encyclopedia of the Civil War
  • Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War
  • Why Fight? The Causes of the American Civil War
  • For Home and Country, A Civil War Scrapbook
  • A Nation Torn, The Story of How the Civil War Began

Prior Student Knowledge

Students will need to have read A Light in the Storm and be familiar with the chronology of historic events as well as with the events in the life of the main character, Amelia Martin. Knowledge of the Civil War will also be helpful.

Physical Space



  • Small Group Instruction
  • Individualized Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1) Distribute posters in random chronological order to six student volunteers (these events are noted in A Light in the Storm):

  • South Carolina secedes from the United States.
  • Jefferson Davis is elected President of the Confederate States of America.
  • Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington to become the President of the United States.
  • Fort Sumter is fired upon.
  • Lincoln calls up 75,000 state militia troops to crush the rebellion.
  • The first battle of Bull Run is fought.

2) Have the class agree on the correct historical order. The students holding the posters will arrange themselves in that order and then each volunteer will explain why his/her event is important.

3) Have the class record the correct event order on their Civil War Chronology worksheets, visible and printable through the Engage tab above. Provide students with the dates of each event so that they may note them accordingly.

  • South Carolina secedes from the United States. (December 20, 1860)
  • Jefferson Davis is elected President of the Confederate States of America. (February 9, 1861)
  • Abraham Lincoln arrives in Washington to become the President of the United States. (March 4, 1861)
  • Fort Sumter is fired upon. (April 12, 1861)
  • Lincoln calls up 75,000 state militia troops to crush the rebellion. (April 14, 1861)
  • The first battle of Bull Run is fought. (July 21, 1861)

4) Ask students why they think Amelia records South Carolina's secession on December 31, 1860 and not on December 20, 1860 (answers should include isolation of lighthouse, poor communication from South Carolina, she received the journal on December 24, etc.).

5) Lead a discussion about the accessibility of information in today’s world and the speed with which it travels. Ask students how the Civil War might have transpired differently had they had the technology we have today.


Build Knowledge

1) Distribute, or display through the Build tab of the Resource Carousel above, Amelia’s Timeline worksheet on which students will create a timeline of important events in Amelia’s life. Ask students to select between eight and ten events. The timeline should include a minimum of four events from the book while others may come from the play. Students should give the timeline an appropriate title.

2) Have students write a paragraph to inform which event they believe was most pivotal in Amelia’s life and why.

3) Divide students into small groups to share their thoughts on the most important event in Amelia’s life. Have groups select two important events. Ask each group to reach a consensus and then share responses with the entire class.


1) Inquire why students think Karen Hesse, the author of A Light in the Storm, chose the historical events she did for her book. Why do students think she chose to put the lighthouse in Delaware? Take time for discussion or written reflection.

2) Tell students that Mary Hall Surface adapted A Light in the Storm as a play, and chose events from Hesse's book to dramatize in her work. Use the following questions as a springboard for discussion:

  • How hard is it to adapt books into plays?
  • Can students think of instances from the book that would make exciting moments on stage?

3) Explain that authors and playwrights choose events that move the story forward or that contain conflicts. Based on the timeline of important events for Amelia, have students choose three possible events (not dramatized already in the play) from which to make an improvised scene.

4) Have students share their choices, and create groups of four based on their selections. The groups should share knowledge of the event, its importance, and their desire to present it.

5) Distribute the Scene Presentation handout, also available above in the Resource Carousel. Assign each student in the group a job. All students may act in the scene. Not all students need to act but, all must be actively involved in the preparation of the scene.

  • Playwright - puts the action in sequence, writes ideas for lines
  • Director - guides the actors in their understanding of their roles and how the scene will be staged, and when, how, and where the actors will move.
  • Designer - gathers the costumes and props, sets the stage for the scene
  • Stage Manager - records the decisions made by the others, reminds others what was done before, records jobs and members of group.
  • Actor - interprets the playwright's ideas, listens to the director's guidance, and moves through the designer's universe.

6) Give students time to plan and rehearse a short scene. They will also need to bring in or create any props or scenery necessary.

7) Have students present the scenes to the class. Videotape each presentation.


1) Have students write letters to a broadway producer, convincing them why their play should be funded. Letters should include details of the scene, including a summary of events, characters, conflict, and setting. The students should justify its importance in the book why it is exemplary of why the show as a whole should be funded.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

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Mary Beth Bauernschub
Original Writer

Daniella Garran

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