Website review by Ellen Holderman, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2020

Ford's Theatre

Site famous for its Lincoln assassination resources has more to offer

Learning rating
Community rating
Based on 1 review
Privacy rating
Not yet rated Expert evaluation by Common Sense
Grades
5–12
Subjects & Skills
English Language Arts, Social Studies

Take a look inside

7 images

Pros: The resources make great use of primary sources and encourage students to think critically and draw connections.

Cons: Educators could be better directed toward resources that go beyond the assassination. Many lessons are PDFs.

Bottom Line: This site can support meaningful, primary source-driven examination of some of the most important events in U.S. history, but educators will need to dig a little.

Ford's Theatre does an undeniably good job exploring the details of Lincoln's assassination and the events that followed. However, history teachers will be just as interested in the site's other materials. For instance, the resources that will help students examine the way Lincoln's positions on slavery evolved through his presidency, why there was a need for the 14th Amendment after the failed promise of Reconstruction, and the continued impacts of discrimination are all powerful ways to foster student understanding of history and civics. Teachers should certainly check out the resources on Lincoln's assassination, but then go beyond them and use Ford's Theatre to develop student understanding of the broader contexts of the Civil War, its aftermath, and its enduring impact. 

Continue reading Show less

Ford's Theatre is the website version of the famous Washington, D.C.-based theater (and now museum) where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. A big part of the museum's outreach and education focus is on the events of the assassination itself as well as its legacy. Using primary accounts and documents, students can learn about the assassination, the investigation into the plot to kill Lincoln, the trial of the people behind the plot, and the reaction of the country to his death. In addition to the primary sources, students and teachers have access to lesson plans, writing prompts, and discussion ideas that encourage a full analysis of the assassination. 

In addition to the assassination, Ford's Theatre explores other essential elements of American history, including Reconstruction, the Civil War, and racism (past and present). The site makes use of speeches, plays (such as August Wilson's Fences), and videos featuring modern historians, intellectuals, policymakers, and more -- including readings and performances of plays. Lesson plans come with Common Core connections, supporting materials, and full step-by-step instructions for the classroom. Most of the materials are free; however, there are live virtual field trips and facilitated explorations of resources that are available for individual fees.

Ford's Theatre offers high-quality and classroom-ready learning materials, all designed to provoke critical thinking and meaningful engagement with history and its modern legacies. This work, however, is somewhat obscured by the theater's own history as the site of a consequential and well-known event. Much of the site's content privileges the assassination of Lincoln (and understandably so); however, it's the other materials that go beyond the assassination that truly shine, and have particular resonance today in light of continued struggles with racial injustice that connect so closely with the time of Lincoln and the Civil War. The Ford's Theatre site makes a commendable effort to help students and teachers explore these other aspects of American history --- including modern issues -- but the site's organization could be better optimized to help teachers make use of these standout materials. Ideally, teachers would touch on the assassination and then go beyond it to the events before and after Lincoln's death (e.g., the Civil War and Reconstruction). It seems like the site is in the midst of a transition to facilitate this, but currently educators might still get a little stuck in the death itself. With that said, Ford's Theatre does handle the Lincoln assassination well, encouraging students to analyze and understand a host of primary source materials and to draw connections from that event to others. So even if teachers do just focus on that event, they'll get a satisfying experience.

Overall Rating

Engagement

The site itself isn't going to be great for students, but the resources will be engaging if embedded well within a larger unit. The videos and field trips (some of which are paid) could boost engagement.

Pedagogy

The lesson plans and videos foster deep, inquisitive learning and encourage students to take an analytical, source-driven approach to history. 

Support

Teachers can browse a wide range of classroom-ready materials and supplementary resources. There's not much in the way of an orientation, though, and some of the best content feels a little buried.


Common Sense reviewer
Ellen Holderman Common Sense Education

Community Rating

Write a review
Featured review by
Nathan P. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Explore Ford's Theater and the Lincoln Assassination with your students without leaving your classroom.
As a teaching tool, the Ford's Theater website is good, not great. It has some good resources and the virtual field trip is nice for the students to get a visual representation. There is not much interactiveness in the site and the students wont want to keep going back. It works well as a great followup when learning about the conspiracy but will probably not work as the primary source of information.
Read full review

Privacy Rating

This tool has not yet been rated by our privacy team. Learn more about our privacy ratings