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Lesson Plan World War I: What Are We Fighting For Over There?

Teachers

The Great War of 1914-1918 significantly shaped the course of the twentieth century, both at home and abroad. How can this pivotal event be personalized and brought to life for students in the new millennium? Unfortunately, increasingly fewer survivors of the World War I era are alive today to directly share their recollections of this historical time. Yet, by delving into the unique resources of Library of Congress and by creating World War I period newspapers of differing perspectives, students can gain an enduring understanding of The Great War.

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • utilize varied primary sources to develop a cohesive, comprehensive and historically accurate picture of the World War I era;
  • analyze the historical impact of World War I on the U.S. homefront and;
  • answer the following essential questions:
    • What can be learned about the American character from the manner by which the United States mobilized, prepared, and participated in a world war?
    • Were the political and military goals of the Great War worth the staggering loss of human life and social disruption?
    • How does the World War of 1914-1918 validate or contradict our feelings of patriotism and reinforce or tear down our pride and gratitude as Americans?
    • How does the unfolding of World War I foreshadow the role of the United States as a prominent world power of the twentieth century?

Time Required

Four weeks

Lesson Preparation

Materials

Resources

Lesson Procedure

This unit consists of three lessons which can be taught sequentially. It is also possible to use a single lesson if time constraints do not permit devoting four weeks to the study of World War I. Before beginning the unit, we provide students with background knowledge of World War I.

Lesson One – Introduction to Library of Congress Digital Collections and Primary Sources

Students are introduced to the resources of Library of Congress Digital Collections by viewing several "Today in History" pages which focus on World War I events. The teacher and librarian model the retrieval, display, and analysis of sample primary sources on these pages. We examine a photograph, newspaper article, song, and speech. Students analyze the primary sources, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus and prompt analysis and discussion. Primary sources are viewed online but backup hard copies can be made available.

Find complete directions for this lesson in the student Lesson One: Introduction to Library of Congress Digital Collections and Primary Sources.

Lesson Two – American Leaders Speak

Students explore the World War I-era recordings of American Leaders Speak. The background of the "The Nation's Forum Collection" is explained by means of the accompanying special presentation. Students listen to the recording of a speech chosen from a gallery of leaders. Students analyze the speech, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Recorded Sound to focus and prompt analysis and discussion. The teacher follows up with the question: "Select a theme, event or issue mentioned or alluded to in the speech that you with to further investigate". The teacher employs this feedback to assign each student to a relevant department or topic for the newspaper assignment in lesson three.

Find complete directions for this lesson in the student Lesson Two: American Leaders Speak.

Lesson Three – Newspaper Project

Students use their developing familiarity with Library of Congress Digital Collections and prior knowledge of WWI to create two WWI-era newspapers – each with an opposing viewpoint regarding American involvement in the war effort. The newspaper staff includes a publisher and seven departments: Editorial Board, Mobilization Unit, Women and Minorities, Arts and Culture, Society, Leaders, and Photographic and Print Division. Each department receives a relevant newswire of issues and events. Students explore Library of Congress Digital Collections (drawing upon search skills developed during lessons one and two) and write articles reporting the news of the day. When the two final products are published, students read, review, and analyze the opposing newspaper.

Find complete directions for this lesson in the student Lesson Three: Newspaper Project.

Extension

The newspaper project can be extended to other controversial world events (WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, etc.)

The final product (WWI-period newspaper) may be published on the school Web site and used by other classes as a supplemental historical resource.

Students may continue to investigate pivotal 20th century conflicts and to use primary source material.

Lesson Evaluation

Students are assessed by their use of the Primary Source Analysis Tool.

The final product (WWI-period newspaper) is assessed by the teacher and by peer review, at the teacher's discretion

A class discussion dealing with the essential questions also helps evaluate students' enduring understanding of the WWI period.

Credits

Scott Durham & Margaret Lincoln

Students

Student Materials and Resources

Materials

Newspaper Department Assignments

Job Title Duties and responsibilities
Publisher (1) The publisher makes sure that the newspaper represents a pro-WWI or anti-WWI slant and that each newspaper staff member fulfills his assignment.
Editorial Board (2-3) Members of the editorial board assist the publisher in seeing to it that deadlines are met. Editorial board members create a timeline of major war events and are also responsible for the physical layout and production of the newspaper.
Mobilization Unit (1-2) The mobilization reporter explores how the United States Government and the American people are preparing and building up for war.
Women and Minorities (2) The Women and Minorities reporter investigates issues facing these sub-groups.
Arts and Culture (1-2) The Arts and Culture reporter surveys developments in music and the arts.
Society (1-2) The Society reporter provides stories about local community happenings. Letters to the editor regarding the views of the average citizen may be generated from this department
Leaders (1-2) The Leaders reporter covers major military and political figures associated with the war effort and reports back on the words and deeds of these individuals.
Photographic and Print Division (1-2) This newspaper staff member is responsible for finding a photograph, advertisement, or political cartoon to illustrate a story being developed by a reporter.

Newswire

Mobilization

Women and Minorities

Arts and Culture

Society

Leaders

Photographic and Print Division

Newspaper Guidelines

You have been assigned to the staff of a World War I-era newspaper. The publisher has directed you to particular links on the Newswire. You will write an article drawing upon knowledge gained from your exploration of the Library of Congress digital collections and from additional print and electronic resources.

A 1917 newspaper would have a different style and organization compared to a paper of the present day. You may consult Chronicling America for examples of newspapers from 1917.

As you prepare the preliminary draft of your article, you should pay attention to these guidelines:

  1. Gather together all your research notes and completed Primary Source Analysis Tools.
  2. Prepare a rough outline of the material you want to include in your article.
  3. Create a headline in block letters and a byline sentence of explanation.
  4. Your first paragraph should begin with an engaging statement or question to capture the reader's interest. Try to incorporate the who, what, when, where, and why components.
  5. Provide details, quotes, and background information in your middle paragraphs.
  6. The last paragraph allows you to finish and summarize your story. It is not necessary to say "in conclusion".
  7. Write clearly and with conviction. You are representing a newspaper with a decided stance on the issue of World War I.
  8. Turn in your article with bibliography of sources consulted and Primary Source Analysis Tools.

Resources

American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election
This collection contains eighteen speeches focusing on WWI issues. Access these particular speeches through the Gallery of World War I Speakers.

African-American Odyssey
View the special exhibit World War I and Postwar SocietyScott's Official History of the American Negro in the World War, 1919 found in this collection.

The Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers' Newspaper of World War I, 1918 - 1919
This US Army publication provided American soldiers with news from home, sports news, poetry, and cartoons. View the collection’s Special Presentation with additional material about women and the war effort, advertisements, military censorship and the American Expeditionary Force.

Panoramic Photographs
Search for WWI-era photos in this collection.

Detroit Publishing Company.
Search using the phrase World War, 1914-1918 to locate WWI-era photos.

Today in History
WWI links can be found under June 28, 1914May 7, 1915April 6, 1917September 12, 1918November 11, 1918, and July 15, 1948.

Student Procedure

Lesson One – Introduction to Primary Sources

You will view several "Today in History" pages that focus on World War I events. How do you search for relevant primary source material? How can a photograph, newspaper article, song, or speech enrich your understanding of the Great War?

  1. Explore the following Today in Historypresentations on World War I.
  2. June 28, 1914 is an important date usually associated with the start of World War I. Browse the page.
  3. July 15, 1948 provides important background material on General Pershing.

Lesson Two – American Leaders Speak

Actual sound recordings from the World War I era are available to us through American Leaders Speak. The Library of Congress holds fifty-nine recordings of speeches by U.S. leaders at the turn of the century. The speeches focus on issues and events surrounding the war and the subsequent presidential election of 1920.

  1. The American Leaders Speak collection is made up of recordings from The Nation's Forum. The collection represents an effort to preserve the voices of prominent Americans. In most cases, these audio files are the only surviving recordings of a speaker. The Department of State's Committee on Public Information (a governmental propaganda ministry) endorsed the Nation's Forum.
  2. The Gallery of World War I Speakers allows you to link to a particular speech and display the audio file and text. Listen to Franklin K. Lane's The Nation in Arms. This speech will be further studied in class using the Primary Source Analysis Tool.
  3. You will be assigned a speech to analyze for homework using the Primary Source Analysis Tool. There are eighteen speeches in the gallery. The speeches of Pershing and Lane (already analyzed by the class) will not be assigned to individual students.

Lesson Three – Newspaper Project

In this lesson, you will use your familiarity with the Library of Congress digital collections and prior knowledge of WWI to create two WWI-era newspapers – each with an opposing viewpoint regarding American involvement in the war effort.

Each member of the class is serving on the staff of a World War I-era newspaper. One newspaper supports the war, the other paper opposes the war. If you are a reporter, it is your job to complete the sequence of tasks listed below. Additional instructions for just the publisher and editorial board are given in italics.

  1. Check with the Publisher of your particular newspaper and receive your assignment.
  2. View the newspaper Department Assignments page and note your duties and responsibilities.
  3. Go to the Newswire page of suggested links. Begin your research and be ready to report back on two potential sources to use for the basis of your newspaper article. Analyze these two sources by means of the Primary Source Analysis Tool.
  4. Share your initial findings when the Publisher reconvenes your newspaper staff. Discuss the links which you explored via the Newswire and analyzed via the Primary Source Analysis Tool.
  5. Publisher and Editorial Board meet to determine specific topic assignments for reporters. The assignments for the Photographic and Print Division are coordinated with the stories being covered by the reporting staff.
  6. Study the Newspaper Guidelines. Develop one particular article in depth as directed by your Publisher. Conduct additional research using Student Resources.
  7. Submit a rough draft of your article to the Publisher and Editorial Board for review.
  8. Publisher and Editorial Board prepare comments, suggestions for revision.
  9. Rewrite, polish and fine tune your article or photograph or print, following the feedback supplied to you by the Publisher and editorial staff.
  10. The Editorial Board is directed by the Publisher to produce a final version of each newspaper and to distribute copies to the entire class.
  11. Read the opposing viewpoint newspaper. Evaluate the other paper. The evaluation process is done at the departmental level. In other words, if you are a Mobilization Unit reporter on one paper, you review the work of a mobilization reporter on the other paper.
  12. Join in a general question and answer session and voice your concerns to the Publisher or Editorial Board. Engage in a discussion of the essential questions.
    • What can be learned about the American character from the manner by which the United States mobilized, prepared, and participated in a world war?
    • Were the political and military goals of the Great War worth the staggering loss of human life and social disruption?
    • How does the World War of 1914-1918 validate or contradict our feelings of patriotism and reinforce or tear down our pride and gratitude as Americans?
    • How does the unfolding of World War I foreshadow the role of the United States as a prominent world power of the twentieth century?
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