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Teaching Guide: Exploring America’s Entry into World War I

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, World War I: America Heads to War, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. What were the reasons for neutrality in President Wilson’s statement of neutrality?
  2. What are the pro-German arguments laid out in the excerpt from the Times and the excerpt from Bartlett’s book? How does this reflect the divided loyalties in the United States at the outbreak of World War I in Europe?
  3. With outside information on Germany’s invasion of Belgium and the reported atrocities there, use the two posters that make reference to Belgium to describe the US’s relationship with Belgium.
  4. How do the poster about France and the poster about food waste show attitudes in the United States shifting away from neutrality?
  5. How does the warning in the Lusitania text and the 1917 enlistment poster display the drama and tragedy of the sinking of the Lusitania?
  6. The poster about German “traps,” the poster about defeating the Kaiser, and the poster about defeating U-Boats all demonstrate increasing tensions between the US and the German Empire. Create a list of events and tactics that pushed the US closer to war.
  7. Use the photograph of President Wilson’s speech and the text of President Wilson’s speech to explain the diplomatic steps that brought the US to declare war. What reasons did Woodrow Wilson outline?

Classroom activities

Using the propaganda posters from the set as a start, ask students to investigate propaganda in World War I on both Allied and Axis sides. Students will find additional propaganda pieces on the Digital Public Library of America site. Ask them to sort the pieces using categories created by the class (different purposes, emotions, kinds of imagery, e.g.). Identify and discuss positive and negative strategies for conveying these messages. Students can use their findings to create their own propaganda poster and present it to the class. This could be done in groups or individually.

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