Today, teachers are presented with an excellent opportunity to bring history alive for their students by exploring the events and stories of World War I. By teaching about this war, which changed the course of our collective history, teachers can help students gain valuable insight into global issues and seek out empathy for those affected.
Planning practical lessons around this topic can be challenging. Still, with the right resources and guidance from experienced educators, it is possible to design an engaging unit of work which will get your students thinking critically and provide them with a newfound appreciation for the significance of WWI. This article will discuss helpful tips and offer valuable resources to facilitate teacher-led lessons around WWI.
Overview of World War I
World War I (WWI) began in 1914 and lasted until 1918. It was a devastating war which resulted in more than 16 million deaths and an estimated 21 million wounded. The conflict saw some of the worst destruction and loss of life history has ever seen.
Before WWI began, Europe suffered from a downturn in economic prosperity, increasing nationalist sentiments and tensions between rivalling countries. This brought about rising military budgets and arms races to compete for power and control over regions within Europe. With tensions at their peak, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was the spark that officially ignited WWI.
Throughout the war, forces suffered heavy losses due to trench warfare and newly developed weapons such as machine guns, tanks, poison gas and long-range artillery. On top of this, numerous countries also faced food shortages caused by naval blockades. At the same time, other nations suffered diseases like influenza or typhoid due to poor living conditions on the battlefields.
After four years of fighting, WWI ended with Germany’s surrender in November 1918; however, it would not be until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28th 1919, that the official end to WWI was declared. Despite its tragic end, WWI provided new opportunities for technological advancement, improved medical science, and a newfound understanding of international cooperation between countries to prevent future wars from happening again.
- June 28th: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, sparking World War I.
- August 4th: Germany declares war on Russia and France, beginning the hostilities in WWI.
- August 24th: The Battle of Mons begins, marking the first battle on the Western Front of WWI.
- April 22nd: Germany launches a poison gas attack against the French lines at Ypres.
- May 5th–June 18th: The Battle of Gallipoli takes place in Turkey as part of an Allied campaign to open up a supply route to Russia through the Dardanelles Straits.
- October 15th–November 20th: Italy enters WWI by declaring war on Austria-Hungary and Germany, beginning with the Battle of Isonzo.
- February 21st–December 18th: The Battle of Verdun occurred between French and German forces along the Western Front, leading to massive casualties on both sides.
- July 1st–November 18th: The Battle of Somme takes place, during which Britain suffered heavy losses while advancing their line along the Western Front.
- February 3rd–April 5th: Following two failed attempts to break through German lines in 1915 and 1916, France and Britain launched a third offensive in 1917, the Battle of Arras.
- April 6th–October 26th: The United States declares war on Germany following attacks on American shipping vessels by German submarines (U-boats). U.S.-led forces joined France and Britain for what would become known as the Hundred Days Offensive against German lines near Ypres in Belgium.
- April 2nd–May 2nd: The Second Battle of Bapaume is fought between French, British and German forces near Amiens, leading to the end of trench warfare in WWI.
- November 11th – Armistice Day was declared after Germany signed an armistice agreement with Allied forces at Compiègne, France, effectively ending WWI but leading to more than 16 million deaths worldwide due to combat or related causes as famine or disease caused by wartime conditions.
Key Individuals Involved in WWI
- Woodrow Wilson: The 28th President of the United States, Wilson was a key figure in negotiating and signing the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WWI.
- Georges Clemenceau: Clemenceau was the Prime Minister of France during WWI and was a leading voice in negotiating the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
- David Lloyd George: Lloyd George served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WWI and significantly influenced Allied strategy throughout the conflict.
- Kaiser Wilhelm II: The last German Emperor, Wilhelm II was a central figure in German politics at the beginning of WWI, with his policies being blamed for disputes between Europe’s major powers that led to war.
- Vittorio Orlando: Orlando was Prime Minister of Italy before and during WWI and played a vital role in managing negotiations between Italy and its Allies.
- Tsar Nicholas II: As tsar, Nicholas II made decisions impacting Russia’s involvement in WWI. His abdication in 1917 greatly influenced Russian participation during and after the war.
Impacts of WWI on Countries Around the World
- Germany: WWI was financially and politically ruinous for Germany, with the Treaty of Versailles drastically reducing its territory, military and economic power.
- Austria-Hungary: The sudden collapse of this empire during WWI, precipitated by heavy losses suffered in the conflict, had a significant impact on the political landscape of Europe.
- Great Britain: Whilst not suffering as badly as other countries from WWI, it still saw a massive loss of life and enduring financial repercussions from the conflict.
- France: France was one of the worst affected nations by WWI, suffering a massive loss of life and colossal destruction to its infrastructure caused by German invasions.
- Italy: Italy’s involvement in WWI led to many casualties that impacted the Italian people greatly. It also resulted in financial instability due to war debts incurred.
- Ottoman Empire: Following its defeat in WWI, large swathes of land formerly held by the Ottoman Empire were reorganized into new Middle Eastern states or annexed by European powers. The subsequent displacement caused great upheaval among many ethnic groups once included. – United States: The US entered WWI late, but its participation still significantly impacted global events following its conclusion (e.g., establishing the League of Nations). Its economy also greatly benefited from participating in the war effort.
Teaching Opportunities From Learning About World War I
- Exploring different perspectives of the war: Due to its long and complex history, WWI offers an excellent opportunity to explore multiple views of the conflict. This includes looking at the motivations, decisions and experiences of countries involved in the war and their populations.
- Understanding why WWI was fought: Investigating and understanding why WWI began is critical to understanding how and why it ended. This could include exploring rising nationalist sentiment and economic downturns that preceded the shooting conflict.
- Discussing The Treaty of Versailles: The Treaty of Versailles officially ended WWI but also led to significant economic, political, and social repercussions, which set the stage for WWII. Students can examine this period to understand what was put into place and its lasting impact on Germany and other nations worldwide.
- Exploring advances in technology during WWI: During WWI, many new technologies were developed, from poison gas and tanks to aerial warfare and submarines. These advancements helped shape how wars are fought today by introducing ideas such as strategic bombing or advanced surveillance systems. By discussing these advances, students can better appreciate how technology has impacted combat operations throughout history until now.
- Exploring human consequences of WWI: Lastly, it’s crucial to examine not just the physical devastation caused by WWI but also analyze how it affected civilian lives on both sides of the conflict and its lasting psychological impacts on veterans in later years.
Teaching Plans Based on WWI Teaching Opportunities
Lesson Plan 1: Exploring Different Perspectives of the War
Students will understand and be able to articulate the motivations, decisions and experiences of the countries involved in WWI.
- Introduce students to the different perspectives and objectives at play during WWI.
- Have students research individual countries’ views, goals, motives and experiences related to the war.
- Lead discussion as a class about each country’s decision-making process leading up to and during the conflict.
Lesson Plan 2: Understanding Why WWI Was Fought
Students will be able to identify and explain factors such as economic downturns or rising nationalist sentiment that triggered or influenced WWI.
- Introduce students to concepts such as economic downturns or rising nationalism that preceded WWI.
- Have students answer questions about these topics in groups before leading a class discussion.
- Ask questions such as what European conditions before World War I began contributed to its outbreak. What were some of the political developments in Europe leading up to The Great War? How did these issues shape countries’ decisions during WWI?
Lesson Plan 3: Examining Advances in Technology During WWI
Students will understand how advances in technology led by WWI shaped modern warfare operations.
- Introduce students to technologies used by both sides during WWI, such as poison gas, tanks, aerial warfare and submarines. Explain why they were critical strategic developments during this period.
- Give students examples of recent technologies used in modern warfare operations today (e.g., surveillance drones). Ask students how these technologies are similar/different from those used during WWII and discuss their impact on modern combat scenarios. – Encourage student discussion about how advances made by one side can create an advantage for another side when it comes to future conflicts or wars.