Social Sundays: An investigative approach to teaching World War I

World War I also called the war to end all wars or the great war had an impact that can still be felt today.  Despite its absolute importance in our history, it is quite possibly one of my least favorite units to teach.  I struggle to get creative with my curriculum.  So, the last time I taught World War I, I turned my classroom into a newspaper room, and that made all the difference.  

For 7 class days, the students became the investigative reporters with story assignments, research to conduct and deadlines.  

I divide my class into groups of 6-7 students.  I prefer group sizes of 3-4.  The scope of this project was such that in order for students to successfully gather, write, edit and publish World War I newspapers there needed to be at least 6 students.  Depending on the personality of your class you might have up to 8 students in each group.

  • Day 1: The classroom with the desks arranged as in a newsroom, lined up in rows, each set out with a neat stack of paper and pencil a top.  I have an old typewriter from 1918 which I place on my own desk and am typing at rapidly when the students enter.  On the walls are reproductions of newspapers from the period.   I introduce myself as the editor of The Times and welcome them as new reporters to The Times.  We have recently studied the muckrakers as part of our Progressive Era unit, so they have pretty good buy-in.  I rapidly group students and distribute information on the newspaper project.  The packet explains the project, suggests topics that should be included (starred topics are mandatory), graphic organizers for writing their articles and informational text for each of the major topics.  I remind students that as investigative reporters they should never rely on just one source.  By the end of this class each group has assigned 2-3 articles per person plus a creative item such as a crossword, comic, recipe or opinion piece.  
  • Day 2 - 5:  These are lab days.  Students research, write, and rewrite articles.  I do small group pullouts where students who are writing on the same topic from different groups come together to discuss their topic, ask questions, share facts, and debate.  I also work with newspaper groups to check progress and provide feedback.  Rough drafts of article 1 for each student are due on Day 3, rough drafts for article 2 and 3 are due on Day 4.  We do peer editing on day 4 of one of the articles.  By day 5 they need to have final drafts typed but not formatted or edited.
  • Day 6:  Day 6 and sometimes day 7 are devoted to assembling and formatting.  We work in Google drive so that all the articles can be accessed by the entire group.  There are some good newspaper templates available to use for Google Drive in which students can cut and paste their articles into (read more here).  Depending on how the creative items were created they sometimes are easy to drop in to the template from the drive but other times we take a photo and paste the photo in. 
  • Day 7 (or 8): when the newspapers are complete, I print them and post them.  I have students do a short gallery walk to examine the different newspapers and celebrate!  We embark on an introductory discussion in small groups on the impact of World War I on future events.  
This is a time for prediction.  We post our predictions for future reference.  I keep the newspapers handy as we move forward through the 20th century.  Students rarely fail to notice how the decisions made at the end of World War I have had lasting reverberations.  

This is part of a series of posts for teaching 20th century U.S. History.  Topics in the series include:

The Progressive Era
World War I
The 1920s
The Harlem Renaissance
The Great Depression
World War II
The Cold War
The 1950s
The 1960s
The Civil Rights Movement

Social Sundays is a bi-weekly post sharing tips, ideas, resources, and products for teaching social studies.  If you have questions or think there is something I should share, you can leave me a message in the comments below or at the store in the question and answer section.



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