Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
Curriculum Unit

United States Entry into World War I: A Documentary Chronology (3 Lessons)



The Unit


American foreign policy continues to resonate with the issues involved in the entry of the United States into World War I-unilateralism versus foreign alliances, the responsibilities of power, the influence of the military-industrial complex on foreign policy, the use of force to accomplish idealistic goals. Understanding the choices the Wilson administration made and their consequences provides insight into international affairs in the years since the end of the Great War and beyond.

In this curriculum unit, students reconsider the events leading to U.S. entry into World War I through the lens of archival documents.

Note: This unit may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson or as a prequel to the complementary EDSITEment curriculum unit The Debate in the United States Over the League of Nations. It may also be taught in conjunction with the EDSITEment curriculum units African Americans Soldiers in World War I: The 92nd and 93rd Divisions and African American Soldiers After World War I: Had Race Relations Changed?.

Guiding Questions

  • What important events led to U.S. involvement in World War I?
  • What is the most compelling evidence explaining why the U.S. entered World War I?

Learning Objectives

  • List important events leading to U.S. involvement in World War I.
  • Take a stand on a hypothesis for U.S. entry into World War I, supported by specific evidence.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the curriculum unit. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Download the Master PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.
  • Before printing any oversized documents, use the Print Preview function of your browser to see how each will look. Change the settings in Page Setup, as desired, by selecting Print Preview from the FILE option in your browser. Use the Print Preview function after making changes.
  • This unit is a Web quest. Given specified resources on the Internet (though not necessarily limited to those resources), student groups are challenged to create a slideshow using archival documents to tell the story of U.S. entry into World War I. No single cause would be sufficient to explain something as complex as the reasons behind U.S. entry into World War I. It's difficult to discuss the reasons, however, without talking about them separately. In this lesson, the students are looking for primary causes and a way to understand the process by which the U.S. entered World War I.
  • This unit is intended for students familiar with the basic facts about World War I.
  • For background on the entry of the U.S. into World War I, read the following essays from "An Outline of American History" (USIA, 1994), available on From Revolution to Reconstruction, a link from the EDSITEment resource American Studies at the University of Virginia:

The Lessons

The Basics

Grade Level


Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Europe
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Developing a hypothesis
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Textual analysis
  • Using archival documents