Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Chronicling America: Uncovering a World at War

Created June 10, 2014


The Lesson



“War!” The Daybook (Chicago, IL), April 17, 1914

Credit: Library of Congress.

I have been a pacifist and, to a certain extent, I still am one, and, therefore, I am able to understand their point of view...I can see no way that any right thinking person can refuse to follow the president in his course concerning the way. Most of the pacifists’ positions are not only illogical, but silly. —Clarence Darrow, The Daybook, April 20, 1917

One hundred years ago, the European nations were embroiled in a Great War. The United States attempted to continue trade and diplomatic relations with a world in conflict. This lesson gives students the opportunity to interact with historical newspapers available through Chronicling America and read the conflicting viewpoints of America's opinion leaders and ordinary citizens. Students will engage in dialogue as they struggle to decide: should the Unites States remain neutral or join the fight?

By providing students with the tools to analyze primary source newspaper articles printed from 1914 through 1917, they will be able to understand the diversity of public opinion regarding the U.S. entry into World War I from multiple perspectives and practice thinking critically about the variety of public opinion available in this medium.

Guiding Questions

  • Why was America so divided about the prospect of entering World War I in 1917?
  • How did Americans react toward the events of the World War I in their hometown newspapers?

Learning Objectives

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Read and analyze several newspaper articles to determine the point of view of the author
  • Understand the reason behind why some Americans advocated involvement in the war while others opposed U.S. involvement or maintained a neutral stance

College and Career Readiness Standards

Anchor Standard
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Individual Grade
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.6 Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).


In April 1963, American newspaper publisher Philip Graham (the Washington Post) said in a speech to journalists in London, "So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never really be completed about a world we can never really understand."

A century ago, newspapers were America’s main source of  information. World War I (the Great War) was a conflict fought not only in the trenches of Europe but in American public opinion. The American literacy rate was remarkably high, and many major cities offered multiple papers. Newspapers were for-profit businesses. Their editorial pages offered the views of the opinion makers and the elites, and in order to make money, many catered to a particular group of readers. These newspapers are tremendous historical sources because they give the contemporary reader insight into the conversations that played out in American homes of that era. They reflected that “first rough draft of history” and helped to define what was important.

Between 1914 and 1917, the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand; the declaration of war in Europe; the invasion of Belgium; the establishment of trench warfare in France; the sinking of the Lusitania; and the publication of the Zimmermann telegram were all events that influenced public opinion. The articles offered in this lesson reflect a variety of these opinions in a variety of newspapers from across the nation.

For the in-depth historical summary on World War I used for this lesson and noting critical vocabulary click here.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Analyzing World War I Newspaper Articles

Provide students with a copy of the Historical Context: Events Leading to U.S. Involvement to World War I and any additional information you wish to include for review. As a class, discuss the circumstances that led to war and the United States faced as it navigated the complexities of neutrality.

Reading the articles (15 minutes)
  • Divide the class into small groups of two or three students each.
  • Provide each small group two or three articles from the annotated list to read silently. Consider providing articles from conflicting positions.
  • Struggling readers may find the following articles, available as a PDF, more accessible. They are shorter and/or their arguments are more concrete and plainly stated.
    • War!” The Daybook, April 17, 1914 (Chicago, Illinois)
    • The Fortune of War,” The Herald and News, May 11, 1915 (Newberry, South Carolina)
  • Have each small group of students discuss the articles. Using the WWI Graphic Organizer as a guide, have students determine what each article is trying to communicate:
    • Does it support sending American troops to war? Is it opposed to participation: Or, does it present a different issue entirely?
    • What support is given for the author’s position?
    • Who wrote the article or what group’s viewpoint is captured there?
    • Is this opinion important? Why or why not?
Classroom Discussion (20–35 minutes)
  • Combine the small groups into two larger groups (the class should be divided in half).
  • Ask the groups to pretend they are President Wilson’s advisors in March 1917. Direct students to discuss their overall impressions based on what they learned from their articles (groups may wish to draft out a pros and cons list to gather all the different perspectives) and determine the U.S. position towards war: Should the United States remain neutral or should it join the fight?
  • Using large Post-it chart paper or your classroom chalk/white board, have each group write down 3–5 reasons that justifies their final position. Student should cite the articles they have used to come to this decision.
  • Have each group present the final decision including the conclusion for their argument to the class.

As homework, present students with the second section of the Historical Context on World War I: America Declares War. Students should write a two-paragraph response that explains how closely their decision aligned with history, providing reasons for why it may have differed.

Activity 2. Working with Chronicling America
Local Perspective/Further use of Chronicling America (45–60 minutes)
  • Introduce students to the Chronicling America database. Explain its purpose and demonstrate how to use it.
  • If desired, EDSITEment’s guide to using Chronicling America offers a dozen short NEH-funded video tutorials to get students started.
  • Divide students into 3–5 groups depending on technology access. (If each student has access to a computer, this can be done individually.)
  • Have each group find 2 or 3 newspaper articles from their state or region that discusses U.S. involvement in World War I from 1914–1916.
  • Have students fill out the same article analysis chart they used for the pre-selected articles in order to determine the opinions of people from their own state/region compared to those in the original articles they researched.

As an assessment or exit ticket, ask students:  Would your final decision been different given this new information?  Explain why or why not.


Have student pick one article from the Annotated List of Chronicling America Articles; download the article as PDF file; read it, annotate it, and then write a 350 word essay arguing whether the article is pro, anti-, or neutral in regard to the war, supporting their positions with evidence from the text. They should be asked to go beyond simple quotations to the substance of what is being maintained.

Extending The Lesson

  •  Stephen Wesson writes on the Teaching with the Library of Congress blog “In a typical paper from 1900, you might find factual reporting, fire-breathing editorials, biographical profiles, literary nonfiction, weather reports, box scores, charts, graphs, maps, cartoons, and a poem about current events—maybe even all on the same page!"  As a class, identify some of the different  types of items that can be found in a newspaper and discuss the kind of information that can be can gleaned from each of them.
  • Now that students are familiar with Chronicling America, have each group find 2–3 articles that discuss U.S. involvement in World War I between 1917 and 1918. How do the issues discussed in articles building up to war show up in subsequent press coverage?
  • Have students locate additional primary sources (letters, government documents, photographs, political cartoons, etc.) dating between 1914 and 1916. Places to try might include: a local archives; the Library of Congress; the National Archives and Records Aministration and it’s Our Documents initiative; and the National World War I Museum; Have student write a 350 to 500 word essay with documented examples on how these sources are similar to or different from newspaper coverage in their approach to events, and opinions.

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Common Core
  • History and Social Studies > U.S.
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Politics and Citizenship
  • Interpretation
  • Using primary sources
  • Cheryl Caskey, Kentucky Historical Society (KY)
  • Naomi Peuse, Network for Gifted Education, University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point (WI)