Narrative of the Great War Experience

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
2-3 weeks. Integrated into an overall study of the Great War, the research and writing should be given time to show depth and understanding. Research can be done outside of the classroom allowing for studies to continue.
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will research through the use of primary source documents the lives of different segments of societies in WWI, and create a fictional narrative based on this study, to illustrate their understanding of the material.

Students will research through the use of primary source documents the lives of different segments of societies in WWI, and create a fictional narrative based on this study, to illustrate their understanding of the material. 

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

The goal of this lesson is to give students a deeper understanding of diversity in WWI, and personalize the war; to bring home the humanity, through the use of primary resources. 

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Recognize a primary resource and analyze its resources.
  • Create a new document based on the use of other documents.
  • Recognize the different players in the First World War, and their unique roles.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met


2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

KANSAS STANDARDS (High School-US History)

Benchmark 1: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the emergence of the modern United States (1890-1930).

6. (A) analyzes the reasons for and impact of the United States’ entrance into World War I.

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

Textbook, histories of the period and the war.                                          

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

Veteran’s History Project website, Mammoth Book of the First World War,

and other sources that can be located both at the local library as well as online.  Wartime inspired poetry, literature, and memoirs can be a great source for inspiration, but may take more time to dissect. 

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

The Project:

After a brief introduction to the war, and the participants in it, students will be introduced to this project.  Students will be given an opportunity to choose a character, to take on said persona.  They will choose between the following:

Young male, age 17, white, American born

Young male, age 19, black, American born

Young male, age 20, white, European born, immigrant to the U.S. (choose country of origin)

Young female, age 19, American or French

Older male, age 33, German/Austrian/Russian/etc.

Female, age 33, black, American born

Female, age 27, German/Russian

Male, age 17, Mexican, riding with Pancho Villa in 1915-1916

Assignment:  Using primary sources, students will investigate the lives of real persons who fit the details of their category.  Students will keep two separate DOCUMENTS:  A research diary, in which they record data, details, and resources pertinent to their research.  Emphasis should be placed on finding information that pertains distinctly to the role they are playing.  For instance, if the student chooses to be a German male, look for statements about German feelings toward the war and the Kaiser.  Stress what makes this persons experience unique.  Also, they will record questions that arise, words or concepts they don’t understand, excerpts that they feel appropriate, and begin to flesh out their character.  In the other, they will create a document (a diary, a journal, etc.) to illustrate a fictional experience.  This will be a work of fiction, but will show the progression of understanding.  Students may visit the NWWI Museum to get a deeper understanding of the humanness of their character.  If the students visit the museum, have them look for representations of their persona around the museum.   

The student will need to have some research done before they can begin their personal documentation (their story creation).  This document can be used as an assessment of the research, at the instructor’s discretion.  Students should give a citation for their sources of information, should they choose to follow up for more information.  A minimum of four sources should be allowed, to fully flush out the character.

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

Did student keep a research journal?

Did the student use more than four sources to gain knowledge on their character?

Did the student create a fictional character based on that journal?

Does the Character portray a general understanding of the reality?

Does the journal/diary reflect reality of the person?

Are there historical errors?  Can the student justify them through their research?

Online Collection