The Power of Persuasion: Press and Propaganda During World War I

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
4-5 class periods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Critically analyzing media/print bias is an important skill in today's world to avoid being manipulated by advertisers, news sources or politicians.
  • Newspaper and Propaganda Analysis using primary sources
  • Technology-based presentations over findings
Rationale (why are you doing this?)

Critically analyzing media/print bias is an important skill in today’s world to avoid being manipulated by advertisers, news sources or politicians

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Analyze propaganda and newspaper articles from the World War I era.
  • Design and give presentations summarizing findings
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • SS7 1.7, 3.5, 3.6 Distinguish between fact and opinion and analyze sources to recognize bias and points of view (Missouri Social Studies CLEs)
  • SS7 1.5 Interpret maps, statistics, charts, diagrams, graphs, timelines, pictures, political cartoons, audiovisual materials, continua, written resources, art and artifacts (Missouri Social Studies CLEs)
  • 1. History Continuity and Change Theme 3 C. Evaluate the impact of U.S. participation in WWI and the resulting peace efforts. (DESE Missouri Grade Level Expectations)
Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • Day 1—A.) Introduce lesson by asking if any of the students or someone they know has ever been misled by a news report, advertisement, or social media post.  Let students share appropriate examples. Discuss what the words “Propaganda,” “Fake News,” and “Election Meddling” mean.  Ask students whether they believe advertisements, news stories, and social media posts are effective in influencing our attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. Emphasize that this lesson, while focusing on news and propaganda from World War I, will help introduce skills that are needed to avoid being duped by misleading information in today’s world.  B.) Read the secondary overview of propaganda posters.  C.) Watch the video overview of propaganda and press during WWI. Discuss the purposes of propaganda during World War I.  D.) Analyze a World War I propaganda poster by discussing the following questions: 1.) For whom is the propaganda designed? (Be specific.)  2.) What is it trying to get the reader to think or do?  3.) What emotions does it appeal to?  4.) What might be the positive and/or negative consequences of this propaganda?
  • Day 2—A.) Have students read the article on media bias.  Discuss the various types of media bias. B.) Remind students that when World War I broke out, President Wilson asked Americans to be "neutral in thought as well as deed."  Have students look at the timeline of WWI events.  Would any of these events make it harder for Americans to support neutrality?  Would the newspapers covering these events be likely to reflect a move towards entering the war?  C.) Find an American newspaper covering one of the key World War I events (sinking of the Lusitania, resumption of submarine warfare, Zimmerman Telegram,) etc.  **The teacher may need to give the students tips on how to search the database. Analyze the article by doing the following:

1.) Underline the facts in the article.  2.) Circle all opinions.  3.) Highlight any examples of media bias.  Is this article simply reporting the news or is it trying to persuade the reader to support a war against Germany?  On a “Fake News” scale of 1-10, where would this article rate in its journalistic integrity? (1 would be no obvious evidence of bias or misleading facts; 10 would be extreme bias or erroneous facts in reporting.)

  • Day 3—Students should work in teams to examine World War I propaganda posters and newspaper stories.  Each team should pick one propaganda poster that they feel is highly persuasive, analyze the poster using the questions above, and then explain why they felt that this poster was highly effective.  They also should pick one World War I news story that they think is worthy of a “Fake News Award” and analyze it using the steps above.  Students also need to justify why they felt this news story was biased or erroneous in its reporting.
  • Day 4—Students should give powerpoint or Google slide presentations which summarize their findings from Day 3.  The presentations should include the analysis questions/steps and their explanations for why the propaganda was effective and the news story was worthy of a “Fake News” award.
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide
  • Scoring Guide for Presentations will be based as follows for each expectation listed below:

4—Exemplary           3—Above average               2—Barely Adequate                        1—Lacking


Teachers should feel free to translate the scoring guide above to points or letter grades as desired.  Each expectation can be weighted according to the teacher’s preferences.

  1. The presentation included an analysis of a World War I poster by answering the questions modeled on Day 1. The poster should be included in the presentation.
  2. The presentation included an analysis of a World War I news story by following the steps modeled on Day 3. The news story should be included in the presentation.
  3. The presentation included an explanation with several reasons for why they felt the selected propaganda poster was highly effective.
  4. The presentation included an explanation with several reasons for why the selected World War I news story deserved a “Fake News” award.
  5. The presentation was well-organized and easy to follow.
  6. The presentation included effective communication techniques and proper grammar.