World War I as a Pivotal Point in History

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
Parts of 5 class periods (block scheduling). Can be expanded to become a semester project to include World War II, the Cold War, and current conflicts in the Middle East.
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will present an argument for what was the most significant result of World War I to change the development of the world.

Students will present an argument for what was the most significant result of World War I to change the development of the world.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

Rationale:  World War I marks the major change in the progression of history into the modern world.  Understanding the causes of this war and how it changed history is necessary for students to understand how history is linked and how current issues are linked to this pivotal point in history.

Lesson Objectives - the student will

Students will analyze the implications of World War I throughout the twentieth century to present day events.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

2b7- Examine all of the wars of the twentieth century (i.e., World War I and II), including: causes, comparisons, consequences and peace efforts


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.

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

Primary and secondary sources may be acquired via the Internet.  Students may want to present with PowerPoint, video, or other media.

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

World War I is the primary pivotal point in the change of history in the modern era.  The war is the focal point of many historical developments.  Students need to grasp an understanding how this war changed history and effects their current lives.

Prior to instruction on World War I students will be divided into groups of four.  Each group will be assigned to create a thesis to argue what was the most significant development that happened as a result off World War I.  Students are to choose from one of the following four theories, which will be presented:

1. World War I upset the balance of power throughout the world.  The issues the world was forced to deal with following World War II was nothing more than an exaggeration of what was set in motion by World War I.  World War I solved nothing.  For all practical purposes, World War II is simply a continuation of World War I after a twenty-year cease-fire.  The Treaty of Versailles punished Germany severely and led inevitably to World War II.  Furthermore, World War I did not produce a clear-cut winner as Germany still had the ability to rebuild after it renounced the Treaty of Versailles.  Old World powers of Austria-Hungary, Great Britain, and France had been destroyed or significantly decreased in power as evidenced by the division of the Austrian Empire, the rise of independence movements in colonial territories of the imperial powers, and the redrawing of maps.  Furthermore, the United States was the only country taking steps to demonstrate increased significance as a world power.  This led to an early cold war as the first Red Scare became apparent in American society.  This was pitted against the rise of communism under Bolshevik control in the newly formed Soviet Union.  World War II simply continued what World War I failed to completely make apparent to the leaders of the world.  The tensions following World War I were further exacerbated following World War II.  World War II simply completed the destruction of Old World powers and heightened the Cold War tensions to levels where it had not been previously recognizable or acknowledged by the masses following World War I.

2. World War I changed technology of the world.  The carnage of World War I was unparalleled to previous wars because of technological advances.  World War I was fought unlike any other war.  Although there were hints of trench warfare in other wars, in none did it encompass fighting strategies in the totality that it did in World War I.  However, trench warfare has not been used to the same extent in subsequent wars.  This is due to the increase in technology prior to, during, and after World War I.  Previous wars were fought in a more traditional fashion, but the machine changed this strategy of war.  Trenches needed to be dug in defense of the machine gun, but by the end of the war the supremacy of tanks superceded the advantage of the trenches.  This development of technology was started during the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century, but not adopted fully by the military until World War I.  By the end of the war, technology changed warfare again to completely alter battle strategies in subsequent wars.  Battlefield technology has become so important, we have come to the point that wars are currently won and lost to a large degree in laboratories and computers rather than by shear numbers on the battlefields.

3. World War I led to greater psychological changes among the solders who fought and the civilians back on the home front.  Participants in the war experienced shellshock or post-traumatic stress disorder or whatever current popular term describes the severe psychological problems that war leads to.  This, of course, is not exclusive with World War I or even started in World War I, but the war did lead to several changes that were in part due to the devastating emotional problems people encountered during and following World War I.  People were no longer complacent to trust the leaders they followed into the war.  Successful revolutions occurred in the Ottoman Empire and Russia.  In addition, several other nations gained their independence.  In many of these nations, the old monarchial orders were overthrown and the people took greater civic responsibilities for themselves.  It is true there had been revolutions before in history and even some within the same basic time frame.  However, in these previous revolutions one monarch was simply replaced by another or the monarchy regained power after a period of time.  The countries that gained new leadership following World War I by and large never returned to a true monarchial style leadership.  Even those that retained a monarchial figurehead, the true power rested in a more popular sovereign group.

4. World War I led to the rise of great racial and ethnic problems in the post war period.  Cases in point include:  unrest in the Middle East exacerbated by the creation of mandates by France and Great Britain; Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire; nationalism in the Balkans, which was a contributing cause to the unrest leading to World War I and continued to be a problem following the war; anti-Semitism in Europe as the Jewish population was used as a scapegoat for problems not only in Germany but elsewhere across the continent finally leading to the controversial creation of Israel in 1948; and the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States as soldiers returning home desired to achieve a Double V even though that terminology wasn’t widely used until World War II in which the controversy is evidenced by the rise of the New Negro Movement, Harlem Renaissance, back to Africa movement, Great Migration, new rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and general increased xenophobia.

Students will develop one of the four arguments within their groups and provide evidence from primary and secondary sources to defend their thesis.  Addition information will be provided from teacher instruction.

The group will deliver and defend their thesis to class in a presentation.  Each group must also provide documented evidence to defend their thesis.  PowerPoint or other technological support in their presentation is encouraged.  Additionally, each group must submit a written document to defend their thesis with at least four different (one for each student in the group) reasons why it is the most significant reason World War I changed history.  A visual representation must be included to support each of their four arguments and should be included in the presentation.




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

Scoring Guide for World War I Causes



Prepare a persuasive argument and paper for the most significant result of World War I.


Evaluation Checklist:                      Points    Points

                                                  Possible   Received


Effective persuasive presentation


Visual representation included in presentation to enhance presentation


Documentation of