America Enters World War I

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The Basics

Subject Area and/or Course Title:

American History

Targeted Grade Level:


Time Required:

Two to three 90-minute classes

Related Standards:

  • MN State Social Studies Standards, Grade 7: 2: Pose questions about a topic in United States history, gather and organize a variety of primary and secondary sources related to the questions, analyze sources for credibility and bias; suggest possible answers and write a thesis statement; use sources to draw conclusions and support the thesis; present supported findings, and cite sources.
  • MN State Social Studies Standards, Grade 7: 20. As the United States shifted from its agrarian roots into an industrial and global power, the rise of big business, urbanization and immigration led to institutionalized racism, ethnic and class conflict, and new efforts at reform.


Casey Metcalfe, 2015

The Lesson

Introductory Narrative to Lesson:

This lesson focuses on life on the home front in the years 1915-1919; specifically the beginning of war in Europe. In the pre-war years, the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat in 1915 deeply affected the American psyche and cultivated a distrust of Germany. However, in the years following, President Woodrow Wilson advocated an isolationist policy saying America should “exhibit the fine poise of undisturbed judgment”. In contrast, former President Theodore Roosevelt encouraged intervention following Germany’s declaration of war on Belgium.  When the United States officially entered the war in 1917 (following the interception of the Zimmerman Telegram), the image of the Lusitania was used across propaganda mediums to mobilize Americans to participate in the war effort through enlisting, rationing, and limiting political speech.

Lesson in Context

Preceding this lesson, students will have basic understanding of the broad political causes of World War I (MAIN acronym) and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Essential Questions

  • What motivated American entrance into WWI?
  • How did the United States persuade citizens to join the war effort?
  • How did Americans help the war effort on the “home front”?


Learning Objectives

  • Students will analyze the various perspectives regarding American intervention in WWI during the years 1914-1917. 
  • Students will define the term propaganda, describe its purpose during WWI, and evaluate its effects on the behavior of the American public.


Lesson Activities


Daily Bellringer (5 minutes)

What does it mean to “isolate”? When is a time that an individual/country might choose to isolate itself? Students will be prompted to share their definitions and an example of isolation. Teacher should guide students towards contextualizing question in terms of the previous lesson regarding the causes of World War I. (“Why would the United States decide to isolate themselves from European affairs in 1914?”)


Tough Choices: Roosevelt vs. Wilson (15 minutes)

The class will be split into two groups: One will analyze excerpts from Woodrow Wilson’s Appeal for Neutrality (1914) and the other will analyze Theodore Roosevelt’s America and the World War (1915).  Students will work with table partners. After seven minutes, students will switch passages.

  • PASSAGE A: “My thought is of America… This great country of ours… should show herself in this time of peculiar trial of a Nation fit beyond other to exhibit the fine poise of undisturbed judgment, the dignity of self-control, the efficiency of dispassionate (unemotional) action; a nation that neither sits in judgment upon others nor is disturbed in her own counsels and which keeps herself fit and free to do what is honest and disinterested and truly serviceable for the peace of the world.” President Woodrow Wilson, Appeal for Neutrality, August 19, 1914
  • PASSAGE B: “Our true course should be to judge each nation on its conduct, unhesitatingly to antagonize every nation that does ill at the point it does it.  And equally without hesitation to actOne of the greatest of international duties ought to be the protection of small, highly civilized, well-behaved and self-respecting states from oppression and conquest by their powerful military neighbors…I feel in the strongest way that we should have interfered, at least to the extent of the most emphatic diplomatic protest and at the very outset--and then by whatever further action was necessary--(when Germany invaded Belgium)”.  Ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, America and the World War, 1915
  • Wilson’s Appeal for Neutrality (1914)

    • What does it mean to be “neutral” in a conflict?
    • If you were living during this time, how would you feel about a war beginning in Europe?
    • What is Wilson trying to keep the United States from doing in his Appeal for Neutrality?
    • Does Woodrow Wilson want America to isolate itself from the war? How can you tell?

    Roosevelt’s America & World War (1915)

    • What does it mean to “antagonize” another nation?
    • Which European country is the “small, highly civilized, well-behaved and self respecting state” that Roosevelt is referring to? Who is the “powerful military neighbor”?
    • Roosevelt wanted the United States to “act without hesitation”. What do you think Roosevelt suggests the United States do?
    • Does Theodore Roosevelt want America to isolate itself from the war? How can you tell?


Brief Review (5 minutes)

Teacher should review responses with class as a whole when students have finished. Afterwards, ask students “Which one of these two men is President in 1914? Woodrow Wilson. “Based on Wilson’s views, what do you think the United States did when war broke in Europe?” Stayed out of the war, stayed neutral, isolated itself.

Cloze Notes: Introducing the Lusitania (10 minutes)

Teacher gives brief historical context about submarine warfare in the Atlantic Ocean and the final voyage of the British passenger ship. Students will follow along and annotate using iPad application Notability. Underlined text indicates blanks for students. Students will be expected to fill in blanks and add supplemental notes.   Question for students: Now that Americans have died, will the US join the war?

  • On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania (a British passenger ship) was torpedoed by a German submarine. (,_possibly_in_New_York,_1907-13-crop.jpg) A second explosion followed shortly thereafter, and the ship sank in only 18 minutes and killed 1198 passengers and 128 Americans.  Germans had signed treaties stating that they would not attack passenger ships. However, the German Embassy took out an advertisement in the London newspaper warning passengers of the danger of Atlantic travel during wartime.  The passenger liner was carrying war munitions in the cargo hold. (


Brain Break – 5 minutes


Story Behind the Song– “When the Lusitania Went Down”  (20 minutes)

Students will listen to/analyze the 1915 song, “When the Lusitania Went Down” by Charles McCarron & Nat Vincent. Students will be supplied lyrics for the song and complete the “Story Behind the Song” questions with a new partner. Students should be primed for the dated nature of the recording. Ask: Predict how the recording from 1915 will sound. Why might it be useful to listen to a recording from the era rather than a contemporary one?

“When the Lusitania Went Down” 

The nation is sad as can be,

A message came over the sea.

A thousand or more, who sailed from our shore,

Have gone to eternity.

The Statue of Liberty high,

 Must now have a tear in her eye.

I think it’s a shame; no one is to blame,

But all we can do is just sigh.

Some of us lost a true sweetheart,

Some of us lost a dear dad,

Some lost their mothers, sisters and brothers

Some lost the best friends they had.

It’s time they were stopping this warfare,

If women and children must cry.

Many brave hearts went to sleep in the deep,

When the Lusitania went down.

Oh, listen to all these good deeds.

When we feel like crossing the sea,

American ships that sail from our slips,

Are safer for you and me.

A Yankee can go anywhere

As long as Old Glory is there.

Although they were warned, the warning they scorned,

And now we must cry in despair.

Story Behind the Song:

  • Describe: Who is the speaker in the song? What images does the speaker describe?
  • Analyze: What is the tone of this song? What is the listener supposed to feel after listening?
  • Interpret: From the speaker’s perspective, who is to blame for the sinking? (see v2/4/6)
  • Evaluate:  Based on the final verse of this song, will America immediately go to war with Germany? Why or why not?


Afterwards, students will return to the large group and large group will review the questions together.  Sheets will be collected for assessment purposes. 


Sheet Music:



Cloze Notes: The Zimmerman Telegram  (10 minutes)

Teacher directly instructs class in cloze notes regarding the Zimmerman Telegram and its historical significance. Students will follow along and annotate using iPad application Notability. Underlined text indicates blanks for students. Students will be expected to fill in blanks and add supplemental notes.   Questions for students: Why is Mexico interested in gaining the SW United States? Why is Germany concerned about American intervention?


  • In January 1917, British intelligence intercepts a telegram between German authorities. Zimmermann's message included proposals for a Mexican offensive on the southwestern United States in the event the United States attacked Germany. The telegram made it clear Germany did not want the United States involved in the war, stating the belief that Britain would be forced to surrender soon. The Japanese government would also join this new alliance in a possible conflict in the Americas. When this came to light, Americans were outraged and public support for joining the war grew.


Compare/Contrast: 1915 vs. 1917 (20 minutes)

Students will compare textual elements of “When the Lusitania” to “Remember the Lusitania” using the Song comparison graphic organizer from Voices Across Time. Teacher should instruct students to focus on text solely. Questions to ask students: “Who is to blame for the sinking of the Lusitania in this 1917 song?” “What has changed between 1915 and 1917?” What is America preparing for?”

Note: No recording currently exists for “Remember the Lusitania”. Teachers who would like to use an audio recording and analyze musically will need to make their own. Sheet music is available at:

“Remember the Lusitania” by Jess Sechrist, 1917

America once more is in battle array,

Flying her battle flags up high,

Preparing to fight for liberty,

May its banners forever fly

The stars and stripes must well do their part,

In crushing this wild warlord who violated all treaties,

Every rule of war and respects not international law.


Remember the Lusitania, the gallant queen of the sea,

Remember to souls, Remember the souls she carried,

Good Americans as you and me, Remember the Lusitania,

With those helpless women and children aboard,

 Who went defenseless into the massacre,

 And saw their country never more.

America once more is in battle array,

Flying her same old battle flags,

Striving to free the entire world,

From grasping Prussian autocrats

We must well do our part,

 Our work is cut out it is in the cause of humanity.


Exit Slip submitted to Schoology via Discussion Board (5 minutes)

Was American entrance into World War I justified? Why or why not?  Use specific textual evidence in your response. (3-4 sentences)


Daily Bellringer (5 minutes)

What does it mean to “persuade”? What have you learned about persuasion in your English-Language Arts class? Students will be prompted to share strategies from their persuasive writing unit earlier this year in English class.

Abbreviated Review (5 minutes)

Teacher will lead a group review of concepts from the previous lesson. Question to ask: “What events changed the way Americans viewed the war in Europe?”

Story Behind the Song– “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier”  (20 minutes)

Students will listen to/analyze the 1915 song, “I Didn’t Raise My Son to be a Soldier” by Al Piantadosi, 1915. Students will be supplied lyrics for the song and complete the “Story Behind the Song” questions with a new partner. Teacher should introduce the song with the understanding that students may have personal experience sending family members off to war. Use professional discretion.


Story Behind the Song: “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” 

  • Describe: Who is singing the chorus of the song? What is she worried about?
  • Analyze:  See the chorus. What does it mean to “arbitrate”? Is this a possible alternative to war?
  • Interpret: Do you think a boy belongs to his mother as it says is the last verse? Why or why not?
  • Evaluate:  Thinking backwards, what historical events might a mother be relating to World War I? (Think back about 50 years…)



Sheet Music:


After reviewing questions, play/show lyrics to the song “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Coward”




Cloze Notes: Entrance into the War/Propaganda (20 minutes)

Teacher directly instructs class in cloze notes regarding the American entrance and its effects on the “homefront”. Students will follow along and annotate using iPad application Notability. Underlined text indicates blanks for students. Students will be expected to fill in blanks and add supplemental notes.  Questions for students: What do these posters want the American people to do? What images do they show? Are there examples of propaganda in the world today? Where?


1915 -- Lusitania is sunk and American lives are lost. Americans are picking sides. Wilson wants us to remain neutral.

1915-1916 -- More U boats are disrupting shipping in the Atlantic.

1916 Election – Wilson is re-elected with campaign  “He kept us out of war”

January 1917-- Zimmerman telegram is intercepted

April 1917 -- Wilson asks Congress for a declaration of war

Pre-WWI Army = 200,000

Selective Service Act

All males between 21 and 30 required to sign up for military service

By end of 1918, nearly 3 million men were drafted.

2 million of which went to France

Served under General Pershing

To prepare for war the U.S. needed to raise money

War cost America $35.5 billion

Ways American citizens were encouraged to become active/participate in total war



Buy War Bonds

Save food

Donate Clothing

Limit use of gas and metals

Propaganda:  information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause; it is designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group. The most famous examples are posters that depicted scenes from battle, American citizens, and Uncle Sam. (examples at However, songs can also be considered propaganda if they are attempting to promote a cause. Ask: What do these posters want the American people to do? What images do they show?


Station Activity: Total War on the Home Front (39-45 minutes)

Students will be given 13-15 minutes per station to finish a short analysis on a set of resources. Teacher should keep student to a strict timeframe to keep students working on their analyses.

Station One: Story Behind the Song– “Heatless, Meatless, Wheatless Days ”  (12-15 minutes) Students will read the lyrics and complete a graphic organizer that focuses on how individuals cope with rationing.   The graphic organizer will cover:



How does the speaker feel about rationing resources?

Musical Purpose

What is the purpose of this song? Could this be viewed as propaganda music?

Verse One: Heat

How do individuals cope with “heatless days”?

Verse Two: Meat

How do individuals cope with “meatless days”?

Verse Three: Wheat

How do individuals cope with “wheatless days”?



Station Two: Liberty Bonds Propaganda (12-15 minutes)

Students will analyze the following posters and analyze the images and text used.


After viewing each poster they will answer the following:

  • Describe the image in the poster (look at the foreground/background, details)
  • What does the text say?
  • What is the poster supposed to make you feel?  


Station Three: Espionage/Sedition Acts (12-15 minutes)

Students will watch the Schooltube video and use the text of the Espionage and Sedition Acts to answer questions about free speech and why it was limited during the war. (

  • TEXT: Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy of the United States into contempt, scorn, contumely, or disrepute, or shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any language intended to incite, provoke, or encourage resistance to the United States...shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or the imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both.”


If you’re interested…German Spies in America:

Questions for Students

  • How were German Americans treated when America enters the war? Give specific examples.
  • What were the effects of the Espionage and Sedition Acts? What did it disallow?
  • Imagine you are a supporter of the Espionage and Sedition Acts. Why support this legislation?
  • Imagine you are an opponent of the Espionage and Sedition Acts. Why oppose this legislation?



If time allows, review answers with students. Focus specifically on how the government persuaded the American people using media, political action. Collect station activity sheets and grade based on effort and completion of analysis.

Extension Opportunity

Students can create their own propaganda poster that incorporates relevant imagery and persuasive text. Consider putting students in groups and assessing their final product based on integration of the MAIN causes in the poster.


Exit Slip (5 minutes)

What sacrifices were made by Americans to support the war effort? Were these efforts worth the cost?



  • Sheet Music/Recordings for:
    • “When the Lusitania Went Down” by Charles McCarron & Nat Vincent, 1915
    • “Remember the Lusitania” by Jess Sechrist, 1917
    • “I Didn’t Raise My Son to be a Soldier” by Al Piantadosi, 1915
    • “Heatless, Meatless, Wheatless Days” by Roy Hartzell, 1918
  • Song Comparison Graphic Organizer
  • iPads (1:1)
  • Schoology Learning Platform (for exit slip)
  • Notability App


Works Cited:

Feist, Leo, Nat Vincent, and Chas McCarron. “When the Lusitania Went Down”, 1915. New York, 1915. Notated Music.  <>

Hartzell, Roy. “Heatless, Meatless, Wheatless Days”, 1918. Washington D.C.: Howard Publishing Company, 1918, Notated Music.

Herbert Stuart. When the Lusitania Went Down. N.d. Web. 23 July 2015. <>.

Piantodosi , Al,  Leo Feist, and Alfred Bryan. “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier”, 1915.  New York, 1915. Notated Music. <>

Pianadosi, Al, Leo Feist, and Alfred Bryan, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier.” Recording: Edison Collection, Library of Congress. <>

Sechrist, Jess. “Remember the Lusitania”, 1917. Harrisburg, PA: Sanpan Publishing, 1917.  Notated Music. <>

No recordings available for Sechrist, Hartzell.



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