Lesson Plans

Early Twentieth Century

Propaganda on the Home Front
Author: Anne Marie Ritzell
School: Thomas S. Wootton High
Grade Level: 9th
Time Estimated: 2-3 days (50-minute class periods)

Enduring Understanding

The United States was brought into World War One by Europe and had to uphold its economic, ideological, and national security foreign policy objectives. The president knowing that he had a divided home front with millions of Americans having recently immigrated to the United States from Ireland, Germany and Austria-Hungary decided to take action to persuade public opinion. Wilson created a propaganda campaign to mold public opinion to favor war.


Students will be able to identify the social and political impact of World War I on individuals and groups by analyzing propaganda developed by the Committee for Public Information during World War I. Students will then create their own “Pro-War" propaganda (poster, speech, or song) with a specific audience, emotion, and common characteristics of the WWI pieces.


Unit 9.3 "Foreign Policy and a World Identity"
Lesson Sequence 3 "World War I Shapes U.S. World Identity"


  • Chapters in Textbook:
    The Americans: Reconstruction to the 21st Century, Chapter 11
    American Pathways to the Present, Chapter 12
  • Propaganda Project Rubric


Day 1

Objective: Students will be able to identify and discuss the need for the Committee on Public Information during World War I by taking notes and writing a BCR reflection (one-paragraph essay)

Activator (Bell Ringer):

  • Each student will have one of the three propaganda posters taped to their desks ("Be Patriotic," "Uncle Sam Says," and "Civilization vs. Barbarism").
  • Ask students to analyze their posters by writing down in their spirals (SSJ) what they Notice, and questions about the source, and prior knowledge about World War I. Students have been using close reading since the 1st semester. If close reading has not been introduced then carefully read or analyze the sources as a class.
  • Have students share their finding with a person sitting next to them.
  • After the students share show the students full size posters (or group into three's with 9x11 mini posters). Ask the students, "What do these 3 posters have in common?" Students should comment on the subject, the colors, the layout, the word placement

Learning Activity:

    Lecture Burst - "Mobilizing Public Opinion"

  • Define mobilize - before you start the lecture.
  • America at the beginning of World War I wanted nothing to do with "Europe's War"
  • Wilson will win his second term as President, and now he has to find a way to mobilize the American people for war.
  • Ask students why people go to war, and how a government gets people to fight in a war? Lead in to the "Selective Service Acts."
  • Selective Service Act - June 5th 1917 - 10 million men volunteer.
  • Selective Service Act of 1918 - 13,975,706 men ages 18-45 volunteer for the army.
  • George Creel - background
  • The Committee of Public Information - headed by George Creel - established to provide people with a "coherent pro-war policy" - completed this objective by starting one month in advance to the Selective Service act - 4 minute men making speeches in movie houses on topics like: Universal service by selective draft; why we are fighting; what our enemy really is. CPI will expand into the movie business creating films like Pershing's Crusaders (John J. Pershing should be remembered from Wilson's moral diplomacy in Mexico), Under Four Flags. CPI will also have a division of Pictorial Publicity headed by Charles Dana Gibson; their job was to find famous illustrators to paint patriotic canvases - 1,438 works of Art - reproduced by millions - show an example of James Montgomery's "I Want You."
  • If time read a 4 minute man speech out loud, or take a look at some of the requirements they were supposed to follow when speaking.

Summarizer: Ask students to answer in their spirals (SSJ)- What was the purpose of the CPI? Do you think it was effective?

Homework: Explore the website worldwarone.com, and bring back five facts on George Creel. Write these facts on a separate sheet of paper, and turn them in tomorrow for completion.

Day 2

    Activator (Bell Ringer):

  • Have students pick up a primary source packet (assembled by theme) on their way into the classroom.
  • Listen to "Over There" and have the students follow along with the lyrics on the first page of the packet (or overhead).
  • Let the students know that today they are going to be looking at some of the products of George Creel’s Committee for Public Information. Review what the CPI's purpose was, and share some of the summarizers from the previous lesson.
  • Introduce the homework for the next 5 days. Explain that the analysis done in class today will help the students create their own piece of propaganda.

Learning Activity:

  • Break the class into groups of 2 or 3 to analyze the propaganda pieces they picked up on their way into class. Students will sit together with students who have the same packets.
  • Each group will have a common theme or target audience (Loyalty, Patriotism, Immigrants, Anti-German) when it comes to their posters, songs, or speeches.
  • Allow about 15 minutes for analysis in small groups.
  • While in groups students will answer the following four questions to analyze the propaganda:
      a. Audience- For who was the piece of propaganda designed?
      b. Purpose- What was this piece of propaganda trying to get people to do, or think?
      c. What emotional pleas/demands are being made?
      d. What could these pleas/demands lead to?
    • As the students are discussing go around and check for understanding, guiding the students to the common theme.
    • After 15 minutes give the students two minutes to come up with a common theme. Once a theme has been decided on have the students share the common theme of their posters.
    • Each group should share their findings about their piece of propaganda, and then reveal the common target audience at the end of their analysis.
    • Answer the following in your spiral (SSJ): How did the United States Government use propaganda to mobilize public opinion during World War I?

    Homework: Propaganda Project, due 5 days later. (see Assessment)


    • Advanced or Honors extension- debate the constitutionality of CPI, did the propaganda really work, or should propaganda be used during a time of war?
    • Advanced or Honors- have student bring in their own propaganda form World War I using specific websites, analyze your source individually and then work with a group to find commonalities, and level of effectiveness.
    • Special Education/Inclusion- limit the number of primary sources in the packet, create a note taking guide (day one) and assign a rough draft due date for the propaganda project.


    Students will create a piece of Propaganda for George Creel’s CPI. Propaganda Project is assigned on day 2 and due 5 days later (make sure to reserve one day for library research). Students will create one piece of World War I propaganda; poster, speech or song for George Creel’s Committee for Public Information. This project will be worth 25 points in the formative assessment category. Students must meet the objective of the CPI which was to create a “Pro-War Opinon" by creating a poster that is at least 24 inches by 36 inches, a 4 minute man speech, or a song.

    References: Web

    First World War.com

      This source is great for students to look at because it gives them a great visual overview of the war. This is also a great site for those who want to learn more about the military history of World War I, that we often do not have time to cover in class.

    History Matters, Center for History and New Media, GMU

      This source is from History Matters. I enjoyed this site because it acted as a springboard for what I wanted to talk about with my lesson. This could definitely be used as an activator when talking about propaganda during WWI.

    HistoryNet.com, Weider History Group

      This site helped me to prepare my lecture burst on George Creel.

    History Matters, Center for History and New Media, GMU

      This site from History Matters is great to see what Four Minute Men were supposed to do and say.

    Documenting the American South, UNC University Library

      Great site from North Carolina about World War I.

    University of Minnesota Libraries

      Great site from the University of Minnesota. User has the ability to really refine their search.

    References: Books & Media

    Wheeler, William B. and Susan Becker. Discovering the American Past: A Look at the Evidence. Wadsworth Publishing, 6 edition, 2006.

      This source was very helpful because I was able to get different examples of propaganda especially examples of Four Minute men speeches, and scenes/headlines from propaganda films.