Lesson Plans

Early Twentieth Century

Spanish American War
Author: Kyle Landefeld
School: Damascus High School
Grade Level: 9th
Time Estimated: 2 days

Enduring Understanding

Throughout the 19th century, Americans debated issues connected to expansion. Westward acquisitions continued through the 1800’s with the land gained through the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican American War. By the Civil War, what we know today as the continental United States was in place. The debate then turned to extending our borders and redefining Manifest Destiny. Economic development played a critical role in shaping this debate but in the years leading up to the Spanish American War, the United States experienced a growth in ethnocentrism, nationalism, humanitarism, and desire for national security.

It was this growth coupled with a strong ideological belief that provided the moral foundation that allowed for the U.S. public to support the efforts to make the country into an imperial power. The Spanish American war was the turning point in the U.S. transition into imperialism. Heavily debated in the public arena and the halls of congress, the justification for plunging the nation into a war that it was ill prepared to fight became the central issue for many.

Was this a war of conquest or an altruistic effort by the United States to help free its brothers to the South? This lesson is designed to allow students to examine the justification of the United States in entering this war and whether it matches up with the final results achieved through the Treaty of Paris and the Platt Amendment.


    1. Students will be able to describe President McKinley's "official" justification for entering the Spanish American War by completing the activity worksheet.

    2. Students will be able to describe the Teller Resolution by completing the activity worksheet.

    3. Students will be able to list the terms of the Treaty of Paris and complete the activity worksheet.

    4. Students will be able to explain the impact of the Platt Amendment on Cuban sovereignty by completing the question on the activity worksheet, "How does the Platt Amendment establish United States power over Cuba?"


Unit 9.3 "Foreign Policy and a World Identity"
Lesson Sequence 1 "The Spanish American War: Establishing a World Identity"



    1. Activate prior knowledge: As a class, review all the conflicts the United States had with Spain that led up to the issuing of the ultimatum. Answers should include General Weyler, Jose Marti, Yellow Journalism, Hearst and Pulitzer, the Delome letter, the sinking of the Maine, economic conditions. Remember that this lesson examines U.S. justification for war and the reality of the treaty. Students should be familiar with a basic chronology of events.

    2. Next, based on their previous knowledge, students are to assume the role of President McKinley and create a brief message to the American people stating why the United States is declaring war on Spain. This may be done individually or in groups. Message should be recorded on the activity worksheet.

    3. As students share their responses, a list of reasons should be recorded on the board. Students should record any reasons they feel are legitimate that are not in their lists on the activity worksheet under other.

    4. After students share their messages and the list is created the students should attempt to group their responses into the 5 foreign policy objectives listed in the curriculum (nationalism, humanitarian, ideological, national security, ethnocentric).

    5. Students should then go through McKinley’s war message and record his justification for war. Students should then compare their reasons and motives to McKinley and record how they are different. This provides the opportunity to discuss why Presidents might include and exclude certain issues from their message and the overall tone of the message.

    6. The Teller Resolution is then introduced and students are to read the Resolution and asked to determine the tone of the document, why this resolution may have been necessary at the time and how Spain may have reacted. After a class discussion students are asked to then find elements of the resolution that support McKinley’s war message. Students are to record on the activity worksheet how the Cuban people probably view the United States as a result of the resolution. This will be done by drawing a facial expression in the circle and explaining why the facial expression was chosen.

    7. Once "official" justification for going to war is established based on both the war message and the Teller Resolution students will complete a homework assignment or lesson about the military component of the war itself. This will be determined by the teacher and based on the constraint of the curriculum.

    8. After the war itself has been presented students will be asked to go back to review the "official" reason for war and will be asked to write the terms of the treaty that should end the war. This provides an opportunity to discuss the concept of "to the victory goes the spoils" and "a just and lasting peace"

    9. Again the students will present their terms and a running list will be kept on the board. Students should record any terms that they feel are legitimate that are not in their list on the activity worksheet under other.

    10. Students will then read the Articles 1,2,3,6, 8 and 10 of the treaty and summarize in their own words each article on the activity worksheet. Please note that Article 3 is long and should be edited down to the first 2 sentences.

    11. When finished students should answer the question "How is the Treaty of Paris different from your treaty?"

    12. The discussion should turn to the acquisition of land by the United States and possible reasons why that land was included.

    13. Students must then respond to the questions, "Did the United States achieve what it set out to do?" and "Did it achieve more?"

    14. Students should then discuss the question;
    "Do you think it possible that the United States would be willing to have no control over Cuba after the war? What would be the downside to this situation? Based on the Teller Resolution how can the United States exert influence?"

    15. Students are then given the Platt Amendment and asked to identify ways that the United States established power over Cuba even after they gained their independence.

    16. Students are to record on the activity worksheet how the Cuban people probably view the United States as a result of the amendment. This will be done by drawing a facial expression in the circle and explaining why the facial expression was chosen.


Divide a piece of plain white paper into two even halves with a horizontal line across the middle. The top box should be labeled Teller Resolution and the bottom box should be labeled Platt Amendment. Students should create a visual in each box that demonstrates the relationship between the United States and Cuba under each topic. Example - Teller resolution could have a picture of Uncle Sam with his hands up in the air saying "Hands off" and a Cuban saying "Thanks, you are so generous" and for the Platt Amendment those same characters could show the change by Uncle Sam placing shackles around the Cuban.

On the back of the paper, students are the answer the following question:
Did the United States fulfill its promise in the Teller Resolution?"

  • It should be noted that Cuba DID gain its independence.


Because of the nature of the primary source (documents) it is critical that teachers differentiate this assignment. Documents could be shortened and vocabulary defined on the board based on the level of the students. Assignments could be completed in pairs or heterogeneous groups. Differentiation could also be achieved by manipulating the worksheet.
Example: fill in several of the terms of the treaty.


Students will be assessed through class participation in discussion, completion of the activity worksheet, visuals and on the unit test. It should be noted that the activity worksheet requires students to record a variety of different types of answers using several different types of skills. This allows the teacher to vary the grading of each question on the worksheet.

References: Web

McKinley's war message

Teller Resolution

Platt Amendment

Treaty of Paris

Martinez-Fernandez, "The Birth of the American Empire as Seen Through Political Cartoons (1896-1905)," OAH Magazine of History vol. 12, n.3, Spring 1998

References: Books & Media

Brinkley, Current, Freidel and Williams. American History: A Survey. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2007.