ALEX Lesson Plan

Dear Father: A College Student’s Perspective on WWI

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Alabama Department of Archives and Hist
System: Informal Education Partner
School: Informal Education Partner
The event this resource created for:Alabama History Education Initiative
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 33798


Dear Father: A College Student’s Perspective on WWI


This lesson will introduce students to an Alabama connection to World War I. The primary document that will be used is a letter to a father from a University of Alabama student, written on March 2, 1917, exactly one month before the United States declared war on Germany. The student discusses typical family topics before ending with his concerns about the possibility of war.

This lesson was created as a part of the Alabama History Education Initiative, funded by a generous grant from the Malone Family Foundation in 2009.

Author Information:Dr. Lesa Roberts (Cohort 1: 2009-2010) Hampton Road Middle School; Huntsville City School System; Huntsville, AL

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 4
Alabama Studies
11 ) Describe the impact of World War I on Alabamians, including the migration of African Americans from Alabama to the North and West, utilization of Alabama's military installations and training facilities, and increased production of goods for the war effort.

•  Recognizing Alabama participants in World War I, including Alabama's 167th Regiment of the Rainbow Division
•  Identifying World War I technologies, including airplanes, machine guns, and chemical warfare

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SS.AAS.4.11- Identify the important role Alabama played during World War I and the impact World War I had on the lives of Alabamians.

Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 6
United States Studies: The Industrial Revolution to the Present
3 ) Identify causes and consequences of World War I and reasons for the United States' entry into the war.

Examples: sinking of the Lusitania, Zimmerman Note, alliances, militarism, imperialism, nationalism

•  Describing military and civilian roles in the United States during World War I
•  Explaining roles of important persons associated with World War I, including Woodrow Wilson and Archduke Franz Ferdinand
•  Analyzing technological advances of the World War I era for their impact on modern warfare
Examples: machine gun, tank, submarine, airplane, poisonous gas, gas mask

•  Locating on a map major countries involved in World War I and boundary changes after the war
•  Explaining the intensification of isolationism in the United States after World War I
Example: reaction of the Congress of the United States to the Treaty of Versailles, League of Nations, and Red Scare

•  Recognizing the strategic placement of military bases in Alabama (Alabama)

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SS.AAS.6.3- Identify strategic placement of military bases in Alabama, such as Redstone Arsenal, Fort Rucker, Fort McClellan, and Craig Air Force Base.

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

The student will be able to:

  • describe the impact of World War I on Alabamians.
  • identify consequences of World War I and reasons for the United States' entry into the war.


Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

31 to 60 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

Cliff Durr primary source letter – classroom set

• Cliff Durr primary source transcript – classroom set (attached)

• Presidential Paragraphs rubric (attached)

• College Student Letter rubric (attached)

Technology Resources Needed:

• Computer

• Document camera or transparency to display primary document if using the Modification


Background information for teacher: The teacher can find information about Alabama’s involvement in World War I on the Encyclopedia of Alabama Web site

Students should be familiar with the following:

• Events of the turn of the century, the Progressive Era, and the events that created the war in Europe by 1914.

• Terms – isolationism, nationalism, imperialism, and militarism.

• People and countries involved in the early WWI era – Woodrow Wilson, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany, Italy, Russia, France, and Great Britain.

• Candidates and political platforms of the 1916 presidential election.


Engagement/Motivation Activity:

Before: Ask students if they know of anyone in college today. Allow time to respond. Discuss how college students stay in contact with their families (emails, texts, phone calls, and letters).

During: Encourage students to brainstorm possible topics an eighteen-year-old son would write about to his father today. Ask the students to create a T-chart in their notebooks by drawing a line down the middle of the page and labeling the left column NOW and the right column THEN. Underneath the NOW section list possible topics, such as money, tuition, cars, tests, grades, sports, events at home, events in the news, and friends. Explain that eighteen-year-olds may not have changed much in the last 100 years.

Step 1 Distribute the primary document, and read it aloud or ask for volunteers to read the letter. As the letter is read aloud, tell the students to add the topics that Cliff wrote about to the T-chart under the label THEN. Topics should include tuition, late fees, shoes, birthday, and Wilson’s campaign for re-election.

Step 2 Discuss the closing of the letter concerning Cliff’s birthday and how he feels about current events. Students may need to be reminded that in 1917 the voting age was twenty-one. Ask students what the writer meant by “Wilson keeping us out of trouble.” Relate this statement to Wilson’s 1916 campaign slogan “He kept us out of the war.” Discuss why, despite Wilson’s pledge to keep America out of the war, he eventually asked Congress to declare war.

Step 3 On the bottom of the T-chart under the THEN section, the students should write a brief paragraph about Wilson’s campaign slogan and the events which occurred that altered his promise to keep America out of the war.


Step 4 Discuss the most recent elections and the slogans that were used. Encourage students to determine whether or not the candidate has fulfilled campaign promises. What events might occur that could cause the candidate to “go back on” or alter campaign promises as President Wilson did?

Step 5 On the bottom of the T-chart under the NOW section, the students should write a brief paragraph about the current president’s campaign slogans and the events that have/may occur that could cause the president to “go back on” or alter his promises.

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Assessment Strategies

Grade the T-chart for accuracy.

Grade the paragraphs using the attached rubric.


The student should complete the T-chart as directed. Students should then highlight commonalities found on the chart (money request, clothing needs, current events, studying).

The student should write a letter to a parent or guardian following the directions on the rubric. Allow students to share their letters. Grade the letters using the attached rubric.


Students should be given the transcript of Cliff Durr’s letter. Allow students to highlight important information and various topics he discusses.

Students may work in pairs to read and complete both sides of the T-chart.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.