ALEX Lesson Plan

Not so Fast, Mr. President!: Examining American Opposition to Involvement in World War I

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Joseph Cordi
System: Sylacauga City
School: Sylacauga City Board Of Education
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 35607


Not so Fast, Mr. President!: Examining American Opposition to Involvement in World War I


In this lesson, students will be examining primary sources pertaining to differing viewpoints of America's involvement in World War I. The students will annotate the documents, looking for main ideas and supporting details. The students will then form graphic organizers separating two opposing viewpoints. Finally, students will write a group expository essay using the data from the graphic organizer.

This lesson was created as part of the Alabama Bicentennial Commission’s Curriculum Development Project.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 11
9 ) By the end of Grade 11, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the Grades 11-College and Career Readiness (CCR) text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. [RL.11-12.10]

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 11
10 ) Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain. [RI.11-12.1]

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
ELA.AAS.11.10- Answer who, what, when, where, and why questions to analyze informational text, using textual evidence and inferences as support.

English Language Arts
ELA2015 (2015)
Grade: 11
24 ) Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information. [W.11-12.6]

Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 11
United States History II: The Industrial Revolution to the Present
3 ) Explain the United States' changing role in the early twentieth century as a world power. [A.1.a., A.1.b., A.1.c., A.1.d., A.1.e., A.1.f., A.1.i., A.1.k.]

•  Describing causes of the Spanish-American War, including yellow journalism, the sinking of the Battleship USS Maine, and economic interests in Cuba
•  Identifying the role of the Rough Riders on the iconic status of President Theodore Roosevelt
•  Describing consequences of the Spanish-American War, including the Treaty of Paris of 1898, insurgency in the Philippines, and territorial expansion in the Pacific and Caribbean
•  Analyzing the involvement of the United States in the Hawaiian Islands for economic and imperialistic interests
•  Appraising Alabama's contributions to the United States between Reconstruction and World War I, including those of William Crawford Gorgas, Joseph Wheeler, and John Tyler Morgan (Alabama)
•  Evaluating the role of the Open Door policy and the Roosevelt Corollary on America's expanding economic and geographic interests
•  Comparing the executive leadership represented by William Howard Taft's Dollar Diplomacy, Theodore Roosevelt's Big Stick Diplomacy, and Woodrow Wilson's Moral Diplomacy

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SS.AAS.11.3- Identify the causes, major events, and key figures of the Spanish American War; understand the United States transition to becoming a world power following the Spanish-American War.
SS.AAS.11.3a - Define diplomacy, foreign policy, domestic policy, and imperialism.

Social Studies
SS2010 (2010)
Grade: 11
United States History II: The Industrial Revolution to the Present
4 ) Describe causes, events, and the impact of military involvement of the United States in World War I, including mobilization and economic and political changes. [A.1.a., A.1.b., A.1.d., A.1.f., A.1.i., A.1.j., A.1.k.]

•  Identifying the role of militarism, alliances, imperialism, and nationalism in World War I
•  Explaining controversies over the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, and the League of Nations
•  Explaining how the Treaty of Versailles led to worsening economic and political conditions in Europe, including greater opportunities for the rise of fascist states in Germany, Italy, and Spain
•  Comparing short- and long-term effects of changing boundaries in pre- and post-World War I in Europe and the Middle East, leading to the creation of new countries

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SS.AAS.11.4- Define militarism, nationalism, imperialism, and alliances; understand that the United States entry into World War I had a significant impact on the outcome of the war; identify the consequences of World War I.

Local/National Standards:

National Council on Social Studies 

NCSS - C.9-12.3 Principles of Democracy - How Does the Government Established by the Constitution Embody the Purposes, Values, and Principles of American Democracy?

Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will be able to:

1) annotate an early 20th Century anti-World War song for the purpose, audience, and meaning, as well as an excerpt of President Wilson's Declaration of War Speech. The song that will be examined and annotated will be a time period piece entitled, "I Didn't Raise My Son to Be a Soldier" with the lyrics written by Alfred Bryan and the music composed by Al Piantodosi.  The speech that will be examined and annotated will be Woodrow Wilson's April 2 Declaration of War Speech delivered to the U.S. Congress.

2). discuss and understand how Woodrow Wilson's argument for America going to war is a direct reflection of America's growing influence in the world, beginning with its victory in the Spanish-American War.

3). use a graphic organizer to chart the differing views of American nationalism using the elements of purpose and argumentative reasoning between the two documents.

4). collaborate and write a common thesis that will later be used to begin a compare and contrast essay regarding pro- and anti-war sentiment in 1917 America.

5) discuss and understand why it is important that an American President gains permission from Congress to declare war, and they will understand how this is unique to a Democratic-Republic.


Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

61 to 90 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

1. hard copy of a transcript of the song (each student should receive his or her own copy): "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier"  Song Link  (Audio link found at  Audio Link of Song)  

Secondary Source Link for Song  (a hard copy of this information should be provided if the internet is not accessible for students)

2. a laptop for each student with access to the internet as well as Google Docs (If this is not an option, students should have access to hard copies of documents as well as the graphic organizers, and they can hand write the group essay collaboratively. Instead of emailing the assignment to the instructor, they may submit a hard copy of both the graphic organizer and essay at the end of the lesson.)

3. pens/pencils (highlighters optional) for annotating the documents.

4. a hard copy of blank graphic organizer for each student to chart central points of each author's main argument.  (The author of this lesson created this graphic organizer as well as the outline of the expository essay using Google Docs.)

5. Guide for Annotating Documents

6. Expository Essay Rubric

7.  LCD Projector connected to central computer

8. projector screen, visible to classroom

9. Link to Woodrow Wilson's War Message to Congress

10.  Each student will need at least 10 sticky notes


Technology Resources Needed:

1. access to a laptop computer (preferably one per student, at least one per group of students)

2. LCD Projector with sound capability

3. Student laptops should have access to Google Docs and email capability. (If this is not available, alternate procedures will be suggested in "during lesson" section below.)


For the Teacher:  The teacher should have a background knowledge of what eventually caused the U.S. to become involved in World War I. The following link to the Encyclopedia of Alabama should provide valuable information for the teacher: World War I and Alabama from The Encyclopedia of Alabama: If the teacher does not have the ability to have students use Google Docs to collaboratively work on their group essay, it is just as beneficial to have the students write the essay collaboratively and submit one group essay at the end. If the teacher does not have the ability to have the students email their assignments, then turning in a hard copy of the essay is just as effective.   

For Students:  Prior to this lesson, students will have covered content related to reasons the U.S. may have reasons to become involved in WWI. (For example, the economics of trading with belligerent and friendly nations, threats to immigration, and unrestricted submarine warfare.) Also, students will have practiced annotating primary and secondary sources. There are several methods of annotation; one of the most common forms is to have students separate the text into paragraphs. For each paragraph, have the students underline the main idea. Then have the students circle any words or phrases that support that main idea.


Before the Lesson:

Bell Ringer Opening of Class Activity:  

Have students define the following terms/phrases by assigning students to groups of 3-4 students, then assigning each group a term to define.  Then have that group report the definition of that term to the class as a whole through a verbal presentation.  The students can find the terms by using a textbook or researching the term online.  Make sure to review the terms with the class so that if any group does not include all of the appropriate information regarding each term this can be corrected. I have included enough terms so that if there is a large class, you will have some extra terms to assign one to each group. The students will need to use these terms later in the lessons to supplement their expository essays.  

1. Unrestricted German Submarine Warfare WWI

2. Lusitania

3. Selective Service Act 1917

4. Robert LaFollette

5. Wilson's Neutrality Speech

6. Sussex Pledge

7. Zimmerman Telegram

After reviewing the bell ringer terms as a class, place students into groups of 3. It is recommended that students are strategically placed into groups rather than letting the students pick at their own discretion in order to ensure the most conducive working environments.  

Distribute a copy of the song, "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be A Soldier", Woodrow Wilson's speech, and a copy of the compare and contrast graphic organizer. Make sure that each group has pens/pencils or highlighters.

During the Lesson:

Before annotating the text, write the directions for annotating texts on the board for the students to reference. (Annotation directions are noted above in the "Background" section of this lesson.) The teacher will place students into groups of 3-4 to begin examining and annotating the documents. Note: If a hard copy of the text is being used, circling supporting details could be used.  If a Google Doc format is being used, the underlining tool on the Google toolbar could be used.  To begin this phase of the lesson, the teacher should model the expectations by reading 1-2 parts of each text, and walk through the annotation process with the students by using verbal questioning as a form of formative assessment to gauge understanding of what is expected for the remainder of the document.  

The teacher should then allow group work time for the students to both read and annotate the documents as a group. Each member of the group will submit his/her own electronic or hard copy of the annotated text. (If access to sufficient technology is available, Wilson's "Declaration of War Speech" could be formatted into a Google Doc by copying the text from one of many places the speech can be found on the internet and pasting it onto a Google Document.  (The website where the document is found as well as the speech itself should be cited on the Google Doc.)  Now the students can highlight the text directly on the document as well as underline using the toolbar options in Google Docs.

Once the documents have been read and annotated within the group, the group should complete the graphic organizer. (This will serve as another form of formative assessment for this lesson.) Once the graphic organizers are complete, as a prewriting activity, have the students conduct a "Gallery Walk" to peer edit the graphic organizers and offer kudos and suggestions of information to add to enhance the upcoming essay.

A Gallery Walk consists of the following steps:

1. Give each student at least 10 sticky notes.

2. The students will be assigned to examine 10 different classmates' graphic organizers.  

3. For each organizer examined, the student should write 1 positive statement about the student's work, and 1 piece of advice regarding an addition that could be made, OR a question for the student to ponder as he or she begins to write the essay with his or her group.  The advice, as well as the clarifying question, should be written on the sticky note and placed on the classmate's computer screen or paper.

The students should begin the summative assessment for this lesson which will be a collaborative group expository essay regarding the explanations of the ideas put forward by the two texts being utilized.  The procedures for the collaborative essay can be found on the "Graphic Organizer handout."

After the Lesson:

As a culminating activity for the lesson, the students should fill out an exit slip on another sticky note that the teacher will give them.  The question for the exit slip (or assignment the student will turn in before leaving class for the day) will be at the teacher's discretion.  The question should ask the students to express 1 piece of new information that they learned during the lesson, and 1 piece of the information in the lesson they would like to know more about.

Bibliography Staff.  U.S. Proclaims Neutrality in World War I. (2009). Retrieved July 8, 2017, from

Office of the Historian, U.S. Senate.Gov.  Free Speech in Wartime. (n.d.). Retrieved July 8, 2017, from 

World War I Archive Brigham Young University. Wilson's War Message to Congress. (2007, April 14). Retrieved July 8, 2017, from's_War_Message_to_Congress 


Assessment Strategies

Assessment Strategies:

1. Formative: 

-Oral questions directed toward the class regarding the documents

-annotation of the documents

-completion of the graphic organizers

Summative Assessments:

-Collaborative Essay (graded using the rubric)

-Group Gallery Walk


Students should research another song of the time period that advocates a pro-war message for American Involvement in WWI. The students should write a paragraph summarizing one major difference in the pro-war song and the primary source song that they used in this lesson.

Suggested Reading to Further explore Opposing Opinions in Regards to American Involvement in WWI:

Summary of Senator Robert Lafollette's Speech 

Excerpt From Woodrow Wilson's 1914 Neutrality Speech



The time constraints of this activity can be extended for those students who need assistance with reading comprehension and analysis. Also, for those students who may require more time or help in written articulation, instead of 4 paragraphs, outlining two key points from the documents, a 3 paragraph essay with only one key point would suffice.

*Note: All accommodations and or suggestions within the IEP's of any student in your classroom should be followed when introducing and assessing the activities of this lesson.  

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.