Issue #5  -  U.S. Entry into the War
World War I changed everything. Let's change how students think about  America's role in the war.

Welcome to Understanding the Great War. Each issue includes articles, curriculum, and primary sources that you can freely use, arriving in your inbox every other month.

Special Commemoration Issue Coming in March

We'll break with our usual schedule to send an extra issue in late March centered on the upcoming national centennial ceremony. The issue will provide a ceremony schedule, livestream, and the resources to participate in the ceremony as it happens on April 6. Learn More
"I read in today's paper that U.S.A. threatens to come over and help us. I wish she would. The very thought of the possibility fills me with joy. ... Somewhere deep down in my heart I've felt a sadness ever since I've been out here, at America's lack of gallantry - it's so easy to find excuses for not climbing to Calvary; sacrifice was always too noble to be sensible."
- English-American author Coningsby Dawson, from a Feb. 6, 1917 letter during his service as a Lieutenant in the Canadian Army.

Germany's use of unrestricted submarine warfare, where U-boat submarines were used to sink both military and merchant ships without warning, was very controversial and provocative. Smithsonian magazine and GIS-mapping company Esri have created an interactive map of the attacks by German U-boats during WWI. The accompanying article by Li Zhou details Germany's decision to use this type of warfare and how it forever changed the rules of war. View on 

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Digital Magazine Article and Interactive Map

This short article from the Imperial War Museums tells the story of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915. While the loss of life (nearly 1,200 deaths, including 128 American citizens, out of almost 2,000 passengers) is often cited as the cause for turning American sentiments against Germany in the war, IWM provides an overview of the complicated situation and why it should not be viewed as the sole, direct cause of America entering the war. Read the article at
Recommended Grade Levels: Elementary School, Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Digital Article
"It is by no means necessary that a great nation should always stand at the heroic level. But no nation has the root of greatness in it unless in time of need it can rise to the heroic mood."
- Teddy Roosevelt, excerpt from Fear God and Take Your Own Part, 1916

This video from The Great War Channel explains the internal struggles and revolution affecting neutral Mexico during World War I, and how Germany's stance against the United States brought Mexico into the international spotlight with the Zimmermann Telegram. Watch on YouTube 

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Digital Video, 9 1/2 minutes

Images courtesy of the National Archives

The Zimmermann Telegram was a major factor in the U.S. decision to join the Allies in World War I. Using this lesson, students will analyze the context of the telegram from the perspectives of the U.S., Mexico, and Germany; examine the reaction in the Southwestern U.S. states that Germany promised to return to Mexico; and connect the Telegram's impact to today's U.S.-Mexico border issues. Download the Lesson Plan (PDF) and Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation (PPTx) 

Recommended Grade Levels: High School 
Format: Lesson Plan

"From a military point of view, America is nothing ... almost no Americans will volunteer for war service ... America has already produced as much ammunition as she is able to produce."
- German Admiral Eduard von Capelle

Not all Americans were in agreement about joining the war. During the National World War I Museum and Memorial's 2016 Symposium, 1916 | Total War, Dr. Michael Kazin explored how various American groups zealously challenged the United States' entry into the war. Watch on YouTube 

For a deeper look, also read Kevin Baker's book review of Kazin's recently released War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914-1918 published in the New York Times in January. Comparing Kazin's talk with Baker's contrasting view on the inevitability and appropriateness of America's role in the war can make an interesting critical thinking exercise for students.

Recommended Grade Levels: High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Digital Video, 55 minutes; Digital Newspaper Article, soft paywall

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress requesting a declaration of war against Germany. The National Archives uses from its collection parts of the original address, a full transcript of Wilson's message, and the joint resolution from Congress formally declaring war on Germany for this resource. Read at 

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Digital Images, PDF, Text Transcript

The Library of Congress provides a sampling of historic newspaper articles on the U.S. declaration of war from the Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital collection. View on 

Recommended Grade Levels: Elementary School, Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Digital Images, OCR Text, and PDFs of Historic Newspapers

"Now that the question is before Congress again, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urges that the right of these ten million citizens to participate to the full in every phase of our national life be recognized by designating two of the artillery regiments and two of infantry, of those about to be created by Congress, as open for enlistment to colored Americans."
- From the May 1916 issue of The Crisis, edited by W.E.B. Du Bois.

In this lesson plan created by teacher Matt Moore for National History Day, students investigate primary sources to discover why the U.S. joined World War I. This module is a part of the larger curriculum for Middle and High Schoolers, Teaching World War I. Visit to view all of the lessons. Download Lesson (PDF) and Lesson Materials (DOCx)

Recommended Grade Levels: High School
Format: Lesson Plan

Students are asked to read like a historian in this lesson plan from the Stanford History Education Group. Students will analyze Woodrow Wilson's speeches as well as other documents to gain a broader understanding of why the U.S. joined the Great War in 1917, three years after fighting began in 1914. View and Download Lesson Plan (PDFs) 

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School
Format: Lesson Plan, Site requires free user registration to download

This initiative from Library of America explores the continuing relevance of World War I by reading, discussing, and sharing insights into the writings of Americans who experienced it firsthand. Divided into topics, including: Why Fight?, The Experience of War, Race and World War I, American Women at War, The Home Front, America on the World Stage, and Coming Home, each subject area has both PDF reading guides and videos (hosted on Vimeo) of modern authors and scholars reading selected writings from the time period. View all topics at

Recommended Grade Levels: Middle School, High School, College, Adult Learners
Format: Digital Videos and PDFs

Visit for more education resources that you can use free of charge and see the Understanding the Great War newsletter archive.
The United States World War One Centennial Commission and the National World War I Museum and Memorial are dedicated to educating the public about the causes, events, and consequences of the conflict and we encourage the use of these resources to better understand the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.

Partners on this project include:
The Pritzker Military Museum and Library is a founding sponsor of the United States World War One Centennial Commission.