Ideas for Teachers

The following is a list of suggestions to help secondary school teachers effectively use the materials presented in, "An Archival Look at WWI".

  • To help your students understand the importance and significance of primary resources it might be useful for you to explain the process of how history is written. This can be done easily by getting students to bring in primary resources of their own (e.g., birth certificate, report cards, letters, diaries, home videos, or photographs). Ask your students to write a short history of their life based on the primary resources that they have collected from home. This will give students a good idea about the role that primary resources play in the process of writing history.
  • All archival materials presented in this collection could be used by students as a starting point for an independent research project. Many of the major themes of WWI have been introduced by this project (e.g., the role of women, the evolution of technology, trench warfare, the contributions of the homefront, etc.).
  • Students can take a further look at the evolution of technology throughout WWI. This website will provide students with a solid introduction to some of the most important technological advancements made during WWI. Have students develop a technological timeline for the war. Encourage students to use lots of pictures when they are designing their timeline.
  • Using this website, students and teachers have an excellent opportunity to examine some very interesting primary documents. Students should be taught how to examine primary resources. Students should learn how to extract historical evidence from photographs, distinguish between historical fact and opinion in primary documents, and learn how to develop research questions to further explore primary resources through a literature review. It is a good idea for teachers to demonstrate these skills before expecting students to grasp them. Take a photograph from the collection found on this website and develop a series of questions that will help students examine the primary document for historical evidence. For example: What is happening in the picture? Who is in the picture? Where was the photograph taken? When was the photograph taken? Who took the photograph?, etc.
  • Many of the characteristics of modern warfare were introduced during World War I. Using this website and other resources, have students trace the evolution of warfare that occurred during WWI (e.g., inception of submarine warfare, trench warfare, gas warfare, tank warfare, air combat, and psychological warfare). Have each student create a diorama that depicts some of the aspects of modern warfare that were introduced during WWI. Each diorama should be accompanied by a short write-up explaining the significance of each aspect of modern warfare that is represented.
  • Have students read the letters of Bert and Don Mackenzie found on this website. Bert and Don Mackenzie wrote letters home to Canada from the front during WWI. Bert Mackenzie tragically lost his foot during battle. Ask your students to pull out historical facts that are present in these letters. With these facts in mind, have students write their own letters home from the front. What would they have to say to their loved ones in Canada if they were thrust into battle at the front during WWI? Make sure your students incorporate historical facts into their own letters. You should conduct a short lesson on historical facts versus opinions before doing this activity.
  • Have students explore the WWI materials on this website. Next, have each student choose which role they would have been best suited to play during WWI (e.g., soldier, pilot, doctor, nurse, Prime Minister of Canada, etc.). After each student has picked a role, have them conduct further research on the role that they have chosen to play in WWI. This is a good time to teach your students how to conduct a literature review. This website will give them a good starting point but they will likely need some guidance to do further research. As a final assignment, have each student do an oral character sketch for the rest of the class. Encourage students to dress like their characters and to use relevant props during their presentations.
  • You can use any of the photographs from this website as an engagement activity for your lessons. Simply show any of these photographs to your students and conduct a teacher centered inquiry for historical evidence and significance. The pictures alone will capture the attention of your students because of their likely unfamiliarity with the images of WWI. This strategy will also appeal tremendously to the visual learners in your classroom. Use the photographs in this collection to introduce the major themes of WWI that you are teaching. When your students become more comfortable with the process of looking at pictures for historical evidence, back off a bit and let the students take control of the inquiry process.
  • An interesting activity that can be done with these photographs is to have students "step into the picture". Select a few pictures from this collection that have people in them. Strategically divide up your class into small groups, keeping in mind that each member of the group must take on the role of one person, animal, or object in the photograph. Make overhead copies of the pictures for each group to use. Provide each student with the informational caption that accompanies the photographs on this website. The students will need these captions to help them understand what is happening in the photograph. If your class is very keen you may wish to withhold the captions and have the students try to interpret what is happening in the pictures. Each student must develop at least one line of relevant dialogue for their character (person, animal, or object). This dialogue should tell the audience what each character might have been thinking when the photograph was taken. Each group must try to assemble themselves into the same position as seen in the photograph. Basically, students are trying to recreate what is happening in the photograph. For the final presentation, the historical picture (overhead transparency) should be displayed behind the group using an overhead projector. The group should then run through the dialogue that they have developed for each character. Each group member should say at least one line of dialogue. Students do not have to move during their presentations because they are recreating a still photograph.
  • The section, "World War I Warfare" includes two official postcards from WWI. There is a third postcard located in, "The Technology of World War I" section of this collection. Have students look at these postcards and explain the significance of each. Why were these pictures used for official WWI postcards? Next, have students browse the entire collection of archival pictures, asking them to come up with ideas for an official WWI postcard of their own. Have students design their own official WWI postcard. Have your students read the war letters in this collection, by Bert and Don Mackenzie, to give them some ideas for the written component of their own postcards.
  • Stereotypes and racism were prominent in Canada during WWI. Have your students browse the collection of archival materials on this website to look for examples of racism and stereotyping present in Canada during WWI. After your students are aware of the issues, setup a short lesson followed by a critical thinking discussion to talk about the ethical issues of internment camps in Canada during WWI. You should ask questions such as: Why did Canada have internment camps during WWI? Did Canada have the right to imprison innocent immigrants during WWI? How should the situation have been handled by Canada? What are the alternatives to internment?