World War 1 often gets a cold shoulder in U.S. history lessons. It’s understandably overshadowed by World War 2, which produced the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, and because the United States played such a large role. But WW1, or the Great War as it was called at the time, is extremely important to history because its events led to the second world war, communist Russia, and events that are still happening today. It’s not hard to teach with just a few great resources!
This is part of our complete 20th Century history study, using both Story of the World Volume IV and Mystery of History Volume IV, as well as additional books, websites, and printables. I combine all ages at my house to study history, and adjust reading and writing assignments based on age. My current students are ages 8-16.
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I recommend four additional great books for this study:
- Usborne’s World Wars – Usborne Books are always in my stack of homeschool history books. Their generous use of photos, drawings, maps, and internet links are a fun and interesting addition to any topic. World Wars offers a great blend of detail and small chunks of important info, and can be read and enjoyed by any age kid interested in either war.
- The Great War: Stories from World War 1 by Edward Jablonski – This book was published for kids in the 1960’s (along with a few other great titles). Its story selection is perfect for boys from elementary to high school, but it’s not just for boys; everyone in our house enjoyed it. These are all true stories of people from around the world who fought in the Great War. Excellent book!
- Sargent York: His own Record and War Diary – I always recommend firsthand accounts of history to understand it best, and this book is a perfect example. Alvin York was a reluctant soldier, and entered the war near its end. But he became one of the most popular and decorated American soldiers of that war. In this book he tells his own life story and writes it in is backwoods-Tennessee dialect. It is funny, serious, entertaining, informative and an excellent snapshot of American life and important events in the Great War. A must-read.
- As a bonus, I highly recommend A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War after this study. It’s perfect for all high schoolers, whether or not they have read any Tolkien or Lewis, but it’s especially enjoyable if they have. It is a deep and meaningful book about the Great War, its effects on humans, the culture, and of course the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. In addition (or instead) watch this lecture on Lewis and Tolkien: War, Fantasy, and Modernism.
Stories are one of the most memorable and powerful ways to teach history. The Great War and Sargent York are two wonderful ways to add stories to your study. While it’s very important to teach the dates, geography, and reasons for the war (or any other part of history), stories make the war (or any other event or period) real. Stories are what your kids will remember. Don’t leave this part out! I read almost all of these aloud to my kids so the whole family gets to enjoy them.
Since we use Mystery of History and Story of the World simultaneously, we read The Balkan Mess in Chapter 18 (and worked the maps) in SOTW just before this study. It was invaluable to understanding what led to the assassination of Duke Ferdinand. (This is why I love Story of the World; I have not yet seen a better resource for teaching all the aspects of world history — all of them, not just the popular parts. History is connected to everything before and after it, and WW1 is no exception. The simple way that SOTW connects world events on one continuous timeline is my favorite.)
- Short video summary of WW1
- Video: Battleship HMS Dreadnought
- LITERATURE: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (High School); get the study guide from LitCharts – NOTE: this book has mature themes, so you should read it yourself or preview the study guide’s chapter notes before assigning it to your teen.
- LITERATURE: Rascal by Sterling North; this is a really fun book to read aloud or for your younger kids to read. It’s the story of a young boy whose older brother is off at the war; the young boy lives a life of wonder and delight in the freedom of nature. It’s an ideal childhood story!
- The Best Children’s Books about World War 1
- Notebooking pages from Practical Pages
- Draw and Write Through History 20th Century
- Amazon Prime Video has several documentaries on WW1
- Consult these Maps of Europe Before and After World War 1 during and after the study
Using the free notebooking pages from Practical Pages, have your students take notes from Mystery of History. I read aloud from MOH devoting one day to about one year of the war, including additional stories and videos. We spend 2 to 2 ½ hours per day on this, twice a week.
One of the most important things to get straight is the formation of alliances. Who was on which side? Have your students draw a chart of the Triple Alliance (“Central Powers”) and the Triple Entente (“Allied Powers”). Another very important concept is the geography of the war. Understanding a map of Europe is necessary. With every portion you read, go back to a world map repeatedly and make sure your students understand where the locations are. MOH has an excellent map of WW1 to refer to, mark up, and label.
I instructed my kids to make a timeline, noting the major events of each year of the war.
- June 28 Archduke Ferdinand assassinated
- July 28 Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia
- July 30 Russia mobilizes to aid Serbia
- July 31 Austria orders full mobilization AND France promises to join Russia
- August 1 German declares war on Russia
- August 2 Britain promises to aid France
- August 3 Germany declares war on France
- August 4 Britain declares war on Germany
- Usborne World Wars p. 10-17
- On the Western Front – First Battle of the Marne
- Eastern Front – Battle of Tannenbuerg
- Mediterranean Front – Ottoman Turks secretly join the Central Powers
- Christmas Truce of 1914, Usborne World Wars p. 36-37
- Usborne World Wars p. 18-21
- Usborne World Wars p. 22-29
- The Second Battle of Ypres; poem “In Flanders Fields” (My kids copied this poem in cursive)
- Germans use Zeppelins and poison gas
- Usborne World Wars p. 52-55, p. 58-59
- Video: How to Draw a Zeppelin
- The Germans sink the Lusitania
- Usborne World Wars p. 56-57
- Italy switches sides to join the Allied Powers
- Gallipoli Campaign
- Usborne World Wars p. 62-63
- ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand) joins Allied Powers
- Persecution of Armenian Christians in Turkey
- Usborne World Wars p. 42-49
- Battle of Verdun
- Usborne World Wars p. 68-69
- Battle of Jutland
- Video of the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea and breaking codes
- Read The Sea Devil (Count Felix von Luckner) in The Great War
- Play the game Battleship or use this Printable Battleship game
- “Secret” list of WW1 Codes
- Usborne World Wars p. 32-33, p. 40-41, p. 70-71
- Airplane warfare
- Dogfight (William George Barker) in The Great War
- Red Baron
- Usborne World Wars p. 74-75
- Draw the Fokker plane flown by the Red Baron from Draw and Write Through History
- Battle of the Somme
- Usborne World Wars p. 76-77
- Usborne World Wars p. 82-83
- Battle of Verdun
- Russians revolt and oust Czar Nicholas 1
- Bolsheviks revolt under Vladimir Lenin and exit the war
- Usborne World Wars p. 91-93
- Lawrence of Arabia
- Usborne World Wars p. 86-87
- Zimmerman telegram
- April 6 U.S. declares war on Germany
- Usborne World Wars p. 94-95
- Battle of Vimy Ridge
- Battle of Caparetto
- Battle of Aras
- Battle of Passchendael
- December 7 America declares war on Austria-Hungary
- Usborne World Wars p. 96-97
- Usborne World Wars p. 98-103
- Americans continue to pour into Europe to fight
- League of Nations formed
- Second Battle of the Somme
- Second Battle of the Marne
- October Ottoman Turks pull out of the war
- Battle of Vittoria Veneto
- November 3 Austria-Hungary pull out of the war
- November 9 German Kaiser abdicates his throne
- November 11 – Armistice Day
- World War 1 Infographic to sum up
- Usborne World Wars 104-121
Include a field trip (or two) in this study by visiting a military museum, a military cemetery, a flight museum, or any other memorial or museum that might honor soldiers from The Great War. We visited a flight museum and a military memorial museum near us and saw airplanes that flew in the war as well as many artifacts from a soldier’s life in the trenches.
Other ways to explore WW1 through all the senses:
- If your boys have toy soldiers, let them recreate a battle scene
- Play the game of Risk to illustrate how countries try to take territory from each other, and how easily the map can change
- Build a model airplane from the WW1 era
At the end of this study, younger students can review their timeline and notebook additions. They may even copy the cursive paragraph in Draw and Write Through History. Older students should review their notebooking pages, discuss the events and causes of the Great War, recall the players on both sides, discuss the differences in this war and the wars before it, and list some of the major battles. You should ask them their favorite story or personalites from this war.
I jot down notes of things I want the kids to remember and make a quiz out of it myself. Mystery of History and Story of the World activity guides also provide good review activities.
For more of my history outlines, check out:
- 19th Century History with Mystery of History and Story of the World
- 18th Century American History Through the Life of George Washington
- Homeschooling Multiple Ages Without Losing Your Mind
- Teaching History Without a Curriculum
- Excellent Books for Boys
- Excellent Books for Girls
Nicki Truesdell is a 2nd-generation homeschooler and mother to 5. She is a homemaker at heart, and loves books, freedom, history and quilts, and blogs about all of these at nickitruesdell.com. She believes that homeschooling can be relaxed and that history is fun, and both can be done with minimal cost or stress, no matter your family’s circumstances. Nicki is a member of the Texas Home Educators Board of Directors. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.