A Personal Story....Soldiers and World War I.If you boil it down, really history is just a series of stories that get passed down from generation to generation. These stories help us know where we've been as a society. Connecting students to a "family" history can help bring the stories home for them and make history meaningful.
My students are currently studying World War I in class. As part of our discussion we always look at the impact the war had on the soldiers. Probably like many classes, we talk about the causes of the war, American Neutrality, and the US eventual involvement into the conflict. It is easy to talk about the battles, generals, and strategy but what is often lacking in the textbook is how the war impacted the average soldier.
To help students make a connection to the "Average Soldier" I start out by introducing them to my Great Uncle Frank. Frank like many young men of his generation volunteered to fight in this "War to End All Wars" and served in France. I learned of his involvement everytime my family visited our small town cemetery to lay flowers on his gravesite each Memorial Day. Doing some of my own historical research through my Grandmother's photo box and newspaper scraps I have been able to piece together a glimpse of who he was as a part of my family history and America's impact in WWI. Frank wasn't famous, nor is he mentioned in any textbooks or documentaries. But he does help me connect to history, and that is important for students to see as well.
There are lots of great resources out there to help students make connections to real people who served, fought, and sometimes died fighting in war. If can be very powerful for students to connect to an ancestor or somebody who may have lived in their community. Even if they can not, with the internet there are lots of other ways to connect to real people in the time period we are studying.
I often times have students do a little research and write a letter from the perspective of a solider fighting in World War I. In the letter I try and have students share what their experiences might have been. After students have done some initial research, I have students sit on the floor between desks with heavy shelling/machine gun sounds blaring from my speakers where they can free write for 5 minutes to try and capture the sensation of living in some very horrible conditions.
Below are some of my favorite resources I like to have students use.
- Nebraskans in World War I: Database of Nebraska Soldiers who served in World War I. You can search by names or by counties. This is where I found a picture of my Uncle Frank (As seen above)
- First World War (Memories an Diaries): A good selection of diaries and letters of participants of World War I.
- The Price of Freedom: Americans at War A good interactive database of artifacts and items soldiers used in all wars American's have been involved in.
- Trench Warfare Simulation (from the BBC): Fun computer simulation where students interact with some of the different weapons used in World War I.
- Over the Top: A Great Choose Your Own Adventure Game from Canada to learn about what it was like in the Trenches.
- The Trenches-Virtual Tour: Scroll down aways and view several neat computer generated images of life in and out of the Trenches.
I never got to meet my Great Uncle Frank, but I hope I honor his memory by using him to get my students to examine how World War I impacted the average soldier.
Do you have any great resources, tools to help students connect to World War I? If you do I would love to hear about in the comments section below.