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World War I and The Art of War: Posters from the Collection of Oscar Jacobson


Interpreting Propaganda

(Lesson adapted from National Archives and Records Administration. This activity is best suited for grades six to twelve.

Objective: Students will learn how to interpret primary sources via WWI propaganda posters.
Discuss in class the following: What is propaganda?

Propaganda: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person (merriam-webster.com)

Using the posters included in this online exhibit, choose one or two for your students to examine. Ask students to answer the following questions.

  1. What are the main colors used in the poster
  2. What symbols (if any) are used in the poster?
  3. If a symbol is used, explain how it is:
    1. Clear (easy to interpret)
    2. Memorable
    3. Dramatic
  4. Are the messages in the poster primarily visual, verbal, or both?
  5. Who do you think is the intended audience for the poster?
  6. What does the government hope the audience will do?
  7. What government purpose(s) is served by the poster?
  8. The most effective posters use symbols that are unusual, simple and direct. Why is or why not is this an effective poster?
  9. List two things the poster tells you about life in the United States (or the country the poster is from) at the time it was created.

Creative Writing Activity

Have your students create a journal entry as if they were a soldier during WWI.

Your journal entry can answer the following questions, (not limited to):
Where are you?

What do you do as a soldier?

What are some of the things you are afraid of?

What do you do for food?

What do you do in your spare time?

How do you keep in contact with your family and friends?

All journal entries must be written in complete sentences.

Draw a picture of what your life is like in the trenches.

Research Activity: Poster Artists of WWI

Have your students do some research on the artists of WWI posters (using this site and others). Present your findings by creating your own art project or poster to report what you found.

Word Search

Download Word Search (PDF)

Coloring Pages

Download Coloring Sheets (PDF)