This unit forms part of the World War One materials at ActiveHistory:
Causes of World War One
Life in the Trenches in World War One
Causes for Germany's Defeat in World War One
Remembrance Day: Activities for all Year Groups
Battlefields Trip: itinerary, workpack and follow-up activities
Origins of WW1 and WW2: Comparisons and Contrasts
The following materials are designed for GCSE/IGCSE level.
However, I also teach the Origins of World War One at IB Level where many more activities and resources can be located.
This handout sets up the topic by providing key facts about the war and asking students to consider how they would answer 'big' questions such as "In what circumstances would you be prepared to fight in a war? How can we prevent wars from happening? Does war have any positive effects? What is the purpose of Remembrance Day?"
Assassination at Sarajevo
"Imagine you are a reporter who is following all the events of the day. Your newspaper boss has asked you to keep him informed by telegram message about what goes on during the course of the day. Because of budget restrictions, he will only allow you to send him 10 messages of 1 line each. Keep the messages brief, and don't waste any words"
"Sarajevo Sandwich Syndrome" - Questioning the Reliability of Historical Sources
Your task is to investigate six assertions made by a famous BBC documentary about the Origins of World War One. For each one, determine whether it is: (a) Incorrect: Other vidence contradicts the documentary; (b) Inconclusive: Other evidence shows that historians disagree about this point (c) Imaginary: No evidence can be found which backs up this point.
The clash of Serb Nationalism with Austrian Imperialism
The tension between Austria and Serbia is explained through a focus on the Bosnian Crisis of 1908 and the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913.
Cartoon analysis: Nationalism and Imperialism
A simple worksheet with scaffolding sentences to develop sourcework analysis skills.
The Alliance System
"The idea of an “alliance system” was developed by Bismarck, chancellor of Prussia (a state in modern Germany). Before 1871, Germany was not a unified country, but a collection of independent states. The story continues below. Your job is to show the changing pattern of friendships and enmities in the diagram to the right of each part of the story. For example, use dotted black lines to represent friendships (“ententes”); solid black lines to represent military agreements (“alliances”); dotted red lines to represent tension; solid red lines to represent enmity"
Cartoon analysis: The Alliance System
A simple worksheet with scaffolding sentences to develop sourcework analysis skills.
Interactive Simulation: Advisor to the Kaiser!
Factual Test: The Origins of World War One [teacher password required]
This factual test assesses how much knowledge students have acquired so far from their studies. Students should take this test after the class has played the Causes of World War One keyword challenge [play the game | rule of the game]
The Arms Race
This worksheet covers both the arms race on land (Russia and France v. Germany) and at sea (Britain v. Germany).
The Role of Kaiser Wilhelm II
Imagine you are interviewing Kaiser Wilhelm in 1914.
Come up with a series of questions you would like to ask him.
Now use the internet to produce a “beyond the grave” interview with the Kaiser.
Do this by researching answers to each of your questions, then getting “him” to answer them in the first person, present tense (ie "I think that..." rather than "The Kaiser thought that...")
Tension between Germany and Russia (over the issue of Bosnia) and between Germany and Britain (over the Naval Race) was compounded by tension between Germany and France over Morocco and Alsace-Lorraine.
The July Crisis - Decision-making exercise (requires teacher support sheet).
This key period - often overlooked by students who say that the assassination was simply followed by a 'domino effect' of countries declaring war - is approached in a 'decision-making' format. "Your teacher will provide you with a “decision point” for the first event. Discuss with a partner or in a small group what the best policy would be for the country in question. Discuss as a class. The teacher will then tell you what actually happened. In the first column of “5 July” write this down. In the second column of the same row, note down if this could be used as evidence that a particular country was to blame for the war, or maybe innocent. You will then move on to the next decision point. Repeat the process until the table is finished".
Extension Task: The Willy-Nicky Telegrams
How could both the Kaiser and the Tsar use these telegrams to "prove" they were not responsible for the war breaking out? Which of these two men do you think most genuinely wished to avoid war?
Classroom Trial: Who was to blame for World War One? (there is also a completed version for stimulus material in the teacher area).
Each person in the class will be given a number (1-6). Each student's task is as follows:
1. To frame TWO prosecution questions against ONE particular country, in this order:
Examples (in this case, against France):
Is it not fair to argue that you had humiliated Germany in the Moroccan Crisis?
Is it not true that your alliance with Russia forced Germany to develop the Schlieffen Plan?
2. For each question, have evidence to back up your point.
3. In the lesson itself, each group of students forming questions against the same country should be provided with the questions shown below, with the option to use these instead of their own questions if they wish. Each group will decide on its best two questions.
4. The questions will then be written into this table (ideally, have a version of it in Word open on the teacher's projection screen). Then, each group will be told which country they will defend, and frame / present responses to the questions formulated by someone else.
5. The debate should then take place. The voting procedure at the end of the debate will be (a) Raise both hands for the country MOST to blame in your view (b) Raise one hand for the country SECOND MOST responsible. The scores for each country will be added up to provide a class verdict.
PieCharts: Who was to blame for World War One?
This self-updating Excel spreadsheet allows students to divide responsibility for the war between 6 countries in the form of a piechart, and explain their choices alongside. When printed off, these sheets form a colourful display and an interesting discussion point.
Historiography: Quotes about the Origins of World War One
"A. For each quote, decide which theme it relates to:
1. Nationalism and Imperialism | 2. Alliance System |
3. Arms Race | 4. Colonial Rivalry | 5. July Crisis
B. Circle off the best quote for each theme. Incorporate this into your summary sheet / essay".
End of unit exam-style structured question (there are also some model answers available in the teacher area - model answers | model answers )
"Your teacher will choose one (a), one (b) and one (c) question from this extensive list of past questions for this test, which will take place in timed conditions next lesson. As homework, you should consider how you would approach every question in this list".
Mr. Men History: The Origins of World War One
"In this task we will convert the story of the outbreak of the war into a fairy tale. The background will be provided to you. Your job will be to tell the story of how events unfolded using your knowledge of key events".
Interactive Essay Planning Tool: Origins of World War One
|Professor AJP Sailor takes 5 factors and connects them together in endless combinations to help students consider the Origins of World War One and how to link factors in essays.|
"Who Am I?" Challenge - The Origins of World War One
|Each team will be presented with a clue about a key historical figure. They get 50 points if they guess it correctly. If they wish to 'pass', they get further (easier) clues but the points available steadily decline. An incorrect guess at any point means they get zero points for that round. You can play as many rounds as you wish. It's a great way to revise!|
Fling the Teacher Quizzes
Causes of World War One (GCSE / IGCSE History Level)
Causes of World War One (IB / A-Level)
Sourcework Assignment Pack
|A comprehensive pack of sources and questions in the style of GCSE/IGCSE examinations, designed to be printed off at the beginning of the unit and used as homework exercises over the course of several weeks.|
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Michael Gove blasts 'Blackadder myths' about the First World War spread by television sit-coms and left-wing academics
- Education Secretary says war is represented as a 'misbegotten shambles'
- But he claims that it was in fact a 'just war' to combat German aggression
By Tim Shipman
Published: 22:31 GMT, 2 January 2014 | Updated: 08:20 GMT, 3 January 2014
'Just war': Michael Gove says left-wing myths about the First World War peddled by Blackadder belittle Britain and clear Germany of blame
Left-wing myths about the First World War peddled by Blackadder belittle Britain and clear Germany of blame, Michael Gove says today.
The Education Secretary criticises historians and TV programmes that denigrate patriotism and courage by depicting the war as a ‘misbegotten shambles’.
As Britain prepares to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the war, Mr Gove claims only undergraduate cynics would say the soldiers were foolish to fight.
In an article for the Daily Mail, Mr Gove says he has little time for the view of the Department for Culture and the Foreign Office that the commemorations should not lay fault at Germany’s door.
The Education Secretary says the conflict was a ‘just war’ to combat aggression by a German elite bent on domination.
‘The First World War may have been a uniquely horrific war, but it was also plainly a just war,’ he says. ‘The ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified.’
Britain has pledged £50million in public money to mark the event, with school trips to battlefields and ceremonies planned over four years. The French government has also embraced the centenary, planning 1,500 events across the country. But there are few plans for events in Germany itself.
Mr Gove, who has rewritten the school history curriculum to give pupils a better grasp of the broad sweep of British history, reserves his greatest scorn for those who have sought to depict the soldiers as lions led by donkeys.
He says: ‘The war was, of course, an unspeakable tragedy, which robbed this nation of our bravest and best.
‘But it’s important that we don’t succumb to some of the myths which have grown up about the conflict in the last 70 or so years.
‘The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.’
Vanessa Redgrave playing Sylvia Pankhurst, in the film Oh! What A Lovely War: Mr Gove singles out the film as propagating what he calls the myth of the First World War as a 'misbegotten shambles'
Mr Gove turns his fire on ‘Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths by attacking Britain’s role in the conflict’.
He singles out Richard Evans, regius professor of history at Cambridge University, who has said those who enlisted in 1914 were wrong to think they were fighting to defend freedom.
Dramatisation: Paul McGann, as Percy Topliss, in the 1980s television series The Monocled Mutineer, another of the TV programmes Mr Gove targets
Mr Gove writes: ‘Richard Evans may hold a professorship, but these arguments, like the interpretations of Oh! What a Lovely War and Blackadder, are more reflective of the attitude of an undergraduate cynic playing to the gallery in a Cambridge Footlights revue rather than a sober academic contributing to a proper historical debate.’
The Education Secretary says it is time to listen to historians such as Margaret Macmillan who has ‘demonstrated how those who fought were not dupes but conscious believers in king and country, committed to defending the western liberal order’.
He also cites the work of Professor Gary Sheffield, who has reassessed the damaged reputation of British commander Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig.
Blackadder Goes Forth cast Rowan Atkinson in the title role as a captain in the trenches of Flanders during 1917.
It focused largely on his cowardly attempts to avoid certain death through going ‘over the top’ to engage the enemy.
Under the misguided leadership of a general played by Stephen Fry, and with little help from the hapless Private Baldrick (Tony Robinson) plus a twittish ex-public schoolboy played by Hugh Laurie, it chronicles his increasingly gutless efforts to dodge the action or escape the trenches.
The series was written by Four Weddings and Bridget Jones creator Richard Curtis in partnership with Left-wing comic Ben Elton.
It is still shown in schools to help children learn about the war.
Why does the Left insist on belittling true British heroes?
By MICHAEL GOVE, Education Secretary
The past has never had a better future. Because history is enjoying a renaissance in Britain. After years in which the study of history was declining in our schools, the numbers of young people showing an appetite for learning about the past, and a curiosity about our nation’s story, is growing once more.
As a Government, we’ve done everything we can to support this restoration. We’ve changed how schools are judged, and our new measure of academic success for schools and pupils, the English baccalaureate, rewards those who study history at GCSE.
And the changes we’ve made to the history curriculum have been welcomed by top academics as a way to give all children a proper rounded understanding of our country’s past and its place in the world.
Captain Coward: Tony Robinson as Private Baldrick, left, and Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder in the titular sit-com, which Education Secretary Michael Gove blames for distorting attitudes about the First World War
That understanding has never been needed more. Because the challenges we face today – great power rivalry, migrant populations on the move, rapid social upheaval, growing global economic interdependence, massive technological change and fragile confidence in political elites – are all challenges our forebears faced.
Indeed, these particular forces were especially powerful one hundred years ago – on the eve of the First World War. Which is why it is so important that we commemorate, and learn from, that conflict in the right way in the next four years.
The Government wants to give young people from every community the chance to learn about the heroism, and sacrifice, of our great-grandparents, which is why we are organising visits to the battlefields of the Western Front.
The war was, of course, an unspeakable tragedy, which robbed this nation of our bravest and best. But even as we recall that loss and commemorate the bravery of those who fought, it’s important that we don’t succumb to some of the myths which have grown up about the conflict.
Our understanding of the war has been overlaid by misunderstandings, and misrepresentations which reflect an, at best, ambiguous attitude to this country and, at worst, an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage.
The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite. Even to this day there are Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths.
Professor Sir Richard Evans, the Cambridge historian and Guardian writer, has criticised those who fought, arguing, ‘the men who enlisted in 1914 may have thought they were fighting for civilisation, for a better world, a war to end all wars, a war to defend freedom: they were wrong’.
And he has attacked the very idea of honouring their sacrifice as an exercise in ‘narrow tub-thumping jingoism’. These arguments are more reflective of the attitude of an undergraduate cynic playing to the gallery in a Cambridge Footlights revue rather than a sober academic contributing to a proper historical debate.
The First World War may have been a uniquely horrific war, but it was also plainly a just war. Nigel Biggar, regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at the University of Oxford, laid out the ethical case for our involvement in a superb essay in September’s Standpoint magazine.
The ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified.
And the war was also seen by participants as a noble cause. Historians have skilfully demonstrated how those who fought were not dupes but conscious believers in king and country, committed to defending the western liberal order.
Other historians have gone even further in challenging some prevailing myths.
Generals who were excoriated for their bloody folly have now, after proper study, been re-assessed.
Douglas Haig, held up as a crude butcher, has been seen in a new light thanks to Professor Gary Sheffield, of Wolverhampton University, who depicts him as a patriotic leader grappling honestly with the new complexities of industrial warfare.
Even the battle of the Somme, once considered the epitome of military futility, has now been analysed in depth by the military historian William Philpott and recast as a precursor of allied victory.
Rehabilitated: Even Field Marshal Douglas Haig, popularly known as 'the butcher of the Somme', has been seen in a new light thanks to Professor Gary Sheffield, of Wolverhampton University, writes Gove
There is, of course, no unchallenged consensus. That is why it matters that we encourage an open debate on the war and its significance.
But it is important to recognise that many of the new analyses emerging challenge existing Left-wing versions of the past designed to belittle Britain and its leaders.
Instead, they help us to understand that, for all our mistakes as a nation, Britain’s role in the world has also been marked by nobility and courage.
Indeed, the more we reflect on every aspect of the war, the more cause there is for us to appreciate what we owe to our forebears and their traditions.
But whatever each of us takes from these acts of remembrance and hours of debate it is always worth remembering that the freedom to draw our own conclusions about this conflict is a direct consequence of the bravery of men and women who fought for, and believed in, Britain’s special tradition of liberty.
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