World War II: Posters and Propaganda

by Tim Bailey

Unit Objective

This unit is part of Gilder Lehrman’s series of Common Core State Standards–based teaching resources. These units were written to enable students to understand, summarize, and analyze original texts of historical significance. The lessons are built around the use of textual and visual evidence and critical thinking skills.

Overview

Over the course of three lessons the students will analyze a secondary source document and primary source documents in the form of propaganda posters produced to support the United States war effort during World War II. These period posters represent the desire of the government to gain support for the war by shaping public opinion. Students will closely analyze both the primary source artwork and the secondary source essay with the purpose of not only understanding the literal meaning but also inferring the more subtle messages. Students will use textual and visual evidence to draw their conclusions and present arguments as directed in each lesson.

Lesson 1

Objective

In this lesson the students will carefully analyze an essay that discusses both the purpose and the impact of World War II posters on the American war effort on the home front. This essay will give the students background knowledge that will make close analysis of the actual posters more effective over the next two lessons. A graphic organizer will be used to help facilitate and demonstrate their understanding of the essay.

Introduction

With the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States found itself suddenly involved in a war that was raging across nearly every continent of the globe. As the American military ramped up its war effort, support from the American public became crucial. The need for more soldiers, more factory production, more government funds, and less consumption by civilians of crucial war resources led to a public propaganda campaign. In an age before the widespread use of television the two best ways to reach the public were radio broadcasts and print. President Roosevelt was a pioneer in using the radio to sway public opinion, and soon colorful posters promoting the requirements of the war effort began appearing all over the United States.

Materials

Procedure

At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the lesson individually, as partners, or in small groups of no more than three or four students.

  1. Hand out “Every Citizen a Soldier: World War II Posters on the American Home Front,” by William L. Bird Jr. and Harry Rubenstein.
  2. “Share read” the essay with the students. This is done by having the students follow along silently while the teacher begins reading aloud. The teacher models prosody, inflection, and punctuation. The teacher then asks the class to join in with the reading after a few sentences while the teacher continues to read along with the students, still serving as the model for the class. This technique will support struggling readers as well as English language learners (ELL).
  3. Hand out Graphic Organizer Lesson 1: Every Citizen a Soldier: World War II Posters on the American Home Front.
  4. Using the graphic organizer, the students analyze the secondary source document. This can be done as a whole-class activity with discussion, in small groups, with partners, or individually.
  5. Discuss different interpretations developed by the students or student groups.

Lesson 2

Objective

In this lesson the students will carefully analyze ten primary source posters from World War II. These posters come from a variety of sources but all of them reflect the themes developed by the United States government and the Office of War Information (OWI). These themes were introduced in the essay used in lesson one. The students will determine which of the six themes recommended by the OWI the poster best represents. They will use the visual evidence as well as the textual evidence to analyze the theme presented in the poster. A poster analysis sheet will be used to demonstrate their understanding.

Introduction

The development of posters to promote American patriotism during World War II is an example of propaganda. Propaganda is a form of communication that usually bypasses the intellect and motivates a target group by appealing to their emotions. The posters developed for the home front during World War II were designed to motivate American citizens and develop a sense of patriotism that would turn the United States into an unstoppable war machine. These posters called on all Americans to be part of the war effort, not just by carrying a gun into battle, but in many other important ways. Government programs such as metal and rubber drives may not have meant the difference between winning or losing the war, but the camaraderie and sense of unity generated by such drives was very important to the war effort.

Materials

Procedure

At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the lesson individually, as partners, or in small groups of no more than three or four students.

  1. Hand out World War II Posters #1–#2 and Analyzing the Poster
  2. The students answer the questions on the Analyzing the Poster handouts for each poster. For the first two posters this will be done as a whole-class activity with discussion. After analyzing the first two posters with the class, hand out posters #3–#10. These posters will be analyzed by the students in small groups, with a partner, or individually.
  3. Discuss different interpretations developed by the students or student groups. Discuss the information in the introduction.

Lesson 3

Objective

In this lesson the students will carefully analyze ten primary source posters from World War II. The students will determine which of the six themes recommended by the Office of War Information the poster best represents. The students will use the visual evidence, as well as the textual evidence, in order to analyze the theme presented in each poster. A poster analysis sheet will be used to demonstrate their understanding. In addition, the students will synthesize, analyze, and present an argument about what they have learned in a short essay.

Introduction

In 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt created the Office of War Information to distribute and control pro-American propaganda during World War II. To accomplish this goal the Office of War Information recruited Hollywood movie studios, radio stations, and the print media. In a general sense, the goal of this effort was to promote hatred for the enemy, support for America’s allies, and a greater support for the war by the American public through increased production, victory gardens, scrap drives, and the buying of US War Bonds. Of all the propaganda produced during the war, the posters had the widest national reach, with more than 200,000 different types produced during the war.

Materials

Procedures

At the teacher’s discretion you may choose to have the students do the lesson individually, as partners, or in small groups of no more than three or four students.  

  1. Hand out World War II Posters #11–#20 and Analyzing the Poster.
  2. The students analyze the posters and answer the questions on the worksheet.
  3. Discuss different interpretations developed by the students or student groups and the information in the introduction.
  4. Hand out the essay form. Students will answer the prompt in a short argumentative essay that uses what they have learned from their analysis of the posters. This assignment should be done individually.

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Discussion

Will use with unit on World War IS I.


Very excited to incorporate into my WWII unit...we are making a lot of effort to incorporate more primary source analysis activities into our lessons!


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