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Causes of World War I

classroom in action

This video shows a 9th-grade history class applying new knowledge about causal reasoning to the question of whether two bullets were, in fact, responsible for the start of World War I. The instructor builds on the previous lesson on historical causality to help his mixed-ability students (categorized as Gifted and Talented) examine their previous understandings of the origins of World War I. (See the the classroom video.) The students make diagrams representing the causes of the war, using specific vocabulary to describe historical change. Ultimately, they come to rich and complex historical understandings of multiple causality and why WWI happened.

The video provides examples of two promising practices:

  • Using concrete instructional strategies to help students to consider different kinds of historical causes and the relationships among them
  • Developing students' repertoire of change-related vocabulary to support more sophisticated understandings of historical change
Transferring Knowledge

The lesson begins with the instructor recalling the story of Alphonse the Camel that served as the focal point of the previous lesson. He asks students to draw diagrams of how specific causes came together to cause the camel's death. After completing this task, students are asked to apply this same sort of thinking to the causes of World War I.

Rethinking the Origins of the War

Each group of students gets two sets of note cards. One set contains specific change-oriented words that help describe the relationships among historical causes (for example, provoked, accelerated, contributed). Another set contains the various causes of World War I (for example, nationalism, Austria-Hungary attacks Serbia). Students are then asked to arrange their cards on the table in a way that explains the origins of the war. Previously, students have written essays analyzing whether the assassination of Franz Ferdinand caused the war. By revisiting the war's outbreak after the lesson in multiple causality, the teacher hopes that students will construct more sophisticated explanations than they were able to do while writing their essays.

What's New?

By asking students to create diagrams representing the interplay between multiple causes, this lesson goes beyond generating simple lists of historical causes. Further, by providing them with particular vocabulary for discriminating between historical causes, it helps students construct and comprehend sophisticated, nuanced narratives describing the origins of World War I.

This is a great activity.

This is a great activity.

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