Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Propaganda Posters
Valerie Schrag
Survey of U.S. History
Time Frame:
One 60-minute class period
World War I
Analyzing Primary Sources

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

This is a primary source activity.  The students will use American World War I propaganda posters to evaluate how individual citizens were encouraged to support the war effort.  Students will work both individually and cooperatively during the course of this lesson.


Students must be able to interpret both written and visual primary sources to understand history.  This activity will introduce students to numerous visual primary sources, and will require the students to evaluate the posters based up its illustrations, colors, and use of symbols and words.  Point of view, stereotypes and bias will also be used in the students’ analysis.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – High School:  U.S. History – Benchmark 1, Indicator 7
  • Kansas State Social Studies Standards – High School:  U.S. History – Benchmark 5, Indicator 3
  • Kansas State Reading Standards – High School:   Reading Standard 1, Benchmark 4, Indicator 15


 2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • American World War I Posters: 24 Cards, published by Dover Publications, Inc. (2003).  This card set includes 24 full color postcard-sized reproductions of World War I propaganda posters.  If this resource is not available to you, World War I poster images can easily be found on the Internet.

Technology Required:

LCD projector and access to PowerPoint software

Full description of activity or assignment.

1.      Begin class with a discussion of the material presented in The Americans, chapter 11, section 3.  This section covers the American homefront, and discusses a number of the government organizations created to coordinate the war effort.  Brainstorm of a list of the ways in which the American public mobilized behind the war effort. 2.      Use a PowerPoint presentation (attached) to introduce the students to the propaganda posters of the World War I era.  Guide the students through an analysis of each poster, mirroring the questions on the “War Poster Analysis” handout.  Encourage the students to describe how the illustrations, colors, words and symbols communicate the poster’s intended message. 3.      Give each student a copy of the “War Poster Analysis” handout and one postcard-sized propaganda poster.  There should be 2 examples of each poster in the class, which will eventually allow the students to work together in pairs.  The postcards should be distributed randomly. 4.      Each student should complete his/her “War Poster Analysis” handout individually.  Allow 5-10 minutes for this to take place.

  1. Once the students have individually completed the poster analysis, have them find the person who was working with the same poster.  The two students should compare their analysis of the poster, and discuss the analysis handout.  Allow 5 minutes for this discussion.
  2. Each student pair should find two more pairs to create a group (six students total per group).  Each pair will interpret its World War I poster to the other pairs in the group.
  3. In conclusion, allow the whole class to discuss the activity.  Which poster provoked the strongest response in each group?  Why?  How were illustrations, colors, symbols and words used to communicate the intended message?  Were the posters effective?  Why or why not?

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  1. The students will create a propaganda poster for one of the World War I topics mentioned below.  The poster must be drawn on an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper and will be graded on the student’s use of color, images and words.  Neatness will also factor into the final grade. 
  2. The students may create a poster for one of the following topics:
  • enlistment and recruitment
  • financing the war
  • the role of women
  • Food Administration
  • Fuel Administration
  • War Industries Board
  • Committee on Public Information
  • aiding our allies
  1. The poster will be graded according to the criteria outlined on the attached rubric.






World War I Propaganda Poster

Grading Rubric



Name: _______________________






7-10 Points


2-6 Points


0-1 Points

Total Points Earned per Category






World War I topic is clearly identified on the poster.  The topic is clear and well-focused.

World War I topic is evident on the poster, but is not clearly identified.

No World War I topic is identified on the poster.







The poster includes relevant and historically accurate details to support the poster’s message.  The poster clearly communicates a persuasive message.

The poster includes supporting details, but some details are lacking in their historical accuracy or relevancy.  The poster communicates a persuasive message.

The poster does not include historically accurate or relevant details in support of the poster’s message.  Little or no persuasion is evident on the poster.




Grammar and Spelling

The student makes no errors in grammar or spelling that distract the reader from the content of the poster.

The student makes a number of grammatical and spelling errors that minimally distract the reader from the poster’s content.

The student makes many grammatical and spelling errors that distract the reader from the poster’s content.






The poster uses color, visual images and words to clearly communicate the poster’s intended message.  The poster is neat and cleanly presented.

The poster makes some use of color, visual images and words to communicate the poster’s intended message.  The poster is lacking in overall neatness and presentation.

The poster does not use color, visual images or words to communicate the poster’s intended message.  The poster is messy and is poorly presented.





                                                            TOTAL POINTS EARNED (40 points possible):  ____________