Propaganda and World War II

In this activity, students compare World War II propaganda posters from the United States, Great Britain, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. Then students choose one of several creative or analytical writing assignments to demonstrate what they've learned.

Objectives

  • Students will understand how waging a "total war" altered the nature of American society.

  • Students will read, write, listen, and speak for critical analysis and evaluation.

  • Students will understand the effects of World War II at home.

Instructions

Step 1: Poster Analysis

Before the lesson begins, the teacher should prepare packets of posters for each nation: United States, Great Britain, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Union. 

Divide students into small groups of 3-4 students. Assign each group one of the four nations and pass out the packets to the appropriate groups. Each student should choose one poster from the packet to analyze, using the Poster Analysis Worksheet. 

After individually analyzing posters, the groups should reconvene. Each group member should present their poster to their group members. After presentations, group members should discuss how they feel the posters work together: Is there a common theme? Are there common images? What aspects of the posters make them propaganda?

Step 2: Essay Writing

After the group discussion, students should individually write an essay about the posters. The teacher may choose one assignment from the list below or allow students to choose from among the options; the teacher may also differentiate the lesson by varying which assignment is given to each student:

 

  • Compare and contrast two or more posters

  • Visual essay: pull together different images to tell a story; text should bridge the posters together

  • Responsive essay: elaborate on the emotions (anger, sadness, pride, etc.) that the poster(s) evoke

  • Historial writing: Historically contextualize the poster: Is there a particular event or person the poster refers to? What makes this a World War II poster? (Requires additional research)

  • Point of view writing: Pretend you are a person in the poster; what story do you want to convey?

  • Fiction writing: Make up a narrative describing the events leading up to or following the scene depicted in the poster

 

Historical Context

Propaganda was one of many weapons used by many countries during World War II, and the United States was no exception. From posters to films and cartoons, the federal government used propaganda not only to buoy the spirit and patriotism of the home front, but also to promote enlistment in the military and labor force. Several government agencies were responsible for producing propaganda, with the largest being the Office of War Information (OWI), created in 1942. The OWI created posters, worked with Hollywood in producing pro-war films, wrote scripts for radio shows, and took thousands of photographs that documented the war effort. Worried by the increase in government sponsored propaganda, academics and journalists established the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. The Institute identified seven basic propaganda devices: Name-Calling, Glittering Generality, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, and Band Wagon. [For more on the IPA and the seven devices, please see http://www.propagandacritic.com/] All of these devices were used during the war. In this activity, students will analyze World War II posters, examining the different techniques and themes used by the OWI and other branches of government.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2011.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Propaganda and World War II,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed April 18, 2014, http://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1826.