Marking the centenary of the end of the First World War in the classroom

The last four years have seen a variety of events, projects and memorials to mark the centenary of the First World War. As we head into the autumn term, thoughts turn to how we as historians can commemorate the Armistice of 1918, a key turning point in ending the conflict. Although the war did not formally end until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919, for most people, 11 November is the day we remember all those who were killed, injured and involved in the First World War.

As a History teacher, I believe it is really important that we use the centenary of the end of the First World War as a time for students to reflect and consider the impact of the world’s first global conflict. It also has strong links to the topics we study. In Year 9 our students examine the First World War, and at GCSE we study Germany 1890–1945, where an appreciation of post-war Germany and the terms imposed upon the country through the Treaty of Versailles is fundamental for understanding the events that followed.

To help mark the anniversary, here are a couple of ideas that I’m going to be using in my classroom.

First World War soldier project

This project has been set for our Year 9s for a number of years, and it is a great way to get students to think about the impact of the First World War. Students are set a project, most of which they do for homework, to research a soldier and create two A3 pages that explains who they were and what their involvement was in the war. In particular, the aim is that they choose either a local soldier (we suggest the town’s war memorial as a starting point) or they write about someone from their family. It really gives the students an opportunity to connect to their family history, or the local history of the area.

The work of each class is then put together into a display folder, which we keep and make accessible for anyone in school to look at to find out about the experiences of soldiers from the First World War. We now have quite a collection from the all the students who have done their research over the past few years, and it stands as a memorial to those they have written about.

Around the world display

To commemorate the Armistice, I’m going to create a display with my students that highlights the situation in different countries at the end of the war. I want to get students to contemplate the truly global nature of the First World War. It is also a good opportunity to consider the nations that made up the Triple Alliance, as well as the Triple Entente (which students may be more familiar with).

The centre of the display will be a world map, ideally one that shows countries as they were in 1918. Branching out of the map will be information about what was happening in a number of countries. This will include the number of casualties and political situation in each country, alongside the social impact of the war.

For example, the fall of the monarchy in both Russia and Germany can be explained, and compared to Britain where the monarchy survived through a change from a position of power to popularity. As previously mentioned, the impact of the First World War on Germany underpins one of the topics we teach at GCSE, so the war weariness, food shortages and ultimately the Treaty of Versailles can be considered. As part of the display students can also demonstrate how the Spanish influenza impacted the world significantly as people moved around immediately after the war.

Hopefully the display will allow my students to see the consequences of the First World War across the globe, and how the end of the war influenced the years ahead.

OUP has created a First World War classroom display pack for teachers to use, click here to request your free downloadable pack.


Sarah Hartsmith is a History teacher in a secondary school in Wiltshire, with outstanding results at KS4 and KS5. She is a regular presenter at local teach meets and shares teaching and learning ideas and History resources online regularly. Follow her on Twitter @sehartsmith.