This activity will introduce students to the personal stories of individuals and how they experienced the First World War.
Part 1: Class Discussion
If in class, read a real WWI letter out loud. Ask students to analyze the letter in small groups or as a class. Teacher should emphasize that all letters were read and sometimes censored, so that important military information such as location details or other sensitive, sometimes classified information, was never leaked nor intercepted by the enemy.
We suggest projecting or sharing an example of a letter home from The Canadian Letters and Images Project: WWI. There are many examples on this database, but here is a suggested letter from a Montrealer. Use the search function if you want to find letters from a specific date (ie, the date it is in class).
You can also project or share a copy of a telegram received and read out loud the contents. Ask the class what is the difference between the two documents (letter vs. telegram). Here is a suggested telegram example from The Canadian Letters and Images Project.
Why not also project or share a copy of a Christmas card sent to Canada by a soldier during WWI? Ask students what is the sentiment expressed by the card. How must it have made families at home feel? How it is different, or similar, to a Christmas card today?
Part Two: Individual Analysis
Using a new letter (or the example from class if it hasn’t been used), students will answer the following questions in their student guide:
- Who is writing the document?
- Who is the person writing to?
- What details does the person give about their life or duties in the War?
- What does the person say about their personal well-being?
- What details do they give about their physical surroundings?
- What is the purpose of the letter?
- What facts or information would you like to know that are not said?
Suggestions for finding a new letter:
Give students the link for The Canadian Letters and Images Project: WWI. The archive is organized by name. Have students choose a letter using the first letter of their name. Alternatively, have students use the search bar at the top and enter the current date (ex. December 13). This should give them a list of letters written that very day over 100 years ago. There are lots of options!
This activity can now be filled out directly on your computers – no need to print! To use the fillable function, be sure to download the PDF.
Other activities you might like
This exhibition provides an overview of the First World War, from its causes to its consequences, with a special focus on the Battle of Vimy Ridge and its importance to the conflict. It is composed of 14 panels.
Nothing compares to a visit to our partner museums for students to directly interact with history. Guided museum tours and complementary activities make history come alive and will spark your students’ interest!