Understanding the Fields of War

WWI cemetery near Ypres, Belgium World War I is more than a passing thought to the people of Ypres, Belgium. They are surrounded by the reminders of this war through cemeteries, monuments, trenches, and museums. But to your student who is living in the United States—a country with few physical reminders of the Great War—World War I may just be another event mentioned in the BJU Press Heritage Studies textbooks. It’s important that young people understand a war that began a hundred years ago because it still affects our world. Here are some suggestions to help them.

What brought about the war?

Ultimately, mankind’s inherent sin nature and the choices we make result in fighting (James 4), yet there are specific actions that led to the start of the Great War. The initial conflict began with the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s heir to the throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand. A Bosnian radical carried out the offense, but demands were made on Serbia, where the assassination took place. The demands were not met, and Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914. Europe quickly divided itself into two sides as a result of previously established alliances. These alliances were motivated by nationalism, imperialism, and militarism, which resulted in countries expanding their colonies and resources through force. Political tensions were high at the start of the war, and each action led to an equally troubling reaction.

Individual activity idea: Set up domino tiles into a standing position about 1 inch apart on a flat surface. When the pattern is complete, have your student tip over the very first domino. Watch the dominoes fall over in succession. Discuss the effect one action has on events and people. Relate this activity to the conflicts that led to World War I. 

Group activity idea: Gather your students in a tight circle. (Groups of 8-10 work best.) Have each student hold hands (or a piece of short rope) with someone across the circle. Make sure no one is holding hands with someone directly next to him. (Each student should be connected to two people—a different person for each hand.) Have students untangle themselves (get back into a circle) without letting go of each other’s hands. Time how long it takes. Discuss the challenges of working together and deciding whom to follow. Relate this activity to the alliances established between the countries drawn into World War I.

What influenced the war?

War hurried the development of machines as countries looked for ways to defeat their enemies. These new tools of torture forever changed warfare. Heritage Studies 4 from BJU Press explains some of these changes.

The style of fighting in World War I was new and different from any earlier war. Machine guns were better and more powerful than earlier models. . . . Armies began using tanks, moving vehicles that could fire shells as they went along. Because of their heavy armor, tanks were very hard to stop. Later in the war, they were big enough to drive across trenches.

Chemical weapons were also first used in this war. Poisonous gases were placed inside shells. When the shells exploded, the gas was released into the air. The gas was difficult to breathe. Sometimes it made soldiers ill, blinded them, or even killed them. Gas masks were invented to help protect soldiers from poison gas.

Aircraft were also used in warfare for the first time. The Germans used zeppelins, similar to blimps, to drop bombs. Later in the war, airplanes replaced these slower machines. Fighter planes were light and fast and could carry machine guns.

The submarine emerged as another effective weapon that the German navy used to sink warships and commercial ships. These attacks on civilians influenced America’s decision to enter the war.

Discussion question: How do our motives affect the way we use something? Point out that machines (such as airplanes) can be used for good or evil. Relate this discussion to the inventions and strategies that influenced World War I. 

What resulted from the war?

The Great War ended in an armistice—a ceasefire—on November 11, 1918, but relations between the two sides did not improve after the Treaty of Versailles. Soon certain trends began to emerge, some negative and some positive.

  • Ambitious men took advantage of the chaos that came after the war and promoted themselves as political leaders. Their personal agendas went unchecked and contributed to another world war.
  • Military tactics changed. By implementing new strategies and inventions, fighting became more violent. Civilians also found they were no longer spectators of war.
  • Economies collapsed because of debt from the war.
  • More than eight million people were killed. Most were from Germany, Russia, France, and Austria-Hungary. The United States lost 116,516 people.
  • People’s philosophies of life changed. Pessimism was followed by a “live for pleasure” mentality.
  • Improvements made for the war were adapted for peaceful uses—airplanes, cars, steel buildings.
  • The United States of America developed as a world leader. Our land was preserved. Our rights were defended.

How do you teach your students about the impact of war?

3 Things I Learned from the Exchange Conference

banner for the 2014 Exchange Conference

Last week, BJU Press held the third annual Exchange Conference. What is the Exchange Conference? Simply put, it’s a conversation. Christian school teachers and administrators gather from all over the country for four days to learn from and engage in conversations with others.

What do they learn? One of our conference speakers says, “The Exchange Conference is about how we do what we do.” That includes how to teach from a biblical worldview, how to teach the way the brain learns, and even how to communicate effectively. The best part of the Exchange Conference is that there’s something for everyone. As an illustration, I’ll share three things I learned from the conference this year—things that any educator should be able to use.


  1. Regularity—kids need it. I had the privilege of attending both Katie Klipp’s and Lezah Cruz’s workshops on classroom management, and both of them made this point. For the elementary level, Katie explains that having a set schedule lets students know the expectations for the day and keeps them from being surprised. When something different or surprising happens, elementary students can erupt into chaos. On the secondary level, having a schedule and keeping to it is important for time management. According to Lezah, since you only have so much time with your students in a class period, you have to make each minute count so that you get the most out of your class time. Sticking to a routine can also help with distractions, like rabbit trails—if you know what you need to be doing, you can’t get too far off topic.
  2. Effective communication requires clarity. Whether you’re an administrator or a teacher, you have to communicate with others. According to Ryan Meers, part of effective communication is clarity. What does that look like? Clarity begins by understanding, as Dr. Meers says, that “just because you think you’re clear doesn’t mean you are.” Many people think that their message is clear, but in reality it’s not getting through to the recipient. Clarity requires dialogue, and good dialogue means asking good questions. Dr. Meers clarified that good questions are not questions with yes or no answers. If you want to know if Jimmy understood the long-division lesson, don’t ask, “Do you understand?” Instead ask, “What doesn’t make sense?”  Or if you want to make sure your staff members understand a policy change, ask, “Do you have any concerns?” rather than “Was that clear?”
  3. Motivating kids to learn is all about perception. In Esther Wilkison’s workshop on how the brain learns, she explained that our five senses are what we use to learn. She compared our senses to doors. For some kids the audio door is slightly closed, but the visual door is wide open. According to Esther, as a teacher you need to be aware of which kids learn through which senses in order to motivate them. But that doesn’t mean that you teach each lesson five different ways. Instead she encourages every teacher to incorporate a little something for each of the senses in each lesson. By doing so, you’re including all your students in the learning.

As you can tell, I learned a lot from the Exchange Conference.  Does it sound like something you would be interested in? Check our website for the latest information on next year’s conference.

Do you use any of these ideas in your teaching already? Do you have any other tips you consider helpful for teachers in general?

5 Educational Sites in the Southeast

looking across a river at the Carl Sandburg Home

Wanting to add educational value to your vacation? If you live in the Southeast or are planning a summer trip that way, check out these five historical places that bring learning to life. Castillo de San Marcos Located in St. Augustine, … [Continue reading]

What’s happening at BJU Press?

banner for the 2014 Exchange Conference

Right now we're surrounded by teachers! Last night we kicked off our annual summer event, The Exchange Conference. Over one hundred teachers have come from around the world to learn for the next few days. They are excited about becoming better … [Continue reading]