Teaching the July Crisis of 1914 to Year 9 – or GCSE, or A level students

This lesson is about the July Crisis of 1914 and had its origin last year when the BBC did its drama-documentary ’37 Days’.  The causes of World War 1 are a superb classroom history topic. Hugely resonant, hotly debated and rich subject matter for students to engage with the complex concept of causation.  Like many schools we use the image of a match for the assassination that, unlike other matches in the preceding years, lit the fuse of the July Crisis, which exploded the barrel of gunpowder that was the state of Europe in the early 20th century.  Having been broadly happy with the way we taught the concept of causation in this topic, the lessons on the assassination and the underlying factors, we were less content with the July crisis element.  In order for our higher achieving Y9 students to really be stretched by this topic, we felt that we needed to bring in the complexity of the period between the assassination and the declarations of war.

Attached here is the material for a decision making exercise that takes a lesson to run.  This version is designed for highest ability Y9s, and could easily be used at GCSE, or even A level.  You can, of course, make a simplified version for less able and interested students.  Following their learning about the assassination, the condition of Europe, we then use this lesson.  In small groups students have a decision card and then and information card; starting with 1 and running through to 12, this is fast and furious.  Students do not need to write anything, they will find it bewildering at times and the debrief at the end about what they have learnt is vital.

Run the activity and you will find that students emerge saying things like:

  • Some people wanted war, some didn’t
  • Some leaders were unstable
  • Lack of communication was a huge problem
  • As was a lack of clarity of decision-making
  • There were unforeseen consequences to decisions
  • It was all happening so fast just before holiday time.

Well, that’s what my Year 9s came up with on Tuesday this week.  I was told by one I’d ‘deep-fried’ her brain and she loved it.  That they have such an overall sense of that crucial period adds to their overall understanding of the topic.  Beyond that, they develop a certain level of empathy for the humans caught up in these days.  They no longer look at people in the past as if they were too stupid to avoid a catastrophe and see that the topic is more nuanced and complex.  We were very taken with the blog by http://edwardthesecond.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/ten-commandments-for-writing-about.html and hope that this exercise lives up to the spirit of it.

July crisis decision making exercise

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