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Winning Over Hearts and Minds: Analyzing WWII Propaganda Posters

Propaganda played a key part in the United States’ war effort. Although much more subtle, propaganda was as much a weapon of the war as manpower and ammunition. In addition to the radio broadcasts, movies, and comic books, over 200,000 poster designs were produced during WWII by the Office of War Information (OWI), The Treasury Department, branches of the armed force, and recruitment bureaus. These groups used many propaganda types (fear, bandwagon, etc.) and many themes (conservation, recruitment, etc.) to win over the hearts and minds of Americans.

By examining propaganda posters from WWII students will increase their knowledge of propaganda tools and develop an understanding of the specific goals and strategies used by the U.S. government and OWI during WWII.

Grade Level: 7-12

History Thinking Standard 2—the student comprehends a variety of historical sources and appreciates historical perspectives as revealed through the arts.

Content Era 8 (1929-1945) Standard 3C—the student understands the effects of the war at home.

Time Requirement: One class period.

Download a printable pdf version of this lesson plan

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1. Distribute the following to students:

  • Types of Propaganda Sheet
  • Poster Analysis Sheet
  • Student Worksheets

2. Using the "Types of Propaganda” sheet and the Propaganda Fact Sheet, have a brief discussion of the different types of propaganda. Make sure students are clear in their understanding of the types of propaganda before they begin their individual work.

3. Have students first complete the worksheets and then the poster analysis.

4. As a class, go over the gallery of posters and the analysis questions. Discuss any additional questions students may have about propaganda, the posters, or WWII.

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Assessment will include class discussion, completed worksheet, and poster analysis questions.

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Have students create a WWII era Propaganda Poster or a poster for a current social/political issue. Students may also write a research paper on WWII Propaganda or research WWII posters further and give a presentation to the class.

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Poster Gallery for Discussion:

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Directions: After choosing a poster, examine it carefully and answer the following questions.

1. For whom is this poster intended?

2. What is the poster trying to get the audience to do?

3. What is the theme of the poster?

4. What symbols, key words or well known images are used?

5. Is the use of the symbol/image/word successful?

6. What is the emotion conveyed by the poster?

7. How would you change the image to make it more powerful?

8. What type of propaganda does the poster use?

9. How successful do you think this poster was during WWII?

10. Would a similar image have the same impact in today’s society? Why or why not?

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About the Posters

Teachers, use these as guidelines and answers for discussion.

Poster One—(Bandwagon): The poster encourages everyone join the war effort-to build arms for victory.

Poster Two—(Fear): The poster shows children in the shadow of the Nazis. If you do not buy war bonds-the Nazis will come for your children (fear).

Poster Three—Euphemism and Fear: The poster shows a sailor dead on the beach-but his death is called a “loss.” The poster also uses fear as a motivator for not speaking out of turn.

Poster Four—Glittering Generalities: The poster shows a women canning food and supporting rationing. It is “patriotic” to do these things (it is a glittering generality because patriotic means different things to different people).

Poster Five—Transfer: The poster shows men fighting in the American Revolution and WWII. If you believe that the Revolutionary War was necessary (for liberty) then of course you should fight in this war (for liberty). The poster transfers the importance of and reason for the American Revolution to WWII.

Poster Six—Testimonial: The poster shows Santa telling everyone to buy war bonds. There are few more recognizable images then Santa. Children and adults would have recognized the image.

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Download a printable pdf version of this lesson plan

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Make your own propaganda posters, test your memory, solve puzzles and more! Learn about World War II and have fun at the same time.

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