Wilson and the Post WWI World

Wilson’s Vision of the Postwar World

Essential Question: What was Woodrow Wilson’s vision of the world after the Great War?

Common Core: RH2, RH6


As a result of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Evaluate Wilson's Fourteen Points, his negotiations at the Versailles Treaty talks, and the national debate over treaty ratification and the League of Nations.
  • Evaluate Wilson's leadership in the aftermath of the war.
  • Describe the conflicting aims of the participants at Versailles.
  • Analyze the responses of major powers to the terms of the settlement.
  • Explain how the League of Nations was founded and assess its promise and limitations as a vehicle for achieving lasting peace.


“Today the class is going to begin to examine the impact of the Great War upon the world. In doing so, we will consider the political, economic, social, and psychological ramifications of war, and how the leaders of the early twentieth century attempted to restore peace. Our primary focus will be the role played by the American president, Woodrow Wilson, in these discussions, as we draw conclusions about Wilson’s vision for the postwar world”.

“So, to that end, as a world leader at this time, what would be your primary concern in restoring peace after such a period of unprecedented destruction?”

Students will be directed to break into groups (heterogeneous working groups selected by the teacher) to discuss possible goals and objectives for restoring peace. Students may use their basal textbooks and notes from previous classes on the details of the war.

After 10 minutes, bring the class back together to debrief and discuss possible answers.

Learning Activities:

“The American President Woodrow Wilson faced the same task you just explored – trying to find a way to formulate a lasting peace after a period of long warfare. Let’s take a closer look at Woodrow Wilson and his political philosophies, including his promotion of national self-determination, international cooperation, and finding alternatives to militarism.”

Students will view a short documentary film on his life and policies. Students will complete a worksheet on Wilson as they watch the film. (60 minutes).

The documentary is PBS’s The American Experience: Woodrow Wilson - Episode 2: The Redemption of the World


Worksheet Questions:

Why was Wilson “obsessed” with a new world order? Despite a strong policy of isolationism, what ultimately brought the United States into the war?

How did the carnage of war impact Wilson?

Discuss how the Fourteen Points came about and how the document reflects Wilson’s personality.

Discuss Wilson’s role at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

Discuss his reaction to the Treaty of Versailles. Discuss his reaction to American refusal to join the League of Nations.


When the film concludes, discuss the answers to the worksheet as a class, making connections to Wilson’s background and major beliefs. (20 minutes) Have students then consider Wilson’s unique approach/vision for achieving a lasting peace – the Fourteen Points.

Distribute copies of the Fourteen Points and have students find a partner (http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=62).

Have pair groups examine the text of the primary document, and consider what about this document directly reflects Wilson’s ideals (i.e. how is it quintessential Wilson?).

Have students also predict what elements of this document might provoke disappointment, anger, or opposition, among other world leaders/nations and why. (20 minutes).

Bring the whole class back together, and begin drawing conclusions about how the Fourteen Points embodies Wilson’s vision for the postwar world. Particularly highlight his plans for national self-determination, the break-up of large empires, and international cooperation and diplomacy through the League of Nations.

Discuss student predictions (based upon the film and worksheet) about the proposed reaction of foreign powers to Wilson’s vision.

Review with a PowerPoint lecture on the negotiations for the Versailles Treaty that reinforces and clarifies the complex concepts introduced in the Wilson film and worksheet. The lecture will specifically cover who was involved in the peace conference (Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Orlando), what motivated the Big Four, the general politics of treaty negotiations, and the major outcomes of the treaty, including Article 231 – the war guilt clause - and the League of Nations.

Discuss with students how the need for revenge appeared to quickly overshadow the need for restoring peace (50 minutes).

To provide closure to the lesson and map back to the essential question, distribute copies of the Treaty of Versailles.

Using a Venn Diagram, have students compare and contrast Versailles with the Fourteen Points. Students may work individually or in pairs to complete the diagram. (15 minutes)

Once the diagrams are complete, draw conclusions as a class about the differences and similarities. Then ask students to reconsider Wilson’s vision for the postwar world in this context (the lesson’s essential question).

What elements in Versailles would have pleased Wilson?

What elements would have been a source of disappointment, even disgust?

What articles would Wilson perceive as provoking instability rather than sustaining peace? Would he be right????? (20 minutes)

At the conclusion of this discussion, collect both the Wilson worksheet from the film and the Venn Diagram for formal assessment.

As the summative assessment to end the lesson, students will answer the ticket-out-the-door quiz – What was Wilson’s vision of the postwar world? Students should write a paragraph using correct grammar and include specific examples from class lecture and discussion. (15 minutes)

As an extension of the lesson, students create a peace treaty that would have sustained lasting peace. This could be done via a Webquest, group PowerPoint presentation, or an individual research paper.

As an extension of the lesson, students role-play the treaty negotiations at Versailles, taking on the positions of Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, or Orlando. One group could even examine the reaction of the Weimar Republic to the treaty.

For middle-level learners, use BrainPOP videos in conjunction with footage from the American Experience series on Wilson.

Other Primary Sources:

The Fourteen Points

The Treaty of Versailles

League of Nations - BrainPOP video

World War I - BrainPOP video

Woodrow Wilson – CSPAN video

Woodrow Wilson – PBS The American Experience