Lest We Forget: Learning about WWI with Teens

November 8, 2019 | Debbie

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Laura  TPL librarian  works with a student
Laura, a high school outreach librarian, works with a student during a Lest We Forget presentation.

Every fall librarians from Toronto Public Library visit high schools across Toronto to deliver the Lest We Forget program, where teens are able to dig into primary resources from the First World War and learn about individual soldiers who served and died in the war.

Lest We Forget is a project developed by Library and Archives Canada to provide students with an opportunity to expand on their classroom history lessons. A little background from the Lest We Forget website:

"The project is the inspiration of Blake Seward, a history teacher in Smiths Falls, Ontario. Concerned that the contributions of those who died serving in the First World War would be forgotten, Mr. Seward began researching the military history of his own great uncle. He soon realized that this type of research would be an exciting way to make history come alive in the classroom."

Students find the project interesting and are often able to make a local connection with the soldiers they research, remarking that they live in the same neighbourhood as a soldier, or finding former students from their high school on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

This past month we visited St. John Paul II high school and took photos during the Lest We Forget presentation.

Students research during Lest We Forget

The presentation usually begins with a recap of First World War history, including a short documentary from the National Film Board, Front Lines - The Trenches, a film combining soldier's diary entries with historical footage. 

Students then work in small groups with a package that contains copies of primary resources related to an individual soldier, such as their Attestation Paper, Record of Service Form, Casualty Form, Pay Ledgers, Medal Card and Medical History Sheet.

A sample of primary resources

Working together, students complete a profile on the soldier they have, including any battles they fought in, sometimes finding this information out by comparing dates of injury to known battle dates. 

Students work with primary resources

Teachers also play an important role in bringing the experiences of soldiers to life for students, in this case asking students how close in age they are to a sixteen year-old soldier who enlisted before reaching the legal age.

Students discuss WWI with their teacher

Once students have completed the profile for their soldier, they can look up the soldier on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial to see a photo, information about their grave site and any newspaper stories linked to them.

Students use the Canadian Virtual War Memorial

The program allows students to make a real connection to individuals who served in the war, as well as their family members who received a Memorial Cross and are mentioned in the primary documents. A teacher at Sir John A MacDonald commented on the Lest We Forget program:

"The students really enjoyed using primary documents, to link their knowledge of the war to the life of Canadian soldiers who served during the Great War. They also really enjoyed being able to find the grave of the soldier who died during the war.  Using primary documents is important in history, and one of the skills we aim to teach."

- Penelope C., History Teacher

The Lest we Forget project is one example of a diverse set of workshops, presentations and visits that can be arranged to high schools and middle schools across Toronto through our High School Outreach Program.

For more information and to book, contact teens@tpl.ca

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