In a recently created learning activity on DocsTeach.org, students can analyze the Zimmermann telegram to evaluate whether, based on its information and implications, the United States should have entered World War I.
By completing the activity, they will learn that this message helped draw the United States into the war and thus changed the course of history, that: The British presented the telegram to President Woodrow Wilson, the American press published the news, and Congress declared war on Germany and its allies.
The Zimmermann Telegram activity challenges students to examine the encoded Zimmermann Telegram and the decode worksheet, looking for clues and details about the documents that may help explain their meaning. After they discuss their findings, they will read, analyze, and summarize the decoded Zimmermann telegram—identifying its author, audience, and purpose.
They will discover that in January of 1917, British codebreakers deciphered this telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Minister to Mexico, offering United States territory to Mexico in return for joining the German cause.
To conclude the activity, students will vote on whether or not the United States should have declared war on Germany based solely on the Zimmermann Telegram, explaining their pro- or anti-war rationale.
We suggest teaching with this activity during a unit on U.S. involvement in World War I. Students in grades 6-12 may work individually or in small groups, with breaks for class discussion. Approximate time needed is 30 minutes.