Museum Fellowship Lesson Plans

  Poisonous Mushroom
German children read anti-Jewish book.
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.

Recognizing Propaganda/Bias
Theresa McAbee
Lewis County High School
Weston, West Virginia



Propaganda during the Nazi era was everywhere and constant. It was used by Hitler to achieve power, maintain control, and manipulate ideas. Hitler understood the power of propaganda, devoting two chapters to it in Mein Kampf. In the twenty-first century, propaganda continues to be used everyday. For example, many people and some countries indoctrinate students and others in hate by using the erroneous and false pamphlet, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Different media outlets, especially in foreign countries, transmit propaganda instead of objective information, so it is imperative that we teach our students the ability to differentiate between fact and opinion and education and indoctrination. More importantly, we must teach them the danger of propaganda and bias. This unit challenges students to understand how the Nazi regime made use of propaganda, but also makes students aware of how and why propaganda and bias is still used today in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes.


  • Students will define what propaganda is.
  • Students will learn the techniques commonly used in propaganda and learn how to identify those techniques.
  • Students will learn to differentiate between propaganda, education, indoctrination, and objective news.
  • Students will learn how the Nazis used propaganda to indoctrinate the young and 
    manipulate the masses.
  • Students will apply critical reading and thinking skills to various media presentations.
  • Students will recognize the importance of critical thinking skills to the democratic process.

Time Required

Five class periods on block schedule 

Grade Level

Grades 7-12 

Curriculum Fit

Social Studies, Holocaust Studies

Procedure / Strategy

Day 1

  1. This lesson should begin one week prior to a major lesson or on a Friday, depending on how many journal entries are required. The teacher should require a minimum of three to five journal entries from different sources.
  2. Ask students to define the word propaganda (the systematic attempt to manipulate people’s opinions, attitudes, beliefs, and actions with words, images, usually through mass media).
  3. Discuss the role and goal of advertising and how it is considered a (mild) form of propaganda. (The teacher might also discuss the role of statistics in advertising.)
  4. As a class, read the booklet "Don't Believe Everything You Read" and analyze the examples.
  5. Assign students to keep a journal for one week (or over the weekend) in which they record observations about television, newspaper, magazine, and Internet advertising. For each journal entry, ask students to name the product, identify the target audience, and describe the advertisement noting visual images as well as key words used.

Day 2 

  1. Define and discuss these propaganda techniques: testimonials, bandwagon, name calling, glittering generalities, card stacking, transference, and plain folks.
  2. Students will then work in groups to match the advertisements from their journal entries with the appropriate propaganda technique. Groups share their findings with the class.
  3. Ask students to differentiate between education (exposure to different attitudes and beliefs for the purpose of making informed decisions based on logical thinking) and indoctrination (to imbue with a partisan or sectarian point of view, opinion, or principle.) Hand out examples of political cartoons, commercials, editorials, newspapers, posters (W.W.II, army recruiting).
  4. Students work in their groups to discuss if the material is propaganda to indoctrinate or information to educate.
  5. Students share findings with the class.

Day 3 

  1. Put the following quote on the board: “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” Ask students to evaluate and respond to the quote. Ask students if any of the material already analyzed would fit with this quote. Discuss the role of propaganda in Nazi Germany and let students know Hitler said this in Mein Kampf.
  2. Discuss how the Nazis used political propaganda and manipulated schools, the mass media, and the arts as a way to indoctrinate and convince the masses to accept the Nazi philosophy.
  3. Introduce and define the terms: scapegoating, symbol manipulation, emotional appeals, moral justification/superiority, and convoluted reasoning.
  4. Show students examples of Nazi propaganda such as The Poisonous Mushroom, excerpts from Triumph of the Will or The Eternal Jew, the game Juden raus! or Nazi textbooks (both of which can be viewed in the video, Genocide).
  5. Show the video, Confessions of a Hitler Youth, to reinforce the idea of the power of propaganda to manipulate students. 
  6. For homework, assign students to find examples of Nazi propaganda on the Internet and determine the propaganda technique it uses.

Day 4 

  1. Students will share examples of Nazi propaganda with the class. They should discuss the technique used, the significance of the piece, and what they think the Nazis hoped to accomplish with it.
  2. The teacher will explain to the class that part of an educated citizen’s duty in a democratic society is to be able to evaluate the validity of information presented.
  3. Students do a comparative survey of the same news event as presented by different sources - newspapers, television stations, etc. For example, students consider the same news story presented by CNN and FOX or a story reported by a Democratic oriented paper and a Republican oriented paper.
  4. The students should be able to do the following:
  • Differentiate between a news story (objective reports of facts) and an editorial (an opinion).
  • Identify the five W’s and H.
  • Identify any possible bias in these reports.
  • Determine what facts are emphasized and if facts are omitted.
  • Determine if any propaganda techniques were used.
  • Recognize if conclusions were drawn and if they were logical.
  • Decide if the story is pure objective news or does it contain any biases? 

Day 5 

  1. Students will share their analysis of the news survey.
  2. Sum up the propaganda unit. Specifically discuss the difference between education and indoctrination and propaganda and information.
  3. Assess students.

Supplemental Activities 

  1. Students develop an example of propaganda related to a local or state issue. 
  2. Students write an objective news report using the facts of a well-known fairy tale. Then students write a propagandized report of the same fairy tale, using one or more of the propaganda techniques learned in this unit.
  3. Students take a school textbook from another country such as Canada or England. If translations are available, perhaps a textbook could be obtained from an Arabic country, Japan, or Germany. Students compare and contrast the viewpoint of a particular event such as the Holocaust, W.W.II, or Vietnam as it is presented in both texts.

Materials / Resources

  1. Video excerpts
  • Triumph of the Will. New York: Crown Video, 1984. 
  • Der Ewige Jude The Eternal Jew : ein Dokümentarischer Film. Chicago, Ill. : International Historic Films, 1988. 
  • Genocide. New York, NY : HBO Video, 1982.
  • Heil Hitler! Confessions of a Hitler Youth. New York: Ambrose Video Pub., 1991. 
  1. Print and online material
  • Dahlstrom, Harry S. Don't Believe Everything You Read. Franklin, MA: Dahlstrom & Co., 1986.
  • Fant, Lisa. Extinguishing the Flames of Hate : Curriculum Activities to Prevent Hate Crimes Among Elementary and Secondary School Students. Hattiesburg, MS: Mississippi Institute of Hate Crime prevention, 1997.
  • The Poisonous Mushroom. Background information available at Calvin College German Propaganda Archive
  • USHMM Propaganda Exhibit

Evaluation / Assessment

  • Assessment is handled by means of an objective test on propaganda terminology and a subjective evaluation on the activities (the journal, Nazi propaganda, and news survey).
  • Additional activities for credit or extra credit could include a research paper or activity, and/or an art project.

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