Why did they listen to Hitler anyway?

During this lesson students will spend 90 minutes developing background knowledge to describe why the German people should support Hitler’s election. They will have the chance to elect a hidden candidate (Hitler) and then write a textbook section about their discoveries.

Historical Background

As a political figure, Hitler is most remembered for the events of the Holocaust. The atrocities of the Holocaust have become the one side of Hitler that are discussed in classrooms around the country. World War II and American Foreign Politics are the focus of Unit 5 in the 9th grade curriculum, and little attention is given to Hitler as a leader. As citizens of a democratic society, students have difficulty understanding the motives behind both Hitler's actions and his election.

Hitler was elected in a period of history in Germany during which the German citizens needed a strong leader who could boost morale. He was a strong public speaker who motivated the German people and gave them a reason to unify. Before Hitler took power, Germany was weakened greatly by the reparations they were forced to pay after World War I. With slight spirits, the German people looked to Hitler for leadership and a boost in esteem. He had overwhelming charisma that made the citizens of Germany believe in his ability to lead. Hitler’s character traits gave the German people a leader that could help them bring the German nation back into a position of power they believed it should be in. Hitler used this position of power to his advantage in leading Germany's army throughout the Holocaust and World War II. However, without support from the German people, Hitler’s leadership would have been irrelevant.

Lesson Objective

Students will analyze historical context to complete a close reading of multiple primary sources and explain through writing what Hitler’s recurring themes as a potential leader for the German people were.



  1. Warm Up: What did Hitler offer as a potential leader to the German people before his election?
  2. Students will brainstorm answers to the following questions, then Think-Pair-Share to come up with a set list as a class for a “good” Candidate for President. This list will be recorded on chart paper and left at the front of the class.
    • How much time should the leader of a country spend at work a day?
    • What type of lifestyle should the leader of a country live?
    • What skills should the leader of a country have?
    • What personality traits would you prefer a leader have?
  3. Students will read the Description of Hitler (with his name replaced to “Candidate A” and Germany replaced with “Country A” They will use their list of candidate characteristics to annotate the text for reasons they would vote for the candidate.
  4. Summary for the day: Have students put a sticker on the chart of requirements for a “good candidate for president” (created as a class the day before), next to the reason you would vote for the Candidate (it will not be revealed who the candidate is until day two)
  5. Day 2 (second 45 minutes)
  6. Warm Up: How should a country’s leader act in public settings?
  7. Image analysis: Distribute the Obama image handout to students. They should do a “close reading” for characteristics, or actions that make Obama a strong political figure in the image. What do they like about what he is doing?
  8. Conversion to Hitler: Put the images on the promethean board, allow students to circle things they thought were important Then use the “fade image” function of Active Inspire to fade Obama, and the Hitler picture will be behind it.
  9. Video analysis: Hitler’s Speech to the German State. Students look for characteristics of good public speakers in the video. Half of the class focuses on the words; the other half on tone and body language-it is tough to focus on both when you have to read subtitles. Discuss strong public speaking and its importance to a candidate. (See the two capture sheets/hand-outs at the end of the lesson plan)
  10. Direct students to the chart of candidate requirements created as a class the previous day. Have them answer the question below, and record their answers on the chart (in a different color than the one used the previous day). “What characteristics of Hitler’s words or actions during the speech make him an effective leader?”
  11. Closure: Reveal that the candidate from the day before was Hitler. Students will now have an image, a written account of Hitler, and a video of a speech by Hitler that show them reasons why Hitler would be a strong leader for a country. In addition, the poster is a visual representation of their own votes for Hitler, and a record of his strengths as a leader. They will now have to summarize why the German Citizens using these reasons elected Hitler.
  12. Re-distribute the answers to yesterday’s warm up and have them update their answers, check for misconceptions.


See assessment section; homework will be completed after the end of the lesson.


A textbook publisher has asked you to create a section in their book about Hitler’s rise to power. Your segment will focus on WHY Hitler was chosen to lead the country. Come up with a catchy title for your segment, and include what you consider to be the most important information. You MUST include evidence from the past two-day’s lessons.


The visual aspects of this lesson are helpful for low readers and ESOL students. Students are able to analyze a leader they are unfamiliar with (Hitler) by comparing him to a leader they are familiar with (Obama). To break up the reading section of the lesson, it may help to have students read in pairs. It will also support lower readers if the teacher models annotations to the document before they read individually. Students should be given a marking to place next to reasons to support the candidate, and number the reasons based on their strength.

During the video, you will split the class so half of the students focus on the body language and posture of Hitler during the speech, and the other half focuses on the words. This gives you a chance to divide the task based on the skill level of your students. The more advanced students, who can read quickly, should focus on the subtitles. It will be helpful to have ESOL students focus on the physical posture of Hitler and his body language. As they learned a new language, they have had to pay attention to these characteristics of speech more than other students may have. This will give them an advantage in that half of the assignment.


WPA Film Library . Hitler’s Speech to the German State. From Discovery Education. Video Segment. 2004. http://www.discoveryeducation.com/ (accessed 5 January 2012).

The British Embassy. “Education | Source 4”. The National Archives. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/lessons/1006-popup.htm
(Jan. 5, 2012).

Jaeger, Hugo. “Hitler Salutes the Troops, Nuremberg, 1938.” Getty Images, Sep 01, 1938. Life Magazine, Adolf Hitler: Up Close.

Souza, Pete. June 30, 2011. Official White House Photo. http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/photogallery/june-2011-photo-day

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