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Monday, 12 October 2009 07:32

Lesson 5: Treaty of Versailles Negotiation Game

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  1. Students will understand how difficult it was to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles, and how none of the Big Three really got what they wanted from the Treaty.
  2. Students will understand how the Treaty lead to WWII.

Teachers’ Instructions


As part of Modern World GCSE study of the Treaty of Versailles.   You should have studied hopes for the peace, aims of the Big Three, terms of the Treaty and reaction of the Germans and be approaching the topic ‘Verdicts on the Treaty’.   Although it could be played by any class studying the Treaty of Versailles, the game is specifically designed to complement the scheme on and following webpages.


(This lesson takes 2 – 3 class periods)

Step 1:

  1. Students should have already read about the verdicts of the Big Three on the Treaty – e.g. using the webpage or from their text books.  It might be useful if the pupils remind themselves what each of the Big 3 wanted from the peace.
  2. Divide the class into three teams of roughly equal ability (to represent France, America and Britain).   Give them their Country Briefing Sheets (Student Handout 8.5.2) and the Treaty of Versailles Decisions’ sheet (Student Handout 8.5.1).
  3. Explain the nature of the game. They are to imagine that they are negotiators at Versailles.   Of course, although everyone wants peace, everyone also wants to get the best deal for their country as well – and France, Britain and America all want very different things.  The issues that have to be decided are listed on the ‘Treaty of Versailles Decisions’ sheet.  What the possible decisions are (and how much their country would want them) are indicated by the scores + and – on the country briefing sheets.   The size of the score + or – indicates how much you want or don’t want that.   To get something you really want, you might be prepared to forgo some of the issues of less importance.   Point out that some scores imagine a ‘perfect decision’ with penalties if the decision is for less, or more.   Point out that the average score is about 25 points, and that they are unlikely to win if they get a final score lower than that.

Step 2:

  1. Tell them how the game will proceed:
    • 15 min. for reading briefing sheet and planning
    • 15 – 20 min for negotiation
    • 20 min. class conference.
  2. Allow the pupils 15 minutes-or-so for planning in their country groups, studying the score sheet, asking you questions if necessary, plotting what they are going to try to get, and what they might give away if necessary.

Step 3:

  1. Divide students into roles:
    1. 1 - 2 chairperson(s) The chairperson represents the country’s decisions as the teacher goes through the agenda during the class conference. They are also responsible for leading the planning session.
    2. 1 secretary who fills out the Decision Sheet and takes notes on the decisions being made.
    3. 10 diplomats who are responsible for negotiations.
  2. Allow time (e.g. 15 mins – for negotiations with the other countries: ‘Will you support this?   What do you want?’ etc.) With about 5 minutes to go, drop in the fact that decisions MUST be unanimous.

Step 4:

  1. Call a whole-class conference.   Before the conference starts, each country must elect a competent chairperson.   The chairperson represents the country’s decisions as the teacher goes through the agenda and acts as secretary, seeking proposals, soliciting explanations, and letting the meeting find a unanimous decision.   It may be necessary on some points to leave them and come back to them later, or even to adjourn the meeting for another period of negotiation.  
    Insist in unanimity, and do not allow the class to leave until all decisions are made.
  2. When finished, get the 3 teams to total their points and find the winner.
  3. Debrief if time:  discuss what the game taught the pupils about the Treaty of Versailles.

Step 5:

  1. Have students look at the outcome of the Treaty of Versailles. And then have
    students read the German Reply Memorandum to the treaty, written by the German Foreign Minister Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, available here as a downloadable PDF file. Explain that Germany was allowed to fashion a reply to the treaty draft, but its terms were summarily rejected by the Allies. What objections does Germany raise to the treaty? Are these objections valid? Should the Allies have modified the treaty in any way to address these points?
  2. Now have students read Hitler's April 17, 1923 speech, available here as a downloadable PDF file, denouncing the treaty. (Ideally students will already be familiar with the circumstances behind the Weimar Republic. If not, explain to students that the German Kaiser abdicated at the close of World War I, to be succeeded by a democratic republic known as the Weimar Republic. It was representatives of the Weimar Republic who signed the Versailles Treaty.) Discuss his speech. Why is Hitler so vitriolic concerning the Weimar Republic? What does he blame the Weimar Republic for? What other goals does he link to the elimination of the treaty? What imagery does he use? What actions is he alluding to at the end? How might this speech appeal to the emotions of the listener? Consider how the treaty may have contributed to the rise of Nazism, and by extension, World War II. Would Hitler have been able to give such a powerful speech or to find a receptive audience if the treaty had been different?

Step 6:

  1. This may be done through discussion, debate, or a written assignment. Was the German response to the Treaty of Versailles justified? Have students take a stand on whether the treaty was fair or unfair, with specific evidence to justify their ideas.
  2. Once students have had a chance to consider their positions on this question, discuss with your class some of the larger issues of causality and responsibility that are raised by this exercise.
    Some questions are: What are our sources for gauging the German response? Can we trust them? Might German politicians in the 1930s have had something to gain by exploiting the bitterness of defeat? If we believe that the terms of the treaty were unfair, does this mean that the allies bear responsibility in some fashion for subsequent developments in Germany? That the German response was justified?

Extending the Lesson

Have students research other postwar settlements, such as the peace terms of the Congress of Vienna after the Napoleonic Wars, and compare them to the Treaty of Versailles. Some sample questions to consider: What were the victors' goals at the Congress of Vienna? Were they different than the goals of the victors in 1919? Was the 1815 settlement a harsh one toward France? What happened to the government of France after the Napoleonic Wars, and how did this compare to what happened to the government of Germany? What territorial adjustments were made after the Napoleonic Wars, and how did these adjustments compare to the 1919 adjustments? The Congress of Vienna settlement is widely credited with keeping Europe out of a continent-wide war for 100 years (in fact, until World War I!). Why might it have been so successful at keeping the peace, whereas the Versailles settlement collapsed after only two decades? Students should conduct their own research for this expansion activity, but following are some basic background sites for students to begin with (all are linked to the EDSITEment resource, Internet Public Library): "Europe in Retrospect: International Order and Domestic Strife," produced by Britannia Encyclopedia Online; "Congress of Vienna," produced by Bartleby Encyclopedia Online; and "Congress of Vienna," a student essay from Chico High School in Chico, California.
Hold a discussion/debate or give a written assignment exploring what, if any, are the victor's obligations after a war is over. To what extent should a defeated wartime enemy be punished? Is harsh punishment practical? Worthwhile? legitimate?


Students will be assessed on their involvement in the negotiations and conference.  Give extra points for the team/country that gets the most points. You could also have a debate or have students write individual responses to the question of the fairness of the treaty.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 October 2009 06:25
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