Lesson Plan: Overview

World War II

Grade Level: 5th

Japan Attacks!

Academic Standards

Standard 5-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the economic boom-and-bust in America in the 1920s and 1930s, its resultant political instability, and the subsequent worldwide response.

5-4.3 Explain the principal events related to the United States’ involvement in World War II—including the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the invasion in Normandy, Pacific island hopping, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the role of key figures in this involvement such as Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler. (P, G, H)

Historical Background Notes

During the 1930’s, the Great Depression was sweeping the world.  A few countries turned to totalitarian governments in hopes of changing their economic distress. A totalitarian government is a government controlled by one person or a small group who has absolute control.  In Europe the countries of Germany and Italy turned to this form of government and became very aggressive throughout the 1930s and 1940s.  In the Far East, Japan was doing the same thing. 

In 1922, Benito Mussolini seized power in Italy.  Once in power, Mussolini outlawed all political parties except his own, the Fascist party.  Under Mussolini’s leadership, Italy committed several acts of aggression, such as invading Ethiopia in 1935.  Like Mussolini, Germany’s Adolf Hitler took control in 1933.  Hitler crushed all rivals and created a militaristic totalitarian state.  Under Hitler, Germany built up its armed forces in violation of the Versailles Treaty.  In 1936, he moved troops into the Rhineland, near the border of France and Belgium.  Likewise in Japan, military leaders took power and they set out to win an overseas empire and expand into Asia.  In 1931, Japanese forces seized Manchuria in northeastern China. 

Through all of these events, the League of Nations condemned the actions of each country but did little else.  Similarly, the United States took no action.  During the depression, Americans had too many economic worries to care much about events overseas.  Americans were determined to keep the United States from becoming involved  (Davidson, et al. 2000, 730-733).

On March 11, 1938, German forces marched into Austria without opposition and two days later annexed it to Germany.  The spring and summer of 1938 saw a buildup of German military strength along the Czechoslovakian border. By March, 1939, Germany had taken over all of Czechoslovakia.  England and France had signed the Munich Pact which opened the door for a German takeover.  England and France became increasingly nervous.  On August 23, 1939, Hitler and Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union’s dictator, signed a non-aggression pact where both agreed not to attack the other.  They also agreed to split Poland after a military takeover.  On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland with planes, tanks, ships, and almost two million troops.  Great Britain and France, which had threatened Germany if European aggression continued, declared war on September 3rd (Bowes, et al. 1992, 719-723).

The allies had a larger combined army than Germany and a far stronger navy, but Hitler’s army was more highly mechanized and their industrial power was second only to the United States.  Germany also had a heavy advantage in airpower and had developed its air arm as a lethal offensive weapon.  Germany’s war machine had also been preparing for a lightning offensive strike for six full years.  Denmark and Norway fell quickly and Hitler was able to isolate Sweden.  Next, Hitler launched his offensive against the Low Countries, France, and ultimately Great Britain.  Hitler’s mission was to conquer Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg, overrun France, and bring Great Britain to its knees.  France fell to Germany on June 21, 1940, and Hitler sought to conquer Great Britain.  (Miller, 2001, 25-36).  The Battle of Britain was fought through the summer and fall of 1940. 

In June 1940, President Roosevelt responded to an appeal by Winston Churchill by sending war supplies to England.  The United States also adopted the nation’s first peacetime draft.  Although still pursuing neutrality, the United States began preparing itself in the event that participation in WWII became inevitable.  United States participation was insured with a surprise attack by the Japanese on the American fleet stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941.  Three battleships, eleven smaller ships, one hundred seventy planes, and almost twenty-four hundred people were lost from that surprise attack.  The following day the United States declared war on Japan.  Hitler and Mussolini immediately declared war on the United States in support of Japan (Bowes, et al. 1992, 736-739).

On the American home front, Americans quickly mobilized for the war effort.  The military’s first task was to train forces for combat.  Men and women across the United States joined all the armed services.  The government took control of the economy and established agencies to insure that troops would have all the supplies needed to win the war.  Almost five million women entered the work force to meet the urgent demand for labor (Davidson, et al. 2000, 740-743).  American people also helped in other ways.  Civilians recycled paper, rubber, scrap metal, and even toothpaste tubes.  Food drives were held to help the needy people in Europe.  Americans rolled bandages for the Red Cross and many people bought war bonds, savings stamps and many enrolled in payroll deduction programs (Horne and Klein, 2000, 434). 

Discrimination, sadly, was also a part of the war effort.  As a possible threat to national security, people of Japanese descent living in the United States were rounded up and placed in internment camps.  The number totaled 120,000 with two-thirds of them citizens (Bowes, et al. 1992, 742).  

World War II was fought on three fronts.  In the Pacific, United States forces were under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.  A naval task force engaged the Japanese in the Battle of Coral Sea near Java in May 1942 and turned back the Japanese fleet.  One month later, the United States Navy won a stunning victory at the Battle of Midway severely damaging the Japanese fleet and insuring that Japan could not attack Hawaii again.  At that point, America turned its attention to North Africa.  British and American forces began to push back the Germans in North Africa in October 1942.  By May of 1943, the allied armies trapped General Rommel’s forces and forced his army to surrender.  From bases in North Africa, the Allies organized the invasion of Italy.  The allies captured and crossed Sicily onto the mainland of Italy in September 1943.  By then, the Italians had overthrown Mussolini and the new Italian government sided with the Allies.  On June 4, 1944, Allied troops marched into Rome freeing the first European capital from Nazi control.  Also in 1943, the Soviet Union, which had joined the allies, began pushing the German army away from Leningrad.  Hitler had attacked the Soviet Union in 1941.  Slowly, the Soviets would push the Germans westward, back into Eastern Europe.  In 1944, after two years of planning, Operation Overlord was unleashed.  Operation Overlord was the code name for the Allied invasion of Europe.  On June 6, 1944, D-Day (as it was called) saw allied troops land on the French coast.  It was the largest amphibious (land and sea) operation in history.  In all, there were 176,00 troops, 4,000 landing craft, 600 warships, and 11,000 planes.  On August 25, 1944, the Allies entered Paris liberating the capital.  By September, the Allies were moving toward Germany in a slow advance.  German forces began a fierce counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge.  It slowed the Allies but did not stop them from penetrating into Germany.  By April 1945, Germany was collapsing and Hitler committed suicide on April 30th.  A week later, on May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allies. 

While the war raged in Europe, the Allies kept up pressure on Japan in the Pacific.  American forces conducted a strategy of island hopping with its primary targets being to regain the Philippines and invade Japan.  Many deadly battles were fought in Manilla, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa as well as other places in our pursuit of the Japanese mainland.  By April 1945, United States forces were within striking distance of the Japanese mainland.  United States military leaders made plans for a fall invasion.  They warned President Truman, who replaced Roosevelt after his death, that the invasion could cost the United States between 150,000 to 250,000 more casualties.  In July, Truman received word that American scientists had successfully tested a new secret weapon – the atomic bomb.  This weapon was so powerful that it could destroy an entire city with one bomb.  Truman decided to use this weapon to avoid further loss of American lives.  Allied leaders sent a message of warning to Japan to surrender or face “prompt and utter destruction”.  Not knowing about the atomic bomb, Japanese leaders rejected the offer to surrender.  On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.  The blast killed at least 70,000 people and injured an equal number as well as destroying most of the city.  On August 9, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  About 40,000 people died instantly.  Many more people died later in Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the atomic radiation released by the bombs.  On August 14, 1945, the formal surrender of Japan took place aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.  World War II had finally come to a close (Davidson, et al. 2000, 746-753).

World War II was the deadliest war in human history.  It is estimated that between thirty million and sixty million people were killed.  There were horrors beyond imagine throughout the war years but none more shocking than the Holocaust – the slaughter of European Jews by the Nazis.  During the war, the Nazis imprisoned Jews from Germany and the nations they conquered.  In prison camps and ghettos, they tortured and murdered more than six million Jews.  The Nazi murdered other groups as well as Jews.  Nearly six million Poles, Slavs, and Gypsies were also victims of the death camps.  The Nazis killed prisoners of war and people they considered unfit because of disabilities.  When the full horror of the Holocaust was revealed, the Allies decided to put Nazi leaders on trial for war crimes.  The Allies conducted war crimes trials in Nuremberg, Germany during 1945 and 1946.  As a result, 12 Nazi leaders were sentenced to death and thousands of others were found guilty and imprisoned.  The Allies also tried and executed Japanese leaders who also had committed war crimes in that phase of the war.  


Primary Sources
“Japan Attacks U.S.”  The Anderson Independent, 7 December 1941: A1. Pendleton District Historical, Recreational and Tourism Commission, Pendleton, South Carolina.
Product advertisement.  The Anderson Independent, 10 February 1944: A5. Pendleton District Historical, Recreational and Tourism Commission, Pendleton, South Carolina.
Cohen, Sharon.  “Veterans remember war’s end.”  The Anderson Independent, 7 May 1995: A11. Pendleton District Historical, Recreational and Tourism Commission, Pendleton, South Carolina.
Goldberg, Rube.  “Another Good Soldier.”  World War II cartoon from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.  National Archives.
Marcus, Edwin.  “The Misfit.”  Editorial cartoon that appeared in the New York Times in 1933.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
“Atta Girl! You’re Doing A Swell Job!”  Propaganda poster from the National Archives, Records of the Office of Government Reports, RG44, “World War II,” File PA 427.
Scarborough, Carol.   “Oral History Project.”  2000.  A primary source account of the story of my Dad, written by my sister for a college history class project.  She interviewed my Dad and recorded his story from World War II.
Secondary Sources
Bowes, John S., et al.  The Americans.  McDougal, Little, and Company, 1992.
Burriss, T. Moffatt.  Strike and Hold: A Memoir of the 82nd Airborne in World War II.  Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 2000.
Callison, Tallmadge P.  Hit the Silk.  New York: Comet Press Books, 1954.
Davidson, James West, et al.  The American Nation.  Prentice Hall, 2000.
Horne, Paul A. Jr., and Patricia Klein.  South Carolina: The History of an American State.  Selma: Clairmont Press,  2000.
Jervey, Harold E., Jr.  Tin Can Sailor.  Catskill, N.Y.: Press-TIGE Publishing Co., 2000.
Miller, Donald L., The Story of World War II.  Simon and Schuster: Touchstone, 2001.
Procedures for Lesson Plan

This lesson explores World War II and the impact it had on members of the local community through a variety of primary sources.  Students begin by breaking into groups to review editorial cartoons, first hand accounts, and video segments.  They complete this lesson with a journal entry comparing the attack on Pearl Harbor to September 11th, a project to compare prices listed in the 1944 newspapers ads and articles accessed at the Pendleton District Commission with prices today, and an oral history assignment in which students interview World War II veterans.

The length of this study on World War II could vary from one to three weeks depending on how much time you can allow or how in depth you decide to take it.  I purposely included generic procedures to allow some creativity or adjustments due to time constraints.  Below are the suggested procedures.

1. Lecture, discussion, and Q & A sessions with important text material covering WWII.  
2. Enrichment activities using primary source materials: Whole group – Excerpts from Cohen, Sharon.  “Veterans remember war’s end.”  The Anderson Independent  7 May 1995: A11.  Discussion of class oral history project. Small group – (a) Discussion and analysis of editorial cartoons--"The Misfit" and "Another Good Soldier" (b) Discussion and analysis of war accounts of T. Moffatt Burriss, Tallmadge Callison, and Harold Jervey (see citation in Secondary Sources section above).
3. Video presentation(s) – (a) Movie clips from Tora, Tora, Tora and Band of Brothers; (b) The War in Europe (History Channel video); (c) The War in the Pacific (History Channel video)
4. Journal Entry:  Compare and Contrast the attack at Pearl Harbor with the attack on 9/11/2001. Compare newspaper headlines from Pearl Harbor with headlines from 9/11 attach. For Pearl Harbor example, use Japan Attacks U.S.  The Anderson Independent 7 December 1941: A1. Pendleton District Historical, Recreational and Tourism Commission, Pendleton, South Carolina.
5. Worksheets for class work or homework: Chapter 27 - Section 1-5 Quiz(s). [Worksheets in Horne & Klein, South Carolina, 28-32]                                  
6. Individual Projects:  (a) Price Comparison Project – Students will compare and contrast the cost of items shown in the advertisement from a 1944 edition of the Anderson Independent with the costs today. (b) Oral History Project – Students will interview a veteran of WWII and record their story in writing. 
7. Test on WWII.
8. Veterans Day Activity – On Veterans Day have World War Two veterans come and speak to individual classes; or have students present their stories from the veterans they interviewed.

Teacher Reflections

I was very excited when I was accepted as a student in the Teaching American History in South Carolina program.  I was not totally sure what to expect but it sounded like a terrific opportunity and I can truthfully say it was everything I had hoped for.  It has been a tremendous benefit to me professionally and it has rekindled my love for the history of our great state and nation.  TAH has also allowed me to increase my content knowledge of 20th century history, learn new and inspiring teaching methods, compile a list of excellent teaching resources, and completely open my eyes to the vast amount of cultural institutions available to me as I strive to become a more inspirational teacher for my students.

Being a middle school teacher, whose standards have only taken us into the early years of the 20th century [as of 2004], TAH was a most valuable experience for refreshing and expanding my knowledge of this time period in our history.  Even though I have maintained a good knowledge base, I have not taught 20th century history in several years.  Now that the standards are changing back to include this time period, I will have a much richer knowledge base to once again teach this history to my students in the years ahead.  I am excited for my future students as I have felt for sometime that 8th graders have more desire to learn and discuss modern history than so far back in our past.  This was verified, at least in my mind, as I started the year with a unit on World War II.  My students were more knowledgeable, limited as it was, and were more interested than I have seen them since.  They were especially interested in the primary sources that I had gathered from the cultural institutions and they seemed to have a wonderful experience gathering the oral history of some of our local World War II veterans.  I received some incredible and encouraging feedback from my students, their parents, and even a few of the veterans that were interviewed.      

Dr. Walker did a marvelous job of teaching a huge amount of our history in such a short amount of time.  She was organized and prepared each day and she presented the loads of information she wanted to cover in a concise manner that was easy to follow and understand.  She was extremely helpful in expanding my knowledge and understanding of the subject matter.  

Thomas [Riddle] was really awesome as he presented each day to us an abundance of great ideas and resources to enrich our teaching.  These methods and resources were all valuable for us to be able to increase the interest and knowledge of our students.  I compiled a running list that I have referred to as we have progressed throughout this school year.  One example would be my increased use of movie and television clips to enrich my lessons.  My students have really enjoyed that aspect of my teaching and many have told me of specific movies that they have either rented or bought after I peeked their interest.  I have also increased my personal library of books and videos that are on the long list I compiled from Thomas.  I have gone well passed our spending allowance for the class as I have stockpiled a nice collection of great resources.  My wife has not been as excited as I am about my spending, but hey, who needs to eat!  My personal favorite new editions have been videos, Disney at War and Band of Brothers.  Those were great suggestions which my own children, as well as my school children, really enjoyed.  

As far as cultural institutions, I came away very disappointed that I have wasted so many years not taking advantage of the valuable information, primary sources, and an abundance of help that was right at my fingertips.  My collaboration with Donna at the Pendleton Historic District was both helpful and informative.  The folks at the Strom Thurmond Institute were also great and loaded me up with valuable primary sources that my students will enjoy for years to come.  All of the institutions we visited were awesome but I particularly enjoyed and have utilized the World War II museum in Greenville.  They were very helpful with my unit on the war to begin the school year.  Every institution offered something different that will be most valuable in teaching students in the years ahead.  At this time, I have not gotten to the chapter in which I will teach my lesson on slavery but I have been able to gather very good materials from Clemson when I get there.  Also, I am in the early stages of organizing a field trip for my students in which we will visit Ashtabula and Woodburn as a part of that unit of study.  I am very appreciative, even though a bit late in my career, to have been exposed to these most valuable resources.              

In conclusion let me say that another valuable part of this experience was the collaboration with my teaching peers and all of you.  I had valuable conversations, wonderful encouragement, and very helpful sounding boards from all the staff members.  A special thanks to Don, Marshall, Melissa, Thomas, and John – you have all been most valuable assets to me in my continuing endeavor to teach and instill a love for history in my students.  This was a most valuable experience!

Student Assessment

Informal assessment of your students understanding will be determined from lecture, discussion, question and answer sessions, and the small group activity.

Formal assessment would come from the journal entry, worksheets, and the chapter test.  An objective format was the basis for my test on WWII.

Video presentations could produce both formal and informal assessment depending on your choice of follow-up activities.

A grade by rubric could be given for either or both of the projects.

Examples of Students Work

No examples available for this lesson plan.


J. Mark Bishop
Gettys Middle School, Easley, South Carolina