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Setting the Tone: Introducing Students to World War II

Photo, American soldier with cattle dog. . . , 1941-1945, Flickr Commons
Question 

I teach in the inner city. What's a good opening lesson for teaching World War II?

Answer 

Any day 1 lesson—regardless of the topic—should align with and introduce goals, objectives, and essential questions for a larger unit of study. Using a backwards design approach to developing curriculum, creating individual lesson plans comes after you have determined what you want students to know and be able to do throughout the unit. A good day 1, therefore, necessitates a significant amount of planning beyond the opening activities. Some sample objectives and questions for a unit of study on World War II might include: Why, after the costs of World War I, did nations choose to fight another World War? Why were the civilian costs of World War II so much higher than World War I? Why were the allies victorious?

[. . .] creating individual lesson plans comes after you have determined what you want students to know and be able to do throughout the unit [. . .]

In addition to introducing the unit, you might consider using part of the first day to investigate what your students already understand—or misunderstand—about the war, introduce key vocabulary for the unit, or preview a timeline of events that you will be studying.

You could also focus an opening lesson on investigating the origins of the war. Activities for this approach might include a multi-media slide lecture on the long and short term causes of the war, an examination of primary documents such as the Treaty of Versailles, excerpts from newspaper reports on German, Italian, and Japanese aggression, or parts of important speeches made by world leaders in the years prior to the war.

Another approach is to begin by considering the significance of the war. To do so, you could examine some statistics that indicate the enormous human cost of the war, or introduce ways that the war fundamentally changed the United States and the world. On a smaller scale, ask students what their family history is with the war and whether the war holds any significance for their family’s story.

There is no shortage of lesson plans and curriculum materials for World War II online. PBS, for example, includes several lessons to accompany Ken Burns' critically acclaimed documentary, The War. The California Department of Education's Course Models contain background information and activities for each of the state's standards, including materials on the war. And, National Geographic’s Xpedition archive includes several lessons on the war. The quality of lesson plans posted online, however, varies wildly. Consider using our rubric for evaluating lesson plans to help you make your choice.

Explore these resources for inspiration, then make some choices. Good luck!

EDSITEment has a few very

EDSITEment has a few very good lessons on WWII
listed here :

"The Proper Application of Overwhelming Force”: The United States in World War II
http://edsitement.neh.gov/curriculum-unit/united-states-world-war-ii-pro...

Lesson 1: Turning the Tide in the Pacific, 1941-1943
Lesson 2: Turning the Tide in Europe, 1942-1944
Lesson 3: Victory in Europe, 1944-1945
Lesson 4: Victory in the Pacific, 1943-1945

American Diplomacy in World War II
http://edsitement.neh.gov/curriculum-unit/american-diplomacy-world-war-ii

Lesson 1: How "Grand” and "Allied” was the Grand Alliance?
Lesson 2: How to Win a World War
Lesson 3: Victory and the New Order in Europe
Lesson 4: The New Order for "Greater East Asia”

On the Home Front
http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/home-front

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