Whether you teach World History or US History to middle school or high school students, one of your biggest units in the year is likely to be World War 2. The scope and impact of the war was so massive that you need at least a few weeks to cover everything. That means you need to have a wide variety of high-quality, engaging lessons to use throughout the unit.
From the causes of WW2, to the people, main events and battles, the Holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the lasting impact of WW2 into the Cold War - it's a LOT to cover.
Here are some of my favorite lesson plans and activities to use with secondary students for teaching World War II:
One of the first things students need to understand is the rise of dictatorships and fascism in the years before World War II. Hitler in Germany, Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, Benito Mussolini in Italy, and militarists in Japan all took power during the 1930s.
To teach students about the rise of dictatorships in this era, I use these (FREE) pop-up interactive notebook pages along with a PowerPoint (or flipped classroom video version). We talk about the causes for the rise of fascism or communism in each country, the leaders who rose to power, and what impact this had on the country.
As we go over each one, students cut out a pop-up figure and add him to the map, so it literally "rises up" out of their notebooks.
This lesson is an awesome way to have students learn about each dictator, connect them to their country, and understand the impact they had in the years leading up to the war.
(PS. There's also one for the Allied leaders, too.)
To help students understand the key battles of WW2, we’ll go through a visually engaging PowerPoint in class first. Then, I assign students this fun radio show project. Students work together in collaborative learning groups of 3-4 and are assigned one battle.
There are 7 groups, one for each of the most significant battles of WW2: Pearl Harbor, Midway, El Alamein, Stalingrad, D-Day, Iwo Jima, & Okinawa. You can always add a group for the Battle of the Bulge, Guadalcanal, or any of the other major conflicts you want to cover.
After introducing the project, you can play a real radio broadcast for one of the battles to help students understand what they sounded like.
The lesson includes readings on each battle, but students in their groups can also research more online, use their textbooks, or even go to the school library to gain a more in-depth perspective for the conflict. They then have to script a radio address about their assigned battle.
After they finish, you can have students simply read their broadcasts or record them into podcasts with sound effects and music for a really fun project!
If you teach US History, it's very likely that your state standards include the ways varied groups contributed to the war effort. The most common include:
In this lesson on these groups, kids read about each group and create honorary plaques to recognize their actions either on the homefront or abroad during the war.
The activity includes 1-page readings on each group along with plaque templates that students can complete by hand or by using the Google Drive digital versions.
These are great to hang up around your classroom to remember and honor the many heroes who helped America win the war.
A great way to cover any content from the unit is with Google Drive Digital Notebook pages. I will select a few pages from this set to use with students.
The WW2 timeline sort page is a great one to have students understand the order of the battles. I also like the vocabulary and key people pages.
I'll also save a few pages to use if I find that some students are struggling with the certain standard from the unit. Then, they can do that page as an extension activity to ensure they fully understand it.
You might also find it helpful to save pages for review at the end of the unit or if you come back at the end of the year to review.
These interactive notebook pages are great for extension or to allow students to demonstrate their learning creatively. Similar to the digital notebook, the download includes a set of pages, but I pick out a couple to use and save others for students that need reinforcement of a particular concept.
The paper and digital pages actually overlap content, so you can also give students the option to pick whichever version they wish to work on.
Some students might prefer the hands on foldables that they can cut, paste, and color. Others will prefer to do the digital pages and online. Either way they're reading about and learning the content!
Unit packets are in especially handy tool for students that need help with organization. You can give students a stapled packet at the beginning of the unit and have them work on it throughout. You can either assign pages for each day or require students to have it finished by test day.
I like to use this WWII packet with my inclusion/team-taught classes that might benefit from a little help with organization and focusing on the main ideas of the unit.
There are 9 pages in the packet that cover vocabulary, geography, important people, key concepts, and important images.
When I first heard about task cards, I thought they were an elementary activity. However, a colleague explained how he used them for review and I really liked the flexibility they offer.
I like to use this set of WW2 task cards to review at the end of the unit. They're a great way to prep for our assessment and get some practice with test questions.
There's a few ways they can be used, but I like to make them stations. I print each task card out and tape them up around the room. Students receive an answer sheet and move through the stations as we listen to World War 2 era music.
If you like all these resources, you can get them all plus lesson plans for every day throughout the unit either with this TpT unit bundle or by joining Students of History. There's also videos for each day, PowerPoints with guided notes, games, unit tests, and more!
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