To begin the unit, I created a fun and engaging activity (that also makes for a really cool bulletin board!) for students to identify the Allies and Axis powers as well as a brief overview of important events in the form of a timeline. I read from a book entitled, The Attack on Pearl Harbor by Katherine Krieg which shares a diary entry from a US Marine soldier during the attack and one from a Japanese Fighter Pilot. This book stirs up a great discussion when students consider each person's point of view. (click below to read more)
The book I chose for my students to read independently and discuss in Socratic seminar is called Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Watasuki Houston. I can't say enough about how this book teaches about the internment camps and creates a sense of empathy for what is mostly an unknown truth about our nation's history. When Jeanne was 7 years old, her family was forced into an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This book goes into great detail of the struggles her entire family faced while in the camps and the discrimination and prejudice and struggles they experienced after leaving the camp in 1945.
The book provides insight as well as many talking points for a class discussion. It also is a great go-to "hook" and connection for when I want to teach about a specific topic within this subject. For example, when I wanted to teach my students about the roles and sacrifices of the Japanese American soldiers, I connected it to when Jeanne's older brother left the camp to join the US Army.
When students are finished with this reading, they are assigned a project to complete. They get to choose from a list of options that they think would be most fun!
Books for Direct Teaching
These books are wonderful resources! Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During WWII by Martin W. Sandler works well for this unit because the chapters are specific to experiences that Japanese Americans had starting with Pearl Harbor and the fight for justice up until the 1990's. The real pictures and side stories are extremely helpful to paint a full picture of the history. The layout is fantastic and students often borrow this book during Independent Reading to flip through and read sections I don't teach in class. The Children of Topaz by Michael O. Tunnell and George Chilcoat is another perfect book for this unit because it is a collection of diary entries from students within the detention camps. After each entry, there is an explanation of it which helps with creating a better understanding of what life was like for school children. Japanese in America is a book I randomly found as a library withdraw. It is a textbook-like book that describes what life was like for Japanese Americans prior to WWII.
During Writers Workshop, students create Historical Fiction Picture Books. Because I taught about segregation and the Civil Rights Movement earlier this quarter (in preparation for our participation in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade), I allow for students to choose whether they want their books to take place during that time period or WWII. Among other things, I help prepare them by reading published historical fiction picture books to them. This works really well because while I am reading the books, students are completing activity sheets where they are asked to identify the fictional elements and historical facts. We discuss how the author intertwined fact and fiction. They learned more about the time period and they are thinking about how they will structure their own pieces of writing!
The revision stage is where even more history learning takes place. This is the part of the writing process where kids are fact-checking their stories. I often am guiding students in finding answers to questions like, "How did the Nazis know who was Jewish and who wasn't?" "Did any of the Japanese have friends who could take care of their homes while they were gone?" "What happened to kids who were too young to work in the concentration camps?" Also, during the publishing stage, when kids are illustrating their books, they are researching exact details such as, what the soldiers uniforms looked like and what the scenery was for the internment camps.
6th grade Humanities Teacher, Writer, Resource Creator, Curriculum and Course Developer