Lesson Plans

On this page, we offer 15 day-long lesson plans on key Topics, 15 week-long lesson plans on the same topics, and one semester-long lesson plan on topics chosen by students.

"The American Soldier in World War II is one of the most innovative and useful projects I have ever assigned as an instructor. Beyond offering students the chance to work with untapped primary sources, the documents provide a rich and edifying portrait of what life was actually like for the average GI, which in turn enables students to see through and break down the myth of the Greatest Generation.... All of this makes for an engaging and rewarding educational experience."

Bradley Nichols, Assistant Professor of History, University of Missouri

The breadth of content contained in The American Soldier in World War II’s digital archive provides not only a truly unique window into the military service and wartime experiences of individual citizen-soldiers, but also US society and culture in the 1940s writ large.

We want to make these remarkable primary-source accounts of soldiers’ experiences and wartime America accessible to everyone—especially students.

Our lesson plans have been designed to help students gain a deeper understanding of World War II while also adhering to widely used educational standards.

By using our lesson plans, students should be able to develop skills such as:

  • evaluating textual evidence
  • determining central ideas
  • identifying the meanings of words
  • comprehending the structure of a text
  • understanding an author’s point of view
  • interpreting multimedia content, including images and videos

Each lesson plan is built around framing questions and a small collection of primary sources intended to help students learn more about a specific topic. These collections have been paired with an expert-written essay that contextualizes the materials. Each lesson culminates with a worksheet to help lead students to the essential understanding.

Our lesson plans also include information on how to extend activities across a week or semester for further enrichment.

Before diving in, we urge students and instructors to read and discuss our Harmful Content statement. Some of the primary sources in this digital archive will not be appropriate for younger learners.

Historical Inquiry & the SCIM-C Method

To enhance student learning, our lesson plans are built around the SCIM-C Historical Inquiry method, which was developed by educators at Virginia Tech. SCIM-C provides teachers with a tool to help their students develop the knowledge and skills for formulating and investigating meaningful historical questions, interpreting historical primary sources, and reconciling various, sometimes-conflicting historical accounts.

SCIM-C focuses on five broad phases: Summarizing, Contextualizing, Inferring, Monitoring, and Corroborating. Students move through the first four phases while examining an individual source—they will summarize, contextualize, infer, and monitor—and then after, in the fifth phase, will analyze and compare (or corroborate) several documents collectively.

Day-long lesson plans

The day-long lesson plans are intended to provide students a deeper understanding of a topic relating to World War II and provide the means to investigate the many complexities surrounding the war. By the end of these lessons, students should be able to:

  1. Understand that World War II was full of complex problems beyond just defeating the Axis Powers.
  2. Analyze primary sources related to the experiences of soldiers in World War II and identify how they felt about various cultural and political issues.
  3. Evaluate the importance of language in understanding an individual's experiences in World War II.
  4. Apply their previous knowledge of United States history to understand why these problems existed.

Each lesson plan uses our Student Worksheet (pdf 449K; docx 254K) to help students break down how primary sources contribute to their understanding of World War II.

Day-long Lesson Plans

Allies, Axis & the Aims of War

Many soldiers had vastly differing opinions on how their allies and enemies should be treated during the war. This lesson plan will teach students how to analyze soldiers’ feelings about the Axis and Allied powers. pdf 9.3M; docx 7.2M

Assignment, Training & Discipline

This lesson will show students how soldiers responded to their assignments, training, and disciplinary actions. pdf 10.0M; docx 9.1M

The Citizen-Soldier

By reading responses from soldiers regarding the draft, students will learn how soldiers felt about fighting in the war. pdf 5.0M; docx 1.9M


Students will examine survey responses from both air combat and ground combat soldiers to determine how soldiers felt about their role in the war. They will also gain perspective on how air combat and ground combat soldiers differed in their opinions and treatment. pdf 12M; docx 2.5M

The Home Front

Civilians were an integral part of the war effort, working both in factories and on military bases. At the end of this lesson, students will better understand the complex feelings soldiers had about civilians and the home front. pdf 13M; docx 4.3M

Information, Education & Media

Orientation programs, magazines, and newspapers were an important source of information for soldiers. This lesson will show students how soldiers obtained information during the war. pdf 8.3M; docx 6.6M

Medical Care & Mental Health

Injuries—both physical and mental—were a large part of life as a soldier. Students will gain insight into how soldiers felt about medical care offered to them. pdf 5.1M; docx 2.2M


Many soldiers looked forward to what would happen after the war. Students using this lesson plan can examine soldiers’ views about the G.I. Bill of Rights, postwar work, and postwar education. pdf 5.3M; docx 4.9M

Race & Ethnicity

During WWII, segregation was a tremendous obstacle for Black soldiers. Students will utilize primary sources by both Black and White soldiers to draw conclusions about segregation and race during the war. pdf 4.4M; docx 2.0M

Recreation & Entertainment

Morale was greatly boosted during the war by recreation and entertainment. In this lesson, students will learn how soldiers spent their free time. pdf 5.5M; docx 2.1M

Women & Gender

Students will examine how women contributed to war efforts, and how soldiers felt about their roles in and contributions to the war. pdf 4.8M; docx 2.6

Week-long lesson plans

The week-long lesson plans give students a deeper understanding of topics relating to World War II. These lesson plans integrate additional primary sources like photographs, art, and videos to expand students’ knowledge of World War II. Students will also have the opportunity to use The American Soldier in World War II website to explore additional primary sources that cater to their own interests. Finally, students will be able to analyze these primary sources using the SCIM-C method to enhance their understanding of life during World War II.

Week-long Lesson Plans

Allies, Axis & the Aims of War

Propaganda films were often used to help foster positive feelings between American soldiers and their allies. Students will view one such film, Know Your Ally, before further exploring how soldiers felt about their allies and enemies. pdf 578K; docx 15.6K

Assignment, Training & Discipline

This lesson uses a training film to give students a preview of how soldiers were assigned and trained before taking them into a deep exploration of sources about life in the military. pdf 497K; docx 8.8K

The Citizen-Soldier

Selective Service and the draft played an important role in World War II. Students will study historical clips, speeches, and survey responses to form an understanding of how the Selective Service Act impacted war efforts. pdf 540K; docx 9.5K


Teachers will be able to screen The True Glory, a 1945 film about the realities of combat in this extended lesson before giving students the opportunity to analyze primary sources about combat during the war. pdf 496K; docx 9.0K

The Home Front

This lesson utilizes posters, cartoons, and transcriptions to help students better understand how soldiers felt about citizens and the home front. pdf 507K; docx 28K

Information, Education & Media

The Why We Fight series was a series of seven documentary films produced by the US Department of War from 1942 to 1945. Students will screen one of these documentaries before studying sources from The American Soldier to learn about information and education during World War II. pdf 493K; docx 9.0K

Medical Care & Mental Health

By viewing a long-banned documentary on mental health during the war, students will be able to analyze how medical care affected soldiers. pdf 501K; docx 28K


Teachers can screen Welcome Home, a film for postwar America, before giving students the opportunity to read first-hand accounts of what soldiers hoped the postwar world would be like. pdf 488K; docx 9.0K

Race & Ethnicity

This lesson begins by using the film The Negro Soldier to help students understand how Black soldiers were recruited into the war. Then, they will be able to analyze handwritten responses by Black and White soldiers to gain a deeper understanding of segregation and racism. pdf 493K; docx 9.0K

Recreation & Entertainment

Primary sources like This Is the Army, a 1942 Broadway musical, are utilized in this plan to help students understand the role of recreation and entertainment in the military. pdf 498K; docx 28K

Women & Gender

Using propaganda posters and film, students will be able to analyze how women contributed to war efforts. pdf 493K; docx 9.5K

Semester-long lesson plan

The semester-long lesson plan (16 weeks) provides students a deeper understanding of topics relating to World War II and teaches them about the many complexities surrounding the war. By the end of this semester-long plan, students should be able to:

  1. Understand the complexities of World War II and the problems that American GIs faced by reading their first-hand accounts.
  2. Analyze handwritten responses by soldiers to discuss and write about how soldiers felt about pressing matters during the war.
  3. Evaluate and interpret responses, picking out recurring themes and ideas that soldiers had.
  4. Apply critical thinking skills to write an analysis of soldier responses.

Semester-long Lesson Plan

Week 1 - Introduction to project

Students are introduced to The American Soldier in World War II project. Teachers may choose to screen the following video during this week: Project Director Ed Gitre discusses The American Soldier project

This week, students should also write a brief paragraph about what they know about World War II and what they thought the typical American soldier’s experience during World War II was. The following questions may be used as a guide:

  1. How do you think the average American GI felt while fighting in World War II?
  2. How do you think their morale suffered (or improved) during the war?
  3. What do you think the biggest issues were to the American GI?
  4. Why do you think they fought in World War II?

Week 2 - Students complete a week-long lesson plan

Students will complete one of the week-long lesson plans given above to get an idea of what kind of materials they might encounter during the project.

Week 3 - Students pick topics as groups

Teacher will present a set of topics to their class. These can be topics of their own choosing or topics from the contextual essays on the website. Students will then break off into groups of 3-4 based on these topics to further explore the site.

Weeks 4-8 - Students collect transcriptions from website

Each week, allot one hour for students to revisit The American Soldier in World War II website. In their respective groups, students can visit the site and gather more transcriptions about their topics.

Week 9 - Students present findings so far as groups

During this week, the teacher will give student groups the opportunity to present their findings to the rest of the class. This gives students the opportunity to explain to the rest of the class how they analyzed primary sources, used secondary sources for further research, and came to a conclusion about their topics.

Week 10 - Students separate from groups and pick more in depth topic of their choice

Students should choose topics for further study as individuals. This should be a more-specific topic within their group subjects (e.g., someone from the “Women and Gender” group may then choose to study how WACs specifically were treated during the war).

Weeks 11-14 - Students research topics

Allot an hour per week for students to further explore The American Soldier in World War II website and research their chosen topics. Students should be finding transcriptions that relate to their selected topic, analyzing them, and contextualizing them within the framework they built earlier in the semester.

Week 15 - Students present

Students should then present their individual research to the rest of the class, explaining what they learned about their specific topic and how they analyzed the primary sources they found.

Week 16 - Debrief

Use this final week as a group to wrap up the semester’s work. Discussion questions might include:

  • How did these transcriptions change your perspective of World War II? Were there specific ideas about World War II that changed as you researched this semester?
  • What did you learn about the American soldier during World War II that you didn’t know before?
  • Why are primary sources so important when researching history?

Students should also compare their first week’s summary of World War II to what they know now, further expanding upon the importance of learning from primary sources.

“Using raw, unfiltered data enhances experiential learning, and the open access availability makes the project shareable and scalable outside the classroom.”

Mary Jo Orzech, Librarian, SUNY Brockport

COVER IMAGE: "Sacramento, California. Former University of California students of Japanese ancestry were evacuate ..." 20 May 1942. Department of the Interior, War Relocation Authority. Courtesy of NARA, 210-G-C469, NAID 537783.