Global Issues in Language Education

  June 2005 - Issue No. #57

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Special Feature:

Teaching about World War II

Why Teach about World War II?

The year 2005 marks the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II - a horrific war which resulted in massive worldwide destruction, incredible human suffering and the deaths of 80 million people (23 million soldiers plus 57 million civilians). This year is thus a perfect time to help students understand this tragic war, study how it happened, reflect on its impact and build a commitment to stop future wars from occurring.

Sample Teaching Ideas


WWII is a vast theme with countless sub-topics. The list here gives a few ideas to get you started.

Historical Background

  • The rise of fascism in Germany and Italy
    The rise of militarism in Japan
    The causes of WW II in Europe and Asia

Historical Figures

  • Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Hirohito, Tojo…
  • Churchill, Roosevelt, Truman, MacArthur…
  • Victims: Anne Frank, Claus von Stauffenburg, Elie Wiesel, White Rose (Hans & Sophie Scholl)
  • Heroes: Raoul Wallenberg, Chiune Sugihara, Oscar Schindler, King Christian X, Miep Gies

What Life was Like in WWII

  • Daily life in Nazi Germany and wartime Japan
  • What life was like in war-time in the UK, US...
  • What life was like in occupied countries

The War in Europe and Asia

  • Blitzkrieg, Vichy, Stalingrad, Nuremburg Trials
  • China, Korea, SE Asia, Okinawa, Tokyo Trials
  • Eyewitness accounts by soldiers and civilians

Historical Incidents

  • Nanking Massacre (1937)
  • D-Day (1944)
  • The Blitz (1940)
  • The Holocaust
  • Pearl Harbor (1941)
  • A-bomb (1945)

The Post-War World

  • Founding of the UN, the Marshall Plan…
  • Occupation of Japan, Berlin Wall, Cold War…


Prejudice, racism, hate, anti-semitism
Nationalism, militarism, propaganda
Oppression, resistance, justice, freedom
Responsibility, ethics, “just following orders”

Lessons to Learn

  • Death, suffering, destruction caused by WW II
  • How WW II has influenced the world today
  • How wars start; why people support them
  • How wars can be prevented or stopped

World War II in the Movies

·Saving Private Ryan ·Schindler’s List

·The Longest Day ·Thin Red Line

·Diary of Anne Frank ·Casablanca

·Bridge on the River Kwai ·Tora Tora Tora

A language teaching unit on WW II can involve many activities. Here are a few examples. See the books and websites for more ideas.

  • Vocabulary: use games to study WW II vocabulary (allies, axis, holocaust, invasion…).

  • Timeline: have students study or create a timeline of WWII events, practice expressions (before, after, at the same time), then choose and discuss the 3 most important events.

  • WWII Quiz: have students create a True/ False or multiple choice quiz on WWII, then test their friends/family on what they know.

  • WWII Research: have students choose a topic (Nazis, comfort women) or incident (D-Day, Nanking massacre), research it, then write a report or give a presentation in class.

  • Perpetrators, Victims, Heroes: have students write profiles/make posters of 3 types of people: a perpetrator (eg Hitler), a victim (eg Anne Frank) and a hero (eg Raoul Wallenberg)

  • Oral Interview: have students interview a grandparent (or senior citizen) about their war experiences, then report this to the class.

  • What Would You Do?: have students study about life under fascism/militarism, then have them write or discuss "What would you do?"

  • Keypal Exchange: have students contact young people from WWII “enemy” countries to share ideas, experiences and thoughts.

  • War Resisters: have students study about those people in each country who resisted war.

  • Event: hold an event for Hiroshima Day (Aug 6) or the War’s End (Aug 15), then study how these are commemorated in other countries.




The History Place: WWII

WWII timelines, profiles, info (Hitler, Auschwitz)

On This Day BBC World War II Site


WWII stories, photos, audio clips, timelines, etc.

Japan’s War Responsibility

On-line exhibit of Japan’s aggression in WWII

Singapore WWII Website

Information on Singapore’s WWII experience

Hiroshima Kids’ Peace Station

Ø Peace Presentations (by kids around the world)

Ø The Sadako Story (about Sadako Sasaki)

Ø Kid’s Question Box (on Hiroshima, WWII)

Hiroshima Virtual Peace Museum

Take an on-line tour of Hiroshima Peace Museum.


Adams, S. (2004) World War II (Eyewitness Guides). NY: Dorling Kindersley.

Chang, I. (1997) The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of WW II. NY: Basic Books.

Cook, H. (1993) Japan at War: An Oral History. NY: New Press.

Dower, J. (1986) War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. NY: Pantheon.

Harries, M. (1994) Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Army. Random House.

Hicks, G. (1995) Comfort Women: Sex Slaves of Japan’s Imperial Forces. Allen Unwin/Yenbooks.

Ienaga, S. (1978) The Pacific War 1931-1945: A Critical Perspective on WW II. NY: Pantheon.

Readers Digest. (1999) The World at War 1931-1945 (The Eventful Century). NY: Readers Digest.


Teaching about the 60th Anniversary of WWII

This great UK site provides a sample school WWII memorial event, teaching ideas and WWII links.

Grolier Encyclopedia: World War II

Great set of articles, photos, films, quiz on WW II.

Cool Lessons on WW II

Great site on WWII, Anne Frank and the Holocaust.

Teaching about World Wars I and II

American site with teaching ideas on WWI and II.

WWII History Textbook Comparison Project

Allows EFL students to work with students in
other nations to compare WWII textbook coverage.


Dowswell, P. (2005) Usborne Introduction to the Second World War. UK <>

This new book, published for the 60th anniversary, covers all WWII topics and is Internet-linked.

Strathman, J. (1994) Thematic Unit: World War II. USA <>

Includes projects, activities, bulletin board ideas.

Lee, G. (1995) World War II: Social Studies 5-8+.
USA <>

Goes through all WWII events from 1939 - 1945.

Hopkinson, C. (1997) World History of the 20th Century. Tokyo: Macmillan <>

This EFL text has a good section on WW II.


· World War II in Color (1999) (DVD) $20

· BBC History of World War II (DVD) $150

· National Geographic Ultimate WW II

Videos can be ordered from: