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WWII Japanese Internment: An Interactive Lesson Plan Using Primary Sources

By Deanna Olson

Grade Level: 7-8

OVERVIEW
Using a variety of primary sources, students will learn about WWII Japanese internment camps in the United States. Students will work in small groups to evaluate documents representing opposing perspectives and work as a class to understand primary source analysis.

OBJECTIVES
• To familiarize student with WWII Japanese internment camps in the United States
• To teach students how to analyze primary sources, including determining origin, purpose, and bias in documents in preparation for National History Day projects.
• To help students understand the value of primary sources in historical research.

STANDARDS
This lesson correlates with the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards for English Language Arts and Social Studies.

English Language Arts Standards
Grade 8
A.8.2 Read, interpret, and critically analyze literature
A.8.3 Read and discuss literary and nonliterary texts in order to understand human experience
A.8.4 Read to acquire information
C.8.1 Orally communicate information, opinions, and ideas effectively to different audiences for a variety of purposes
C.8.2 Listen to and comprehend oral communications
C.8.3 Participate effectively in discussion
Grade 12
A.12.2 Read, interpret, and critically analyze literature.
A.12.3 Read and discuss literary and nonliterary texts in order to understand human experience
A.12.4 Students will read to acquire information
C.12.2 Listen to, discuss, and comprehend oral communications
C.12.3 Participate effectively in discussion
Social Studies Standards
Grade 8
B.8.1 Interpret the past using a variety of sources, such as biographies, diaries, journals, artifacts, eyewitness interviews, and other primary source materials, and evaluate the credibility of sources used
B.8.4 Explain how and why events may be interpreted differently depending upon the perspectives of participants, witnesses, reporters, and historians
Grade 12
B.12.1 Explain different points of view on the same historical event, using data gathered from various sources, such as letters, journals, diaries, newspapers, government documents, and speeches
B.12.2 Analyze primary and secondary sources related to a historical question to evaluate their relevance, make comparisons, integrate new information with prior knowledge, and come to a reasoned conclusion
B.12.4 Assess the validity of different interpretations of significant historical events

VOCABULARY

  • Pearl Harbor: A harbor in Hawaii that was attacked by the Japanese. As a result of the attack, the United States entered World War II.
  • Axis Powers: The term used to describe Germany, Italy, and Japan during World War II
  • Executive Order 9066: This order was signed by President Roosevelt allowing for the removal of people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast.
  • War Relocation Authority: The organization that was created to assist in the relocation of people of Japanese ancestry.
  • Nisei: United States citizens with immigrant Japanese Parents
  • Issei: Japanese immigrants
  • Internment Camps: The place detaining a specific group or type of people in a specific area usually during times of war.

DOCUMENTS

  • Estelle Ishigo Watercolor Painting "Home"
    • Estelle Ishigo was a European American sent to Heart Mountain Relocation Camp due to her husband’s Japanese heritage. She depicted her observations and experiences in the relocation camp through watercolor paintings and black and white sketches. “Home” provides insight into the living conditions of people living in barracks in the relocation camp.
    • Estelle Ishigo watercolor painting, “Home,” Heart Mountain, December 1942. Box 719. Estelle Ishigo Papers (Collection 2010. Department of Special Collections, Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
  • Excerpts of Letter Written by Lawrence T. Kagawa (PDF, 314KB)
    • Photocopies of declassified documents from the National Archives regarding the World War II POW facilities at Fort MCcoy, Wisconsin obtained by Mueckler in preparation of his thesis. Included are lists of internees of Japanese heritage that are appealing their detainment.
    • Mueckler, Paul. Research materials, 1941-1946, 1996. Wisconsin State Historical Society. Call Number: M2000-143.
  • Excerpts from Oral Interview with Al Hida
    • Interview with Al Hida, a Japanese American sent to an internment camp with his family located outside Sacramento, California. The interview describes Hilda’s thoughts and experiences as a seventh grade boy moving to and living in a relocation camp.
    • Al Hida. D.C. Everest Area Schools. World War II: More Stories from Our Veterans (Weston, Wis.: D.C. Everest Area Schools, 2004); 429-433.
  • Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry (PDF)
    • Posting that was distributed to individuals of Japanese ancestry living in Los Angeles, California in 1942. The document outlines instructions for evacuation to the Assembly Center where they were then relocated to internment camps.
    • “Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry.” May 3, 1942. Box 74. Item 33. Manzanar War Relocation Center Records (Collection 122). Department of Special Collections, Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.
  • The War Relocation Work Corps Pamphlet (PDF, 518KB)
    • Scrapbook compiled by Robert and Toshi Akamatsu, a Japanese American couple who were interned at the relocation camp in Topaz, Utah during World War II. The items in the scrapbook include newspaper clippings depicting camp life, a pamphlet published by the War Relocation Work Corps, and a welcome guide to the Topaz, Utah Relocation Camp.
    • Akamatsu, Robert. Robert and Toshi Akamatsu papers. 1941-2003. Wisconsin State Historical Society. Call Number: M84-402, reel 1 AP93-1539.
  • Welcome to Topaz “Don’ts” and “Do’s Pamphlet” (PDF, 508KB)
    • Scrapbook compiled by Robert and Toshi Akamatsu, a Japanese American couple who were interned at the relocation camp in Topaz, Utah during World War II. The items in the scrapbook include newspaper clippings depicting camp life, a pamphlet published by the War Relocation Work Corps, and a welcome guide to the Topaz, Utah Relocation Camp.
    • Akamatsu, Robert. Robert and Toshi Akamatsu papers. 1941-2003. Wisconsin State Historical Society. Call Number: M84-402, reel 1 AP93-1539.
  • Photo of Japanese American Family in the Barracks
    • Photograph of a Japanese American family living in barracks at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. The photograph was taken by a member of the War Relocation Authority in order to demonstrate living conditions in the camps.
    • Photo of Japanese American family in the barracks. National Archives and Records Administration. Still Picture Branch (NWDNS). Title: Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Heart Mountain, Wyoming. A few pieces of scrap and some additiona…, 01/7/1943. Control Number: NWDNS-210-G-E617. Creating Organization: Department of the Interior. War Relocation Authority.
  • “Waiting for the Signal from Home” a Political Cartoon by Dr. Seuss
    • The political cartoon “Waiting for the Signal From Home…” is one of many produced by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) between the years 1941-1943 as chief editorial cartoonist for the PM Newspaper. The cartoon depicts common propaganda feelings about individuals of Japanese ancestry living in the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
    • “Waiting for the Signal From Home…” Dr. Seuss. February 13, 1942. Box 18. Folder 16. PM Newspaper, Newspaper clippings of cartoons, 1942 January-April. Madeville Special Collections Library, University of California San Diego.
  • Newspaper Clipping of Camp Life (PDF, 436KB)
    • Scrapbook compiled by Robert and Toshi Akamatsu, a Japanese American couple who were interned at the relocation camp in Topaz, Utah during World War II. The items in the scrapbook include newspaper clippings depicting camp life, a pamphlet published by the War Relocation Work Corps, and a welcome guide to the Topaz, Utah Relocation Camp.
    • Akamatsu, Robert. Robert and Toshi Akamatsu papers. 1941-2003. Wisconsin State Historical Society. Call Number: M84-402, reel 1 AP93-1539.

MATERIALS

PROCEDURES

  1. Introduce background material on Japanese internment camps through either the student textbook or by distributing Japanese Internment Background Sheets.
  2. Have students review background material and discuss background information as a class. During the discussion, introduce students to the key vocabulary words for the activity.
  3. Explain to the students that they are going to look more closely at the event through the eyes of the people involved by examining documents that they created. They will have to use this historical evidence to figure out what really happened in the past.
  4. Divide students into groups of 3 to 4. Students will work in these groups to examine one of the following document sets:

    Group A. Japanese Americans
    1. Estelle Ishigo watercolor painting, “Home.”
    2. Excerpts of letter written by Lawrence T. Kagawa.
    3. Excerpts from oral interview with Al Hida.

    Group B. The United States Government
    1. “Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry.”
    2. The War Relocation Work Corps pamphlet.
    3. Welcome to Topaz “Don’ts” and “Do’s pamphlet.”

    Group C. 3rd Party
    1. Photo of Japanese American family in the barracks.
    2. “Waiting for the Signal from Home” a political cartoon by Dr. Seuss.
    3. Newspaper clipping of camp life.
  5. Distribute one set of documents to each group and a Document Evaluation Sheet to each student. Explain to the students that they will be working together to identify the point of view represented in the documents. Students should use the Document Evaluation Sheet to guide each document. Explain that after students have worked in small groups, each group will be responsible for reporting their findings to the class.
  6. After students have had sufficient time to work with their documents in small groups, bring the class back together for the large group discussion.
  7. Ask each group to discuss their findings with the rest of the class. As they discuss, have students fill out the Points of View chart on an overhead or on the board as they discuss their findings.
  8. Once all groups have contributed their ideas, lead the class in a discussion. Conclude by emphasizing the bias in every document and the importance of looking at all points of views on an issue.
  9. Pass out Japanese Internment Assessment worksheet and have students work independently to complete it for assessment.

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