WWII Introduction

Teacher Guide by Matt Campbell

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our World History Category

Introduction to WWII Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Introduction to World War II Include:

In this unit, students will study the origins and major themes of the Second World War. Students will first examine the causes of this global conflict which were planted at the conclusion of World War I. Students will then research some of the major figures and leaders of the war such as Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, and many more. After students are aware of the causes and leaders of World War II, they will then begin to explore the innovations of the war along with the theaters the war was fought in. This unit can serve as a beginning of a larger unit on World War II or be used as a brief summary of the most deadly conflict in human history.

Introduction to World War II Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Causes of World War 2 - 5 Ws

For this activity, students will create a spider map that represents and defines a cause of World War II using the 5 Ws to ask “Who, What, When, Where, and Why” questions. Students should include a written description that describes the background information along with a visual representation. Students can either create their own questions for the 5W activity, or use the guidance of their teacher. Depending on class objectives, students will include reasons covered in class or from outside research.

Possible Reasons for Students to Use:
  • Treaty of Versailles
  • Rise of Fascism
  • Policy of Appeasement
  • Failure of the League of Nations
  • Example Treaty of Versailles 5 Ws

    WHO signed the Treaty of Versailles?

    The major countries that signed the Treaty of Versailles were Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Germany, and the United States.

    WHAT was the Treaty of Versailles?

    The Treaty of Versailles was the negotiation of Allied powers over a peace treaty following World War I. The treaty redrew the map of Europe and punished Germany for initiating World War I.

    WHERE was the Treaty of Versailles signed?

    The Treaty of Versailles was signed at the Palace of Versailles in France.

    WHEN was the Treaty of Versailles signed?

    The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28th, 1919. With the signing of the treaty, World War I had officially come to an end.

    WHY was the Treaty of Versailles a cause of World War II?

    Many historians argue that the Treaty of Versailles lead to World War II due to the harsh penalties mixed with an inadequate enforcement of these penalties lead to a humiliated and vengeful German state.

    Extended Activity

    For this extended activity, the class can debate “What was the most significant factor that lead to World War II?” Using their created storyboards, students should make their claim as to what reason they found to be most significant and use at least three central reasons why they believe it was the most significant. For more advanced classes, allow student to provide rebuttals or counter arguments to dispel the arguments of their peers.

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Leaders of World War II

Students will create a spider map that represents four leaders of World War II. For each individual selected, students should include the following four aspects of their leader’s life.

  1. Life Before the War
  2. Rise To Power
  3. Role During World War II
  4. Life After World War II

For each of the four aspects, students are required to create a visual representation that reflects that period in their life. Students are also required to include a written description below each visualization. Students may summarize the events or include a primary source directly from the leader.

Possible WWII Leaders to Research

President TrumanGeneral PattonGeneral MontgomeryHirohitoCharles De Gaulle

Possible Notable WWII Veterans

  • JFK
  • Ted Williams
  • Jimmy Stewart
  • Arthur C. Clarke

General George S. Patton Example

Life Before The War Patton's life before World War II was very impressive. Patton competed in the Summer Olympics of 1912 in the pentathlons. Besides the Olympics, Patton fought in Mexico as border patrol and served America as a captain in the Great War.
Rise to Power Patton quickly climbed the ranks of the US Army due to his disciplined approach and knowledge of tanks. In July 1940, when the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions were formed, Patton managed to receive command in a brigade of the latter. In Oct 1940, he became the assistance division commanding officer at the rank of brigadier general. Between Nov 1940 and Apr 1941, he served as the acting division commander of the 2nd Armored Division; he was made the official commanding general on 11 Apr 1941.
Role During World War II Major General Patton was given command of US Army's Western Task Force in North Africa, landing troops in Morocco during Operation Torch. Joining up with Alexander Patch and the 7th Army Patton and his troops crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim on 22nd March 1945. He then sent a task force to liberate the Hammelburg Prison Camp, which included his son-in-law, John K. Waters. Patton continued to advance deep into Nazi Germany and eventually crossed into Czechoslovakia and was forced to withdraw after protests from Joseph Stalin and the Red Army. Patton's contributions to the Allied offensive was instrumental in the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Life After World War II On December 8th, 1945 General George S. Patton was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Germany. Historians have long debated whether this was indeed an accident or an assassination on the outspoken general. Patton died of his injuries on December 21st, 1945.

Extended Activity

For this extended activity, students will research the full life of one of their researched World War II leaders. Students will use a timeline for this activity that reflects the leader’s childhood, events that lead to their achievement of power, their wartime actions, and if possible the life after the war.

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Innovations and Technology of World War II

Students will create a spider map that reflects research on a technology or innovation that was created or used extensively during World War II. Students should choose one piece of technology or innovation to research and then use three cells to answer the following three questions. When students are completed with their work, the class can collaborate among their peers to share their work.

  1. Who invented the technology?
  2. How was the technology used in the war?
  3. Who used the technology during the war?

Possible WWII Technology or Innovations

  • New Media Outlets
  • Radar
  • Tanks (T-34/Panzer/Sherman)
  • Aircraft Innovations
  • Ballistic Missiles
  • Medicinal Advancements
  • Nuclear Weapons
  • Weapon Improvements
  • Naval Improvements and Weaponry

Sherman Tank Example

Who Invented the Sherman Tank?

The M4 Sherman Tank was designed and produced by the United States. Over 50,000 Sherman Tanks were created during the war, which reflected the impressive assembly-line industrial production in the United States. The Sherman Tank was the second-most produced tank in the war. The Russian T-34 was the most produced tank during World War II.

How Was the Sherman Tank Used in World War II?

The Sherman tank was the most widely used tank for the Allied forces in World War II. Although the tank was a powerful machine, it was far from perfect. The Sherman tank was a reliable military vehicle fighting both infantry and artillery, but due to its gasoline powered engine, it often would catch fire compared to the more commonly used diesel powered engines of most other tanks. The Sherman tank was given the name Ronson, like the cigarette lighter, because “it lights up the first time, every time.”

Who Used the Sherman Tank In World War II?

The Sherman Tank was primarily used by the United States during World War II. The Sherman Tank was used in both European and the Pacific Theatres by the Allies. In the Pacific, the Sherman Tank was usually equipped with a flamethrower which made it much more useful in the dense island-based combat. Although the Sherman Tank was not as powerful as the German Panzer Tank, the sheer number of Shermans produced allowed it to be a formidable weapon throughout the war.

Extended Activity

Students will explore the concept of “Theoretical History”. The central question to explore for this activity is, “What if this technology or innovation wasn’t invented during World War II?” Students can research the impact of their technology and create a storyboard that represents how the war and world would have changed without the technology being invented.

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Theatres of World War II

In this activity, students will research one of the three major theatres of war from World War II: Pacific, European, or North African. Students will create a spider map storyboard that represents the climate/weather of the theatre, the countries that fought in that theatre, and style of warfare that was used in the theatre. For each cell, students will include a visual representation of their point of emphasis and include a description of each.

Pacific Theatre Example

Theaters of World War II: The Pacific Theater
ClimateThe Pacific Theater featured a very challenging climate for those who fought throughout it. Soldiers faced high humidity, blistering heat, and dense jungles. Malaria, dehydration, and exhaustion would only add to the challenges soldiers would face.
Countries That FoughtThe main combatants of the Pacific Theater were the Allied forces against the Japanese. The Allied forces were the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.
Style of WarfareThe style of warfare in the Pacific ranged from brutal close-range hand-to-hand combat throughout the dense Pacific's jungles to the strategic and technologically advanced naval and air warfare.

Extended Activity

In this extended activity, students will create a storyboard that represents a specific battle or event that took place in the World War II theatre that they researched. Students can include primary source descriptions of the conflict or summarize the research that they found. Depending on the discretion of the teachers, students can create the storyboard using the characters and scenes available or use actual images from the battle or event.

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On November 11th, 1918 World War I or “the war to end all wars” came to an end and many believed that World War I would be the most catastrophic combat the world would ever see. By 1939, the world watched Germany invade Poland and soon once again humanity witnessed the world spiral into an even more deadly and destructive war. World War II spanned from 1939-1945 and over thirty countries took part in a global conflict that resulted between 50,000,000 to 80,000,000 deaths. The most destructive war in human history spanned throughout the globe and forever shaped the geopolitical landscape of the world as we know it.

Before a student of history can understand the magnitude of this global conflict, it is imperative to first answer the question, “How did this war happen?” and hopefully discuss how we can prevent this from ever happening again. Through the examination of the origins of World War II, students will understand the horrific impacts that can occur when the power of leaders go unchecked and hate, along with fear, can quickly spread throughout a planet.

Essential Questions

  1. What were the causes that lead to World War II?
  2. Who were the major leaders of World War II?
  3. What new technology or innovations were used during the war?
  4. What were the theaters of World War II?

Check out other teacher guides on history and literature during World War II and Holocaust

The History of the Holocaust

Introduction to World War II

World War II: 1939-1941

World War II: 1942-1945

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Night by Elie Wiesel

The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal

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•   (English) Introduction to World War II   •   (Español) Introducción a la Segunda Guerra Mundial   •   (Français) Introduction à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale   •   (Deutsch) Einführung in den Zweiten Weltkrieg   •   (Italiana) Introduzione Alla Seconda Guerra Mondiale   •   (Nederlands) Inleiding tot de Tweede Wereldoorlog   •   (Português) Introdução à Segunda Guerra Mundial   •   (עברית) מבוא למלחמת העולם השנייה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) مقدمة في الحرب العالمية الثانية   •   (हिन्दी) द्वितीय विश्व युद्ध का परिचय   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Введение во Вторую Мировую Войну   •   (Dansk) Introduktion til Anden Verdenskrig   •   (Svenska) Introduktion Till Andra Världskriget   •   (Suomi) Johdatus Maailmansota   •   (Norsk) Introduksjon til Andre Verdenskrig   •   (Türkçe) II. Dünya Savaşı Giriş   •   (Polski) Wprowadzenie do II Wojny Światowej   •   (Româna) Introducere în cel De-al Doilea Război Mondial   •   (Ceština) Úvod do Druhé Světové Války   •   (Slovenský) Úvod do Druhej Svetovej Vojny   •   (Magyar) Bevezetés a Második Világháború   •   (Hrvatski) Uvod u Drugi Svjetski rat   •   (български) Въведение във Втората Световна Война   •   (Lietuvos) Įvadas į Antrojo Pasaulinio Karo   •   (Slovenščina) Uvod v Drugi Svetovni Vojni   •   (Latvijas) Ievads Otrā Pasaules Kara   •   (eesti) Sissejuhatus II Maailmasõda