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Lesson Plan Japanese American Internment: Fear Itself

What was the World War II experience like for the thousands of Japanese Americans living on the West Coast? The activities in this lesson are designed to provide a window into the war years. Using primary sources, students will explore a period in United States history when 120,000 Japanese Americans were evacuated from the West Coast and held in internment camps.


Students will be able to:

  • evaluate documents and photographs from Library of Congress online collections.
  • explain how major events are related to each other in time.
  • recognize point of view in print and visual materials.
  • draw upon primary sources to create a presentation reflective of the Japanese American internment experience.

Time Required

1-2 weeks

Lesson Preparation



Lesson Procedure

Activity One - Evacuation Day (30 minutes)

Introduce students to the lesson using Photograph 1 (Japanese-American child who is being evacuated with his parents to Owens Valley) on-line, on a handout, or overhead transparency. Students analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.

Engage in a whole-class discussion based on student observations of the photograph and prior knowledge of World War II.

Activity Two - "A Date That Will Live in Infamy" (30 minutes)

Team students in groups of 2-4 and have them brainstorm the connection between:

  • Item 1 (Dispatch announcing bombing of Pearl Harbor);
  • Item 2 (FDR signing the Declaration of War);
  • Item 3 (Prelude to the Japanese Exodus, Dorothea Lange, Women Come to the Front, Library of Congress on-line exhibit).

Each group should write a one sentence explanation of the connection(s) they see between the three documents. Bring the groups together and have them share their sentences.


Picture Day (30 minutes)

  • Team students in groups of 2-4. Give them a copy of Photograph 2 (Japanese-American Evacuation from Los Angeles), project it on the overhead, or have students access it online.
  • Allow time for them to brainstorm and analyze the photograph, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
  • Ask students to create a tableau (a scene frozen in time and space) in which they become the personalities in the photograph. They must assume the same pose as the person whose role they have taken. Students remain frozen until you tap them. At that time, they will answer in the "first person" any questions you might have for them.

Two Sides to Every Story: Poetry for Two Voices (2 class periods)

A poem for two voices is a two-column format that allows writers to juxtapose two contrasting ideas, concepts, or perspectives. Alternating lines indicate opposing view points and are read by an individual voice. Adjacent lines represent agreement or compromise and are therefore read in unison.

Have students pair up. Distribute copies of Franklin Roosevelt's "A Date Which Will Live in Infamy" speech and materials selected from the Veterans History collections of Warren Tsuneishi or Norman Ikari. As they read through FDR's speech, they should highlight phrases that might explain why the US government chose to imprison Japanese-Americans. As they read through the selected interview, they should highlight phrases that explain what internment was really like from the perspective of a former camp internee.

In their own words and/or using words from the speech and interview, students will use the poetry for two voices format to create a two-column poem on Japanese internment.

Students should illustrate their poems and mount them on construction paper.

Newspaper Article

Have students write a newspaper article in response to a photo in this gallery of Japanese American internment photographs. This evaluation could be assigned as an in-class writing prompt or as homework. Before assigning the article:

  • discuss the prompt (reflect on and respond to an internment photograph) and the guidelines
  • write rough drafts
  • edit (independently or with peers and/or teacher)
  • revise
  • publish final draft of article

If you are using this lesson as an introduction to reading a World War II novel, assign this activity after students have completed their reading.

Lesson Evaluation

Student work can be scored with a class-generated rubric or according to teacher specifications.


Gail Desler