World War II: The "Other" Americans

Last updated 1-3-2024

U.S. History

Grade and Ability Level:
High school students of average to above ability

World War II Roles of Women and Minorities; Segregation; Desegregation; Discrimination; Relationship between ethnicity, gender, and opportunity

Lesson Background:
This  is a follow-up lesson to be used after a more traditional unit on WW II which dealt with the causes, outcomes, and major events of the conflict. As part of that traditional unit, students will have seen the video "Saving Private Ryan." This current unit will emphasize the more human side of the conflict by examining the roles played by Americans, particularly women and people of color.

Time Requirements:
Approximately three class periods

Lesson Outcomes:
Students will: 1) identify some of the roles played by typical Americans during WW II.
2) determine the impact of gender and ethnicity on roles played by Americans during WW II.
3) identify specific information regarding the roles of other Americans during WW II.
4) describe what roles would have been open to them had they been adults during WW II.

School and Classroom Resources/Materials:
(Note: For a shorter version of this lesson, skip the books, and only utilize the Internet resources listed further down the page)

Four to six copies of each of the following books (similar books may be substituted):
The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation by C.E Francis, A. Caso (Editor)
Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida, Donald Carrick (Illustrator)
Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Homefront by Penny Coleman
Clipped Wings: The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots by Molly Merrymen
Navajo Code Talkers by Nathan Aaseng

A cassette or CD of WW II music.

Lesson Introduction:
As students complete a discussion of the video "Saving Private Ryan," they will be asked the following:
1) How many people of color did you see in the video?
2) How many women did you see?
3) Based on the video, we can see what roles white American males filled  during the war, but what roles did  women, African Americans, Latino/Latina Americans, Japanese Americans, and American Indians play?

Learner Activities:
Linguistic: Students will have chosen or been assigned one of the five books
listed above and  will have read this book during the preceding "traditional" WW II unit. They will share information regarding the book with other students during group discussions. (Permanent groups will be formed, consisting of five students, each of whom has read a different book.)

Students will use the Internet or other resources to identify the following terms or phrases: Nisei, Go for Broke, The 442nd, Executive Order 9066, House Resolution 442, Daniel Inouye, Executive Order 9981, The 52nd, WAFS, Rosie the Riveter, Rosita the Riveter, Easter Posey, Homefront, Hero Street, Frank Sandoval, Red Ball Express, Tuskegee Airmen, Daniel "Chappie" Jones, Military Desegregation, and Code Talkers. They will share information in small groups and complete a worksheet describing/defining the meaning of each of these terms/phrases. The web sites listed below are suggested as resources to find this information:

Success Story: Blacks in the Military
Red Ball Express
African American Military History
Historical Overview of the Japanese-American Internment
WASP on the Web
Women's History: Redstone Armory
Rosie the Riveter
Navajo Code Talker
Hispanic American Aviators in World War II
Hero Street, USA
442nd Regimental Combat Team

Visual-spatial: Using library resources and the above web sites, students will access pictures of "other Americans" in their WW II roles and share their
favorite pictures with members of their small group.

Musical: Students will listen to a collection of WW II music containing songs such as "String of Pearls," "I'll be Seeing You,"  "In the Mood," and several
"jitterbug" numbers. They will share their reactions to the music and discuss
why such music may have been popular during the war. They will also speculate as to whether this music was popular only with the majority culture or with "other Americans" as well. For the brave, access the following Internet sites and learn to do the jitterbug!
Easy Swing Dance Steps for Beginners - The Jitterbug
Jitterbug Dance Steps

Students will examine statistical information showing
numbers of  males/females and numbers of individuals of various ethnicity who served during WW II. Casualties by gender and ethnicity will also be examined. Bodily-Kinesthetic: Music and dance played a big part in boosting the morale of American service personnel. Local Red Cross organizations held dances to which those in the military were invited. Young women were encouraged to attend and dance with service men. Many a war-time romance started at these functions. The popular dance of the time was the jitterbug. Learn to do it! See musical for specifics.

Interpersonal: Students will share information during small-group discussions. See linguistic for specifics.

Intrapersonal: Students will identify the roles played during WW II by individuals of their gender and ethnicity and will choose an appropriate role
that they would have liked to play had they been an adult during WW II.

Lesson Sequence:

1) Students will complete a short exam asking them to identify and describe the following: Code Talkers, Executive Order 9066, Executive Order 9981, "Go for Broke," Daniel Inouye, "Chappie" Jones, Hero Street, Home Front, House Resolution 442, Internment Camp, Jitterbug, Military Desegregation (when and how?), Nisei, Easter Posey, Red Ball Express, Rosie/Rosita the Riveter, Frank Sandoval, Tuskegee Airmen, the 52nd, the 442, and WAFS.

2) Students will write a paper (4 to 6 typed pages) which lists and describes the roles played by individuals of their gender and ethnicity during WW II, specifies the role they would have chosen had they been adults during this conflict, explains the reasons for this choice, and describes their feelings regarding the roles to which women and people of color were limited during WW II.

Follow-up/Extension Activities:
Interested students may choose to research a specific person, group, or event of relevance to this unit.

Return to U.S. History Lesson Plans

Posted by Edmund J. Sass, Ed.D.

Permission is granted to anyone wishing to use this activity for instructional purposes.