Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

On the Home Front

Created October 3, 2010

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

On the Home Front: We Can Do It!

We Can Do It! Rosy the Riveter Poster.

Credit: National Archives, Washington, DC.

On October 12, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, in one of his fireside chats to the American people, "This whole nation of 130 million men, women and children is becoming one great fighting force." The President made a point of including children and non-combatant women as part of the "fighting force." How did children and other non-combatants contribute to the war effort?

On November 8, 2001, President George W. Bush called on ordinary Americans "To serve by bettering our communities and, thereby, defy and defeat the terrorists." In the same speech, and at other times, the President suggested ways the children of the United States could contribute to the war effort.

Can the events of September 11, 2001, inspire us to get involved in, as President Bush said, "Renewing and reclaiming our strong American values?" What can we learn from the home front mobilization of World War II about how ordinary citizens can contribute? How can children participate?

Guiding Questions

  • During World War II, how did non-combatants contribute to the war effort?
  • How can young people make a significant contribution to the solution of our national problems?

Learning Objectives

  • List specific actions taken on the home front by non-combatants during World War II
  • Discuss ways in which children have been and can be involved in a home front war effort
  • Explain the connections between home front efforts and efforts on the battlefield
  • Describe how posters were used to encourage home front efforts during World War II

Background

For Activity 1:

During World War II and in the present fight against terrorism, promoting values (in addition to promoting certain behaviors) was considered to be an important part of the war effort. President George W. Bush has stated that, "Through this tragedy, we are renewing and reclaiming our strong American values." First Lady Laura Bush has asked children "to become better people by thinking about others."

Throughout this unit, help your students think about the values promoted by government and other institutions as past of a national war effort. Then students can reflect on the values they believe are important and the behaviors which represent those values.

For Activity 2

According to the Smithsonian exhibit "Posters on the American Home Front (1941-45)," a link from the EDSITEment resource Center for the Liberal Arts, "World War II posters helped to mobilize a nation. Inexpensive, accessible, and ever-present, the poster was an ideal agent for making war aims the personal mission of every citizen. Government agencies, businesses, and private organizations issued an array of poster images linking the military front with the home front...."

In this lesson, students will use posters as a source of information about home front efforts during WWII. They will also analyze their design. If desired, students will be given the opportunity to create their own posters. Many posters are listed below to enable flexibility in using them. Choose those best suited for your class.

If you wish, this lesson presents an opportunity to introduce students to the term "propaganda." Propaganda is information provided to promote a specific cause. The information can be completely true; it can be a fabrication, wholly or in part. In any case, creators of propaganda tend to select information carefully, avoiding anything that does not promote their cause. Students should understand that, in wartime, all sides disseminate propaganda.

For Activity 3

The following activity, taking a suggestion from President George W. Bush, challenges students to locate and interview eyewitnesses to the events of World War II. Students should have input into how the activity will proceed (depending on factors such as availability of subjects). Links to models and skill lessons are provided here.

You can find eyewitnesses to World War II within your community. Through the site Celebrating America's Freedoms, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library, students can access the Veteran's Administration and its list of Veteran's Service Organizations, some of which may be in your community.

On October 30, 2001, President George W. Bush, speaking at Thomas Wootton High School in Maryland, made the following request: "In these difficult days here in America, I ask all of us, children and adults, to remember the valor and sacrifice of our veterans." As part of the war effort, the President called on schools "across America to invite veterans to speak about their experiences in serving the country; the significance of Veterans Day; and the importance of supporting the ideals of liberty, democracy and freedom.... American veterans show us the meaning of sacrifice and citizenship, and we should learn from them."

As an introduction to this activity, share the President's remarks with the class. (If desired, you can watch and/or listen to the President's remarks at The White House website, a link from the EDSITEment resource The American President.)

Preparation Instructions

  • Review each lesson and select archival materials you'd like to use in class. Bookmark these materials, along with other useful websites, if possible; download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Studying the effect of World War II on your home state and the nation is probably part of your curriculum; use "On the Home Front" in conjunction with that study. Since September 11, 2001, this subject has taken on a new significance. The intention of these lessons is that students can learn about the home front effort in World War II while thinking about the contributions young people can make to our nation today.
  • The archival documents recommended in this unit have been carefully selected for use by intermediate grade students; however, any discussion of the values represented by the documents needs to be handled with great sensitivity. Part of the home front effort in World War II was the promotion of certain values; values promotion is also important to the home front effort today. A poster such as "This Is America ... Keep It Free" illustrated the World War II poster maker's notions of the ideal family. The American family has changed greatly since that time; perhaps some of our values have undergone changes as well. Without endorsing any particular values, this unit discusses how (through poster campaigns, for example) and why (to encourage habits that would save materials for use on the war front, for example) values are promoted; however, students are given the opportunity to clarify their own values.

    In their own research, students may come across posters with racial or other stereotypes; this topic is only addressed specifically in some of the lesson extensions. Stereotyping in propaganda posters is also an issue that needs to be dealt with sensitively.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Bettering Ourselves and Our Communities?
  1. Share with your students the following poster from the Smithsonian Institution: "This Is America ... Keep It Free," a link from the EDSITEment resource Center for the Liberal Arts.

    Begin by asking the students to describe the poster. Then, tell them it was distributed during World War II in an attempt to bolster the war effort. What message is it supposed to convey? How might that help the war effort? What did the poster maker believe was important? Do you think s/he would feel the same way today?

  2. Share with your students the selected portion of the third paragraph (or the entire letter, if desired) of this letter to elementary-school-age Americans, available through a link from the EDSITEment resource The American President. The letter was written by First Lady Laura Bush shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Within the tragedy, Mrs. Bush saw an opportunity for young people "to become better people."
    September 12, 2001

    Dear Children:

    Many Americans were injured or lost their lives in the recent national tragedy. All their friends and loved ones are feeling very sad, and you may be feeling sad, frightened, or confused, too.

    I want to reassure you that many people — including your family, your teachers, and your school counselor — love and care about you and are looking out for your safety. You can talk with them and ask them questions. You can also write down your thoughts or draw a picture that shows how you are feeling and share that with the adults in your life.

    When sad or frightening things happen, all of us have an opportunity to become better people by thinking about others. We can show them we care about them by saying so and by doing nice things for them. Helping others will make you feel better, too.

    I want you to know how much I care about all of you. Be kind to each other, take care of each other, and show your love for each other.

    With best wishes,
    Laura Bush
    On September 12, 2001, Mrs. Bush encouraged young Americans (in the face of the terrorist attacks) "to become better people by thinking about others ... by doing nice things." What kinds of "nice things"? Compile a list of student suggestions. Why did Mrs. Bush believe such behaviors were important at that time?

  3. In an announcement entitled "Homeland Security — Every American Can Help" and released November 8, 2001, President George W. Bush declared, "I call on all Americans to serve by bettering our communities and, thereby, defy and defeat the terrorists." What kinds of things do the students believe President Bush was asking all Americans to do? In which of those tasks could a young person get involved? Add them to the student list. (Note: The text of the Homeland Security announcement is available through the White House website, a link from the EDSITEment resource The American President.)
Activity 2. Many Ways to Help

Share with the class the WWII poster "When You Ride Alone, You Ride with Hitler," available from The National Archives, a link from the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom. Encourage students to describe the poster. What did the poster maker mean by the caption? How do the poster's contents and design support that message?

Next, have students work in small groups to analyze a poster from the list below. As they work, the students should fill out the Poster Analysis Worksheet available from the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom. (NOTE: The poster analysis sheets, helpful here in analyzing the poster, will be shared/discussed in Activity 4.) When the groups finish their analysis, each group should share its poster with the rest of the class and answer the following questions:

  • What behavior(s)/values is the poster maker trying to promote? How did that behavior contribute to the war effort?
  • What, if anything, is unusual in the poster's design or content?
  • In what ways is the poster effective or ineffective in communicating its message?

Posters from The National Archives exhibit "Powers of Persuasion," available through a link from the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom:

Posters from The Smithsonian Institution exhibit "Posters on the American Home Front (1941-45)," a link from the EDSITEment resource Center for the Liberal Arts:

From the EDSITEment-reviewed American Memory exhibit "World War II Posters from the WPA":

Posters from the EDSITEment resource At Home in the Heartland Online, exhibit on World War II Posters:

After the groups have made their presentations, review the messages of the various posters. Encourage discussion. Which behaviors promoted in the posters might have meant people would have to make great changes in what they did or believed? Which behaviors were already listed by the students in Lesson 1? Which behaviors would students recommend to people (especially young people) on the home front in a conflict today? Add to the student compiled list as necessary.

Activity 3. Lessons of Liberty: Sacrifice and Citizenship

Challenge your students to locate and interview World War II veterans, as well as people who were on the home front during that time period.

If desired, before your students start, share with them World War II: An American Scrapbook — Memories Passed Down to Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren, a link from the EDSITEment resource The Internet Public Library. This website, created by fifth graders at McRoberts Elementary in Katy Texas, includes some suggested questions for an interviewer to use.

Another useful website, written by high school students, is What Did You Do In the War, Grandma?, also available through a link from The Internet Public Library.

Work together as a class to generate questions students will ask in their interviews. Students should learn how sacrifices and citizenship were important to the subjects' experiences. Make sure the students also ask for suggestions about what young people can do today to contribute to homeland security and to better their own communities. Decide how you will use any information the students uncover — whether groups make presentations, or the class creates a website, or individuals write accounts based on what has been learned.

Activity 4. The Art of Persuasion: Posters on the Home Front

Note to the Teacher: If you have not already done so, this lesson presents an opportunity to introduce students to the term "propaganda." Propaganda is information provided to promote a specific cause. The information can be completely true; it can be a fabrication, wholly or in part. In any case, creators of propaganda tend to select information carefully, avoiding anything that does not promote their cause. Students should understand that, in wartime, all sides disseminate propaganda.

Display the following graphics side by side: Save Waste Fats for Explosives, available through a link from the EDSITEment resource Digital Classroom, and "A soldier of the home front saves all waste fats and greases so that they can be processed into ammunition for America's soldiers of the battlefronts" (locate this poster by searching for the keywords "fats and greases" using the NAIL Digital Copies Search). Both graphics have the same message. How are they different? Which one do students find to be more effective? Why?

Discuss and/or share the Poster Analysis Worksheets the groups filled out in Activity 2. What qualities do the posters have in common? The discussion might include characteristics such as

  1. a limited number of words
  2. a few large images
  3. a single color (in most cases) used for words that go together
  4. even lettering printed in straight lines
  5. a limited number of colors
  6. use of symbols.

After discussing students' poster analysis, review the behaviors students previously listed as important to a home front war effort. Then, assign students, working individually or in small groups, to design and create a poster to promote one selected behavior.

You might find it useful to present the students with a rubric to help them understand your expectations for their posters. Using a rubric designed with your students' skill level, class curriculum, and goals for this assignment in mind will help your students understand what is expected and how they will be evaluated. The following sample rubric does not represent a universal standard of what makes a good poster; it shows what one teacher might do. You may wish to use this model to design your own rubric. Review your standards in class before students begin working on their posters. Click here to download the rubric in rich-text format.

Name: _________ Exemplary Very Good Satisfactory Date: __________ Design
Does the poster feature:

  • limited use of words?

Uses words to great effect. Effort has been made to say the most with the fewest words. Number of words is satisfactory.

  • thoughtful use of images?

One or very few images work with the words to communicate the message. Effort has been made in selection, creation and placement of images. Use of images is satisfactory.

  • a limited number of colors?

Color choice helps to communicate the message. Selection of colors reflects an effort to create an effective overall design. Number of colors is satisfactory.

  • thoughtful use of color?

Use of color complements the overall design. Use of color reflects an effort to create an effective overall design. Use of color does not distract the viewer.

  • an overall design?

Overall design is visually attractive and helps emphasize the message. Overall design is effective. Effort has been made in overall design. Content
Does the poster feature:

  • communicate a message?

The message is particularly effective in tandem with the symbol. Message is effective. Message is clear.

  • connect the symbol with the poster's message?

The symbol works well with the overall design to communicate the message. Choice of symbol is especially appropriate to the message. Connection between the symbol and the message is clear. Appearance
Does the poster feature:

  • even lettering in straight lines?

Lettering contributes to overall effectiveness of poster. Letters are generally even in size and placed in straight lines. Effort has been made to make even letters in straight lines.

  • paper kept in good condition?

Poster is pristine. Condition of the paper is excellent. Condition of the paper does not detract from the poster.

  • lettering that is effectively sized?

Choice of letter size reflects thought put into overall design. Letter size allows a good balance between words and image. Lettering can be easily read, yet does not distract from the image. Overall Rating:

Exceeds Expectations
Meets All or Most Expectations
Meets Adequate Expectations
Needs Revision

Extending The Lesson

 

 

U.S. tank production:

1940

309

 

1943

29,500

German tank production:

1939-1945

24,050

U.S. aircraft production:

1939

5,865 ($280 million)

 

1943

96,379 ($17 billion)

 

Selected EDSITEment Websites
OTHER RESOURCES

Films About World War II:

From The New Deal Network:
The National Audiovisual Center, Washington, D.C. 20409 offers the Why We Fight series, seven 16 mm. films including:

  • War Comes to America (67 minutes)
  • The Why We Fight series, directed by John Huston, may also be available for rental at some video stores.
RECOMMENDED READING
  • Fictional Accounts of Life on the Home Front from BookHive, a link from the EDSITEment resource The Internet Public Library
  • Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki
    Illustrated by Don Lee
    Lee & Low Books/1993
    Number of pages: under 40
    Book Audience: Primary (k-3rd grade), Intermediate (4th-6th grade)
  • But No Candy, by Gloria Houston
    Illustrated by Lloyd Bloom
    Philomel/1992
    Number of pages: under 40
    Book Audience: Primary (k-3rd grade), Intermediate (4th-6th grade)
  • Keep Smiling Through, by Ann Rinaldi
    Harcourt Brace/1996
    Number of pages: 160-200
    Book Audience: Intermediate (4th-6th grade)
  • Students can complete research to unearth statistics such as these that reflect the tremendous effort being made by citizens on the home front during World War II.
  • The introduction to this unit began with a quote from one of FDR's Fireside Chats. FDR is often said to be one of the first presidents who used the mass media effectively. Today, effective use of radio, TV, and other media is an essential part of being a successful leader. And presidents still make radio addresses to the public once a week.

    According to MSNBC, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library:
    The first president to use the radio to regularly address the American people, FDR created the Fireside Chat, a periodic radio program in which he personally rallied the country by defining its challenges. The Fireside Chats were the vital center of Roosevelt's sphere of public influence. Containing some of the best examples of his unique speaking style, they demonstrate FDR's ability to connect intimately with a generation of Americans during their most trying times.
    Students can hear audio clips from Fireside Chats at MSNBC's website.

    On Oct. 25, 2001, President George W. Bush announced — at Thurgood Marshall Extended Elementary School in Washington, D.C. — the launching of an education partnership with Muslim nations. Following is an excerpt of those remarks (a complete transcript plus audio and video are available through the White House website):
    ... I'm here to announce a new initiative, called Friendship Through Education. And we're going to ask schools all across the country to join with schools in other countries to spread the message that we care for each other, that we want to understand each other better.

    I think the best way ... to handle the attacks of September the 11th is to fight fear with friendship; is to fight fear with hope; is to remind people all around the world we have much more in common than people might think; that we share basic values — the importance of family, and the importance of faith, and the importance of friendship.

    And, do you know something? Boys and girls all across America can do that job pretty darn well. And so I'm asking schools all across the country to join up.

    ... The students here and students all across our country witnessed a terrible tragedy. It is a terrible moment in our country, and it's got to have affected a lot of our students in a way where they ask the question, why would this have happened to America? Why would somebody do this to our country? And I want to assure the boys and girls, these attacks didn't come from a nation or a religion. These attacks are from some people who just are so evil it's hard for me to describe why. It's hard for us to comprehend why somebody would think the way they think, and devalue life they way they devalue, and to harm innocent people the way they harmed innocent people. It's just hard for all of us adults to explain.

    But what we can do is we can find common ground with others who wonder about America. We can prove them wrong by acting in a way that's good. We can show the world what a great, compassionate and decent nation America is. I can do that through diplomacy. I can do that through our actions, through the alliances we form. But children all across America can do it, as well — can do it through letters and e-mails and pictures and drawings, and reaching out to boys and girls.
    Interested students can find out more about the Friendship Through Education Initiative at its official website, available through a link from the EDSITEment resource The American President. Many opportunities for student action are available on the site'sInteract page.

The Basics

Time Required

4 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Demographic Changes
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Economic Transformation
  • History and Social Studies > People > Women
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Cultural analysis
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interview/survey skills
  • Using archival documents
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual art analysis

Resources

Activity Worksheets
Media