• In Old Pompeii

    Vesuvius from Portici, c. 1774–1776. Joseph Wright (British,  1734–1797), oil on canvas, 101 x 127 cm.

    A virtual field trip to the ruins of Pompeii. In this lesson, students learn about everyday life, art and culture in ancient Roman times, then display their knowledge by creating a travelogue to attract visitors to the site. They can also write an account of their field trip modeled on a description of Pompeii written by Mark Twain. 

  • The Path of the Black Death

    The Black Plague cut a huge swath of devastation through the heart of 14th  century Europe.

    The Black Death cut a path—both literal and figurative—through the middle of the 14th century. In this lesson, students analyze maps, firsthand accounts, and archival documents to trace the path and aftermath of the Black Death.

    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    American Diplomacy in World War II (4 Lessons)



    The Unit


    The most terrible war in human history, World War II was fought by the United States to achieve objectives that would not only protect the American nation from aggression but also would permanently better the lot of humankind. Sixty years after its end, the world still lives with the unfolding of its consequences—the rise and decline of the Soviet Union, the end of German aspirations to European dominance, the demise of Western colonialism, a 45-year East-West Cold War and its aftermath, the rebirth of Imperial Japan as a bastion of liberal capitalism, the rise of China as East Asia's dominant power. Whether in the continued tension between Japan and China or in the turbulence of the Middle East, the war's legacies loom large in all our lives.

    This four-lesson curriculum unit will examine the nature of what Winston Churchill called the "Grand Alliance" between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union in opposition to the aggression of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

    The first lesson deals with the formation of the alliance, surveying the breakdown of the German-Soviet pact and the developing accord between the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and the emerging alliance between the United States (officially neutral until December 1941) and Great Britain (at war with Germany since September, 1939). It effectively culminates with the "Declaration of the United Nations" (January 1, 1942) and subsequent aid agreements in the emergent allied front against the German-Italian-Japanese axis.

    The second lesson covers the uncertain period from early 1942 through much of 1943. During much of this period the Grand Alliance was on the defensive. Even after the Soviet Union began to advance after its victory at Stalingrad, the Western powers were unable to establish a major second front in Western Europe. Whether the alliance could hold together, or whether the Soviet Union might make a separate peace, was uncertain. This lesson plan examines the tensions and the sources of ultimate cohesion within the Grand Alliance during the period that eventual victory seemed uncertain.

    Lesson three covers issues concerning the future of Europe during the final phase of the wartime alliance. Among the salient questions were the fate of the Eastern European nations, the future of Germany, and the establishment of a new international organization to replace the League of Nations. Behind them all was the problem of whether the liberal, democratic West and the Marxist, totalitarian Soviet Union could continue to coexist as allies.

    Lesson four focuses on two major postwar issues in Asia. The first was the American hope of establishing China as a great power despite its grave internal divisions and the insistence of the Soviet Union on dominance in Manchuria. The second was the American policy of ending Western imperialism in Southeast Asia. In both cases, American diplomacy had to grapple with the differing objectives of other important partners in the Grand Alliance. Teachers with limited time may wish to select only one of these problems for class exercises and discussions. The documents relating to each have been grouped together in order to facilitate such an option.

    Throughout modern history, former Grand Alliances—including the ones that defeated Germany in World War I, Napoleon's France in the early nineteenth century, and Britain in the age of the American Revolution—had come apart once they had served their purpose. President Roosevelt and large numbers of the American people believed that the World War II Grand Alliance would have a different future. This unit invites students to think in general terms about the nature of military and diplomatic alliances. Are they generally matters of convenience and historical circumstance, or more lasting arrangements based on common basic principles?

    Documents from the Yale Avalon project, TeachingAmericanHistory.com, and other online resources will serve as primary sources for this lesson.

    Guiding Questions

    • To what extent was the alliance against the Axis powers unified in values and postwar goals?
    • What were the major allied differences on wartime strategy and goals and how were they resolved?
    • Why and how did the United States attempt to preserve the Grand Alliance as American diplomats addressed European issues?
    • Was the American vision for postwar East and Southeast Asia flawed? If so, in what ways?

    Learning Objectives

    • Lay out the outlooks and objectives of the United States, Great Britain and the USSR, at the beginning of World War II with some sense of areas of convergence and disagreement.
    • Evaluate the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms as alliance goals and weigh them against the experience of the Nazi-Soviet agreements of 1939.
    • Explain the ways in which the USSR, the United States, and Britain differed on their approach to winning the war
    • Explain why the methods used to obtain the surrender of the French North African government were controversial in Britain and the United States and also disruptive of alliance unity
    • Explain the Anglo-American decision to require "unconditional surrender" from the Axis powers
    • Explain the ways in which the evolving military progress of the war affected diplomatic decision-making
    • Explain the ways in which the USSR, the United States, and Britain differed on the future of Germany.
    • Explain the differences between the three allies over the future of Eastern Europe, with particular attention to the problem of Poland.
    • Explain the role played by the establishment of the United Nations in inter-allied diplomacy.
    • Explain the ways in which the evolving military progress of the war affected diplomatic decision-making.
    • Draw on the online documentation to explain the American approach to the shaping of the peace.
    • Explain the differing viewpoints with which the USSR, the United States, and Britain approached the issue of European imperialism.
    • Explain the ways in which the USSR, the United States, and Britain approached the issue of the future of China and define the postwar goals of each nation.
    • Evaluate whether in these cases American policy was "realistic," i.e., in the best interests of the United States and/or likely to be achieved in the postwar world.

    Preparation Instructions

    Review each lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites used in this lesson. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. Alternatively, excerpted versions of these documents are available as part of the downloadable Text Document.

    Download the Text Document for this lesson, available here as a PDF file. This file contains excerpted versions of the documents used in the various activities, as well as questions for students to answer. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of the handouts you plan to use in class.

    Analyzing primary sources:

    If your students lack experience in dealing with primary sources, you might use one or more preliminary exercises to help them develop these skills. The Learning Page at the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress includes a set of such activities. Another useful resource is the Digital Classroom of the National Archives, which features a set of Document Analysis Worksheets.

    Each lesson is designed to stand alone, occupying three to four class periods. Taken together they provide a fairly comprehensive survey of American diplomacy during World War II. If there is insufficient time for all four, teachers should choose whichever plans best fit their particular course. Since some teachers may find the reading assignments too ambitious, the authors have attempted to identify with asterisks (*) the most fundamental documents in each lesson. We encourage all who make use of this unit to think of it as a collection of resources rather than as a plan of readings and exercises to be followed to the last detail.

    The Lessons

    • Lesson 1: How "Grand" and "Allied" was the Grand Alliance?

      President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Declaration of War against Japan,  December 8, 1941.

      This lesson plan will survey the nature of what Winston Churchill called the Grand Alliance between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union in opposition to the aggression of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

    • Lesson 2: How to Win a World War

      "General Bernard L. Montgomery watches his tanks move up." North Africa,  November 1942.

      For most of 1942, the Grand Alliance between the U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union was on the defensive. Whether it could hold together, or whether the Soviet Union would even remain in the conflict, was uncertain. This lesson plan examines the tensions and the sources of ultimate cohesion within the Grand Alliance during the period when eventual victory seemed uncertain.

    • Lesson 3: Victory and the New Order in Europe

      Conference of the Big Three at Yalta makes final plans for the defeat of Germany

      By the beginning of 1944, victory in Europe was all but assured. The task of diplomacy largely involved efforts to define the structure of the postwar world. Why and how did the United States attempt to preserve the Grand Alliance as American diplomats addressed European issues?

    • Lesson 4: The New Order for "Greater East Asia"

      "At the White House, President Truman Announces Japan's Surrender." Abbie Rowe,  Washington, DC, August 14, 1945.

      For American diplomacy, the war against Japan was not just about the destruction of Japanese supremacy in the Pacific, China, and Southeast Asia. The ultimate issue was just what would replace Japan's imperial design of a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." This lesson plan focuses on two major postwar problems—the future of China and (using French Indochina as a test case) the future of Western imperialism in Southeast Asia.

    The Basics

    Grade Level


    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > Place > Europe
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
    • Compare and contrast
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Debate
    • Developing a hypothesis
    • Discussion
    • Essay writing
    • Evaluating arguments
    • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Map Skills
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Textual analysis
    • Using primary sources
    • Visual analysis
    • Vocabulary
    • Writing skills
  • Lascaux: La Vie en Caverne!

    Deer painting, Lascaux  cave, France.

    In this French language lesson, elementary-school students learn about the ways that early humans communicated through art by exploring cave paintings of France and creating their own wall artwork.

  • Lesson 3: United States Entry into World War I: A Documentary Chronology of World War I

    United States Entry into World War I: Portrait of Woodrow Wilson

    In this lesson of the curriculum unit, students reconsider the events leading to U.S. entry into World War I through the lens of archival documents.

  • Lesson 2: The Debate in Congress on the Sedition Act

    James Madison.

    What provisions in the U.S. Constitution are relevant to the debate over the Sedition Act? For this lesson, students will read brief excerpts from actual debates in the House of Representatives as the legislators attempted to work with the version of the bill "Punishment of Crime" (later known as the Sedition Act) already passed by the Senate.

  • Marco Polo Takes A Trip

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    During the Middle Ages, most people in Europe spent their entire lives in the village where they were born. But in the 13th century, a young Italian named Marco Polo traveled all the way to China! In this lesson, students will learn about the remarkable travels of Marco Polo.

  • Lesson 1: On the Road with Marco Polo: A Boy in 13th Century Venice

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    Marco Polo was one of the first Europeans to travel to China. Marco grew up in the 13th century in Venice, an important trading city in Italy. Here, students learn about the Venice of Marco Polo's time.

  • Not Everyone Lived in Castles During the Middle Ages

    Detail from the Calendar page for June, the “Book of Hours” ( Les Tres  Riches Heures du Duc de Berry)

    In this lesson, students will learn about the lifestyle of the wealthy elite and then expand their view of medieval society by exploring the lives of the peasants, craftsmen, and monks.

  • Lesson 3: The Debate in the United States over the League of Nations: Five Camps: From Voices of Consent to Voices of Dissent

    Woodrow Wilson for League of Nations

    American foreign resonates with the debate over U.S. entry into the League of Nations-collective security versus national sovereignty, idealism versus pragmatism, the responsibilities of powerful nations, the use of force to accomplish idealistic goals, the idea of America. Understanding the debate over the League and the consequences of its failure provides insight into international affairs in the years since the Great War and beyond. In this lesson, students read the words and listen to the voices of some central participants in the debate over the League of Nations.