World War II Text Basket


Students engage in reading a variety of books and resources which focus on life during World War ll. Resources include biographical, nonfiction, historical fiction texts and picture books and have been selected to support a variety of interests and reading levels. They document life during World War II in the United States as well as in Europe. Remembrance: A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust encourages studies of World War II which investigate themes including  identity and intolerance, family and friendship, innocence and loss, fear and courage, anger and forgiveness, and anxiety and hope in elementary and middle school grades. Notebook work, post-it noting, utilization of close reading strategies, response to reading tasks and book talks offer opportunity for students to think deeply about historical events and historic figures of World War II.

Informational videos and movies are included which may be viewed by students individually or as a class. Preview movies to determine appropriateness for your class.  Expect some students may be sensitive to the content and plan in advance ways to be best support them including staying in conversation about their experience.

Enduring Understandings/ Essential Questions

  1. World War II was one of the most significant wars in history. 
  2. There were several factors that led up to World War II, including Italian fascism in the 1920s, Japanese militarism and invasion of China in the 1930s, and especially the political takeover in 1933 of Germany by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party, and its aggressive foreign policy and belief in ethnic superiority.
  3. The outcome of World War II has played a large role in the life we live today.
  4. Man’s humanity to others was greatly challenged during World War II.
  5. History is a series of connected events shaped by multiple cause and effect relationships, tying past to present.
    • Why is World War II believed to be one of the most most impactful wars in history?
    • What liberties were on the line in World War II?
    • How does the past affect our lives today?
    • Why does the relevance of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms illustrations span history?
Four Freedoms
This study may take 4 to 5 weeks.
Social Studies; Language Arts: Reading; Language Arts: Writing
Adolph Hitler Jews; Christians; Poland; Kristallnacht; Refugees; Internment; Nazi; Axis; Allies; Concentration camps; Third Reich; Red Cross


  1. Students will understand the significance of the Four Freedoms named by President Roosevelt in his January 6, 1941 address to Congress in light of the events during World War II.
  2. Students will read from a collection of fiction and nonfiction texts, which focus on all aspects of World War II.
  3. Students will understand the significance of the events before, during, and following World War II  (appropriate to age and grade).
  4. Students will participate in book talks and group discussions, sharing supported thoughts and insights focusing on relevant themes (Survival, Friendship, etc.) from their reading.
  5. Students will develop an understanding of what was at stake for the world at large during World War II through literary texts, nonfiction texts, informational videos and movies.


World War II began in 1939. Germany was politically and economically unstable. This made it easy for Adolph Hitler and the National Socialist party to take control. Signing a treaty with Italy and Japan, Hitler’s regime sought world domination. The first act was to invade Poland, on September 1, 1939. More than 1.5 million German soldiers crossed Poland’s border, which was the beginning of World War II. The United States was not involved in the beginning of the war. Many Americans remembered the trials of World War I and held an isolationist point of view. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that the United States would eventually need to play a role.

In January 1941, he made his speech to Congress. In his speech, President Roosevelt named the Four Freedoms, which he stated are the rights of everyone in the world. After the speech, he and his administration questioned whether the citizens of the United States truly understood the Four Freedoms that he had named. He and the Office of War Information invited artists working in all media, authors, and designers to help illustrate and circulate thoughts on the Four Freedoms. Many artists created artwork in the form of paintings as well as sculptures to reflect the meaning of these freedoms. Norman Rockwell thought a lot about these ideals. In 1943, his completed his Four Freedoms illustrations, which were published in The Saturday Evening Post in four separate issues in February and March 1943; each was accompanied by a related essay. America entered World War II following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Rockwell’s illustrations, published in The Saturday Evening Post along with related essays in February and March of 1941, helped Americans to envision the ideals that they were fighting for. They continue to represent the meaning of these freedoms today.


A Kid Explains History: WWII

World War II Documentary for Students

Primary Songs: When You are a Kid in WW II

Classroom Supplies:

  • K-W-L Chart for initiating activity
  • Movie of The Book Thief by Markus Kusak (The movie is available to rent or purchase through Amazon Prime, Yideo, etc.) or share a picture book from the booklist.
  • 3 or 4 baskets for books
  • A wide selection of historical fiction texts, picture books, and nonfiction texts is available in the appendix.Teacher Resources:

Teacher Resources

  • A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust by Florida Center for Instructional Technology.

An overview of the people and events of the Holocaust

through photographs, documents, art, music, movies, and literature

  • Random House: Holocaust Remembrance: Educator’s Guide to Discussing the Holocaust and Using Literature to Learn from the Past

  • The Best Children’s Books

  • Teaching Books-Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

  • Carol Hurst Newsletter: World War II, Fiction and Nonfiction

  • Teacher Guide to The Yellow Star, The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy


  • Students view and discuss each of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms illustrations prior to these lessons.
  • Initiating activity: Provide students with a K-W-L chart. Direct students to fill in the K (Know) column independently. What do they already know about World War II? Allow about 5 to 10 minutes for this depending on class engagement. Gather students together. As students share what they know about World War II, record responses on the class chart. Allow students time to begin thinking about and recording what they want to learn. (The learn column can be added to as the unit progresses.) Students will use this as part of their unit work, adding to the Want to Learn column and the Learned column as they and you identify next steps. Plan regular check-ins and record additional updates on the class chart over the course of the next lessons.
  • Shared experience: View and discuss the movie, The Book Thief, or select one of the picture books to read aloud and discuss as a class. As a part of the discussion, you may want to initiate an understanding of possible themes within a text. Create a list of themes that students may refer to as they are reading.
  • Book Baskets: Depending on the number of students in the class, create 2 or 3 baskets of books related to World War II. If possible offer two copies of as many books as possible. Having multiple copies, provides opportunities for students to meet and have deeper discussions of a specific text as they are reading. Discussions may be around a predetermined theme or student groups may wish to decide on the themes in the text using the supporting evidence they collect. Themes will also be an integral part of discussion as students develop understandings from the collection as well.
  • While students are reading, encourage them use post-it notes to stop and jot important information about characters, settings, and events, themes, questions, surprises, emotional moments, text sections, words and/or phrases that are confusing, or that give important insights. These notes should be kept in text until not needed for partner or book talks. When students have finished work with the book, notes should be placed on labeled pages in Reading notebooks as references throughout study. Double journal entries and other reading notebook strategies can also be encouraged.
  • Partner talk/Book talks: Talks should be scheduled to give students reading the same text opportunity to discuss and reflect on texts and learnings about World War II and the historic implications. These talks may be scheduled by students or designated days can be established for students to meet and discuss readings. Students should give text evidence in the form of supporting ideas/thoughts. A general reflection in their notebooks following their talks may be included.
  • Class discussions: Scheduled discussions will provide students with the opportunity to gather thoughts and understandings gleaned from the various texts being read. Review of vocabulary words should be ongoing. Students should be able to give evidence supporting the organization of words and names. What are the authors’ messages within the themes supported in the texts?
  • Exit task: Completion of the World War II reading guide serves as the final task.
  • Available videos: There are additional videos available on YouTube focusing on World War II. Some are listed above. Access to these videos at the discretion of the teacher can be made to students individually or as a group.
  • Optional: The variety of the format of the Live It Again series lends itself to research projects. Students might choose a year they are interested in learning about, and research and create a book, media presentation or poster using the Live It Again format.  For example, a student might choose to research areas of interest such as cars, sports teams, and space expeditions for the year of his/her birth.


  • Are students prepared for their participation in book discussions?
  • Are students able recognize themes within the texts? Are they able to identify possible authors’ messages related to the theme?
  • Are students justifying responses with relevant text support?
  • Are students able to identify individuals who impacted and were impacted by World War II and explain?
  • Are students able to identify and explain events that were important during World War II?
  • Are students able to make significant connections to World War II and its impact on our lives today?


This curriculum meets the standards listed below. Look for more details on these standards please visit: ELA and Math StandardsSocial Studies Standards, Visual Arts Standards.

Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 2-3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Recount stories, including fables, folktales, and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson, or moral and explain how it is conveyed through key details in the text.
Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.
Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.
Distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters.
Compare and contrast the themes, settings, and plots of stories written by the same author about the same or similar characters (e.g., in books from a series)
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4-5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character's thoughts, words, or actions).
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean).
Explain major differences between poems, drama, and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.
Compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated, including the difference between first- and third-person narrations.
Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures.
Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 4-5 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.
Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., how characters interact).
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.
Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.
Describe how a narrator's or speaker's point of view influences how events are described.
Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Identify disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question that are open to different interpretations.
Identify the discplinary concepts and ideas associated with a supporting question that are open to interpretation.
Explain how supporting questions help answer compelling questions in an inquiry.
Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and values that underlie their own and others' points of view about civic issues.
Illustrate historical and contemporary means of changing society.
Apply civic virtues and democratic principles in school setttings.
Infer the intended audience and purpose of a historical source from information within the source itself.
Use evidence to develop a claim about the past.
Compare life in specific historical time periods to today.
Generate questions about individuals and groups who have shaped significant historical changes and continuities.
Explain why individuals and groups during the same historical period differed in their perspectives.
Explain connections among historical contexts and people's perspectives at the time.
Describe how people's perspectives shaped historical sources they created.
Summarize how different kinds of historical sources are used to explain events of the past.
Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, structure, and context, to guide the selection.
Use distinctions among fact and opinion to determine the credibility of multiple sources.
Identify evidence that draws information from multiple sources in response to compelling questions.
Use evidence to develop claims in response to compelling questions.
Construct explanations using reasoning, correct sequence, examples, and details with relevant information and data.
Critique explanations.
Draw on disciplinary concepts to explain the challenges people have faced and opportunities they have created, in addressing local regional, and global problems at various times and places.