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Through Their Words: Understanding the Internment of Japanese-Americans in the United States during World War II
By Dawniell Black



To review standards, see the California Department of Education’s website: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ .

Historical and Social Sciences Analytical Skills Standard:  Students will demonstrate an ability to use historical and social analysis skills.

  • Students will demonstrate the skills necessary for chronological and spatial thinking.
  • Students will demonstrate skills necessary for historical research, evidence and point of view
  • Students will demonstrate the skills necessary for historical interpretation.

Curriculum Standard 11.7.5:  Students will discuss the constitutional issues and impact of the internment of Japanese Americans

TIME REQUIRED: One block (94 minutes) or two 55 minute periods.


  • Computers w/ Internet Access; Quicktime and Speakers (or headphones)
  • Scavenger Hunt Handout
  • Interview Note-Taking Handout/Venn Diagram
  • Reflection Paper Handout
  • Primary Sources located at www.bestnetsacramento.org/tor


  • Students will compare the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions, by comparing the treatment and internment of Japanese Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor to the treatment of Americans of Arab descent after the 9-11 attacks.
  • Students will collect, evaluate and employ information about the Japanese internment from internet based oral histories.
  • Students will make connections between the social, economic and political trends of post Pearl Harbor America to explain the internment of Japanese Americans.
  • Students will evaluate, analyze and describe the constitutional issues involved in the internment of Japanese Americans and the impact of internment on American history.



  • What were the constitutional issues involving the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II?
  • What was the impact of Japanese internment on the people, communities and country?
  • What were the political, social and economic issues facing the United States that preceded the internment of Japanese?
  • How does the treatment and internment of Japanese Americans after World War II compare to the treatment of Americans of Arab descent after 9-11?

This lesson fits into a curriculum unit on World War II.  Prior to this lesson the students will have after discussed the significance of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Students also become familiar with Executive Order 9066 through a found poem activity.  I also had the students watch “Here in America” a 14-minute video that discusses the key events of Japanese Internment and also includes information about the treatment of Arab Americans after 9-11.  Finally, I did a mini-lecture overview of the events that led up to the internment of the Japanese providing a detailed Power Point timeline.  Students should have some basic historical knowledge about the internment-based lesson plan so be sure that you choose a location that can meet the needs of your students.  Most labs have fewer computers than students so you may want to have students do the first few activities with a partner and the final assessment individually

Students will be introduced to the tools of the Time of Remembrance website through a Scavenger Hunt activity.  The goal of the activity is to allow students the opportunity to navigate the different tools while gaining some information that may be used in the future.  The Scavenger Hunt Handout provides the students with all of the information they need to complete the activity.


  1. Assign students to computer terminals individually are allow them to work in groups of two.
  2. Handout the whole packet of information so that students may work through it at their own pace.
  3. Introduce the reflection paper so that students know how they will be assessed and what they should be listening for in the interviews.
  4. Have all students begin the Scavenger Hunt at the same time.
  5. After students complete the Scavenger Hunt, they should begin working on their research by listening to and taking notes on complete interviews for at least two of the oral histories provided on the website.
  6. After students have completed their research they will organize the information into a Venn diagram.
  7. Once the students have organized the information they can begin working on their final assessment (a 1-2 page reflection paper), which will be due the following day and should be based not only on the information they have gleaned from the oral histories but from their own knowledge and previous class discussions.


Extension activities are listed on the reflection paper format and include:

  • Create a timeline of 8-10 events relating to the internment of the Japanese beginning with Pearl Harbor.
  • Using the interviews and photos available on the website www.bestnetsacramento.org/tor write a one-page biography of one of the interviewees.
  • Using the interviews and photos available on the website www.bestnetsacramento.org/tor write ten questions that you would have liked to ask the survivors of internment camps in order to learn more about their experience.
  • Using the interviews and photos available on the website www.bestnetsacramento.org/tor create an 8X11 illustration of one of the events that took place during evacuation, relocation or in the camps.

Differentiation Activities:

  • Students can work in pairs.
  • Allow students with internet access to complete portions of the assignment at home if they need more time to take notes.
  • Allow students who may have difficulty with the writing assessment to turn in one of the extension activities as an alternative assignment.


  • Students will be evaluated based on the completion of the research activities which includes the scavenger hunt, interview research notes and Venn Diagram.
  • Students will be formally assessed on their written reflection.  Students should include all aspects of the reflection prompt in order to receive full credit


  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Interviewee Notes
  • Interviewee Venn Diagram
  • Reflection Paper
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