World War II Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Use this lesson plan to guide your instruction on how World war II began. Though there were many factors, this plan includes a clean and concise video lesson to jump start the unit as well as an imaginative activity designed to generate discussion.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • describe the tensions that caused the start of World War II
  • compare the actions of regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan


40 - 60 minutes


  • Sets of slips of paper with major events leading from the end of World War I to the U.S. entry into World War II. Have the relevant names of the events, but do not include dates on the papers:
    • Treaty of Versailles
    • Mussolini in Power in Italy
    • Italian invasion of Ethiopia
    • Japanese entry into Chinese Civil War
    • Hitler comes to power in Germany
    • Remilitarization of the Rhineland
    • Rape of Nanking
    • The Anschluss
    • Occupation of the Sudetenland
    • German Invasion of Poland
    • German Invasion of France
    • U-boats attacking American ships
    • Pearl Harbor

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.


Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.


  • Review some of the circumstances that were created by the Treaty of Versailles after World War I ended. Explain to students that President Wilson's suggestions had been largely ignored, that Germany was heavily punished for the war, and Britain and France were getting plenty of money in reparations payments.
  • Begin the video lesson World War II: The Start of the Second World War, stopping to discuss at the following points:
    • 1:20 - Think back to the Treaty of Versailles. What might cause the Nye Commission to reach its conclusion? How would you describe the American attitude towards interacting with the rest of the world?
    • 3:45 - Why do you think that the French and British were willing to let Hitler have more territory? Do you think it was more about peace or more about trusting Hitler? Also, look at the map on the screen. What country is seeing its border with Germany getting bigger and bigger, so as to make an invasion of that country easier?
    • 5:35 - Why did Japan think it could get away with attacking China at this time? Do you think the world's and America's reactions to Japanese involvement in China would have been different had the Rape of Nanking and other war crimes not happened? If so, how?

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