Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan #1

The 1st Infantry Division: Citizens to Soldiers

Webisode 1

Grade and Course: 9th-12th Grade U.S. History
Time Frame: (1 class period)


Although there were men enlisted in the military prior to December 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor had major mobilizing effects for the U.S. military. During the Depression, some citizens weren't able to find jobs or care for their families, so the military became a haven for some men. But then after December 7, their motivations for enlisting changed.

In this lesson, the first of a 5-day unit on the First Infantry Division (The Big Red One), the instructor will introduce how civilian men became soldiers during World War II. This lesson uses documents, speeches, posters, and photographs of the era to let students discover the affects of war overseas, the Depression, and Pearl Harbor on the minds of the men who enlisted in the military, specifically, the Big Red One.

Topical Questions

What motivates citizens to join the military?

What events led to the entry of the United States into WWII?

Lesson Objectives

1. Students will describe important events leading up to WWII.

2. Students will explain American attitudes toward participation in the war prior to December 7, 1941.

3. Students will demonstrate, through a hands-on activity, how they would build an infantry unit (optional).

Teaching Procedures

Starting Activity: WWII is not an Internet address

The instructor will put up a Dr. Seuss political cartoon and examine the social and political environment in which it was drawn. Some questions to ask:

  • Who drew this? When?
  • Who are the characters?
  • What is the action taking place?
  • What do you think the cartoonist perspective is?

  • Next, read an excerpt from Franklin Roosevelt's "Quarantine the Aggressor" speech. Compare his message to the cartoon.

    Some fifteen years ago the hopes of mankind for a continuing era of international peace were raised to great heights when more than sixty nations solemnly pledged themselves not to resort to arms in furtherance of their national aims and policies. The high aspirations expressed in the Briand-Kellogg Peace Pact and the hopes for peace thus raised have of late given way to a haunting fear of calamity. The present reign of terror and international lawlessness began a few years ago.

    It began through unjustified interference in the internal affairs of other nations or the invasion of alien territory in violation of treaties. It has now reached a stage where the very foundations of civilization are seriously threatened. The landmarks, the traditions which have marked the progress of civilization toward a condition of law and order and justice are being wiped away.

    Without a declaration of war and without warning or justification of any kind civilians, including vast numbers of women and children, are being ruthlessly murdered with bombs from the air. In times of so-called peace ships are being attacked and sunk by submarines without cause or notice. Nations are fomenting and taking sides in civil warfare in nations that have never done them any harm. Nations claiming freedom for themselves deny it to others.

  • What seems to be the attitude of American people - and their President - toward war in Europe and Asia?

  • After listening to the FDR "Dec 7th, 1941" speech (that's included in the Powerpoint), have the students imagine--if they were a civilian, what would they do? How would life change?

  • Powerpoint Presentation

    During the PowerPoint presentation, the students will be given a blank outline with questions (see discussion questions). (EX: What were some of the reasons the men joined the military? How did the Great Depression have an affect on the men who enlisted?). Following along with the PowerPoint, the students will answer the questions when randomly called upon.

    Hands on Demonstration

    How would you build an Infantry unit?

    The students will be given a handout with the expectations of the content of their research paper and a reminder of the expected standards (font, margins, number of pages, etc).

    Students will then be split into 3 or more groups. Each group will choose items from "the war material" box.

    Canteen, helmet, blanket, can of food, shoe, compass, dog tags (if available), photos of people what kind of people?, etc.

    Have the groups discuss and write down the four items that they would give the military men in an infantry unit to use.


    There may be a museum or historical organization near you that could supply you with one or more of these items. However, the Cantigny First Division Foundation Museum has history trunks that they loan out for up to 2 weeks. The link is provided below.
    Visit Site


    Below are just a few links to photos that you can print out and laminate and put them inside a truck or box if a real trunk is unavailable to you.


    You are a member of the Big Red One (or your brother, father, uncle is). You will keep a journal that documents your encounters. Your journal should include not only your responses to situations that arise, but images, reports from the homefront, maps, evidence from the built environment about your experiences.

    Day 1- You listened to Presidents Roosevelt's December 8th, 1941 message to congress, and you enlisted in the army. Why do you want to be part of the US Army? How do you expect your life to change?

    Materials and Resources

  • Notes and PowerPoint
  • Screen and Projector
  • Handouts
  • Military Materials Box and Contents (optional) OR materials box and paper printouts of objects.
  • Books or journals

  • Discussion Questions

    1. What social issue discouraged American military preparedness in the 1930's?
    2. How many men did the 1st Infantry Division have in 1939? How had pacifism, isolationism, and the Great Depression affected the division's size and preparation? How would you learn about relationships between men already serving before 1939 and the new recruits who entered during the war?
    3. What was the general feeling of Americans toward the war in Europe? Why? What were the primary consequences of this attitude?
    4. Name 3 reasons why most men enlisted in the military PRIOR to December 7, 1941?
    5. What was the significance of December 7, 1941? How did it change the lives of ordinary Americans? How did it change the views of American leaders? How did it change America's role in the world? Why do people who lived through that era remember what they were doing when they heard the news reports as vividly as their children remember where they were on November 22, 1963 or as you remember where you were on September 11, 2001?
    6. Why did men enlist in the military AFTER December 7, 1941?
    7. What is boot camp? How did it prepare men for service? Why is it necessary? How would you go about finding out how veterans viewed it?
    8. Why were men taught how to fight in groups? What sizes of groups were emphasized? What would be the benefit of fighting a war this way? What would be the negative side?
    9. What happened to the 1st Infantry Division after December 7, 1941?
    10. What was the 1st Infantry Division's nickname? Why?

    Academic Standards

    US History 5.3


    Explain how the United States mobilized its economic and military resources to achieve victory in World War II. (Economics; Civics and Government)

    National History Standards, Era 8: 3A

    3A- Analyze the reasons for American isolationist sentiment in the interwar period and its effects on international relations and diplomacy. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

    Evaluate American responses to German, Italian, and Japanese aggression in Europe, Africa, and Asia from 1935 to 1941. [Formulate a position or course of action on an issue]

    Historical Thinking Standards: 2F, 3C

    2F-Historical Comprehension- Appreciate historical perspectives

    3C-Historical Analysis and Interpretation- Analyze cause-and-effect relationships and multiple causation, including the importance of the individual, the influence of ideas.