World War II Heroes Teaching Guide
- Grades: 6–8
The inspiring heroes in this book were everyday citizens who answered the call of their country during World War II. After the United States entered the war in December 1941, these soldiers showed incredible courage in the face of enemy fire. Based on true stories, the narratives are heart-pounding tributes to patriotism and heroism.
Chief Petty Officer John Finn manned an antiaircraft gun on the morning of December 7, 1947, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Private First Class Jack Lucas was an underage enlistee who fell on two grenades to protect his combat buddies on Iwo Jima.
Sergeant Forrest “Woody” Vosler saved the lives of his fellow crew members on a B-17 after dogfights over the flak-filled skies of Belgium. And Second Lieutenant Vernon Baker rose above the racism against black “Buffalo Soldiers” in the U.S. military to lead his unit on a crucial offensive against a German stronghold in Europe.
Most of these soldiers received the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor in the face of combat—above and beyond the call of duty.
Teaching the Book
This riveting collection of true tales introduces readers to World War II through the stories of ten brave heroes. The book gives students the opportunity to explore the theme of heroes, practice summarizing, and examine the meaning of words related to war. Activities engage students in argument writing, creating time lines, and creating an award for heroism.
Theme Focus: Heroes
Comprehension Focus: Summarize
Language Focus: Words of War
Get Ready to Read
The War and Its Heroes
The introduction to World War II Heroes provides a brief overview of the causes of World War II, how the United States became involved, and the brave soldiers who became the heroes of the conflict. Lead students in a shared reading of this brief overview to build background. For more information about World War II, presented in a concise format, look at an overview from Scholastic.
Another excellent introduction to the book is the documentary footage of World War II from History.com. The film on the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor shows footage of the “day that will live in infamy.” The soundtrack is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous speech to the nation, marking the United States’s entry into the war. Footage of soldiers readying for battle provide students with concrete historical images of the men they will be reading about.
Words of War
The book is full of vocabulary that describes military operations, soldiers, and weaponry. As they read, encourage students to add to the list of words on Resource #1: Vocabulary Cards on p. 8. Pass out the list of words that are organized into four categories: Soldiers, Military Operations, Weaponry, and War Verbs. Encourage students to use context clues and check definitions as they read. Use Resource #1: Vocabulary Cards and distribute copies to students.
Words to Know
Draw a concept map for each of the word concepts— Soldiers, Military Operations, Weaponry, and War Verbs—using chart paper or a whiteboard. Ask students to suggest words from their lists that connect to each concept. As you add a word to the map, have students explain how it connects to the concept.
As You Read
Reading the Book
The engaging narrative format of the book lends itself to independent reading by students. Assign students to do a silent reading of the book on their own. Confer with students as necessary to answer questions and clarify comprehension issues.
Chunking the Book
Assign the book in three sections, or chunks, for independent reading. After reading a section, check in with students to monitor comprehension with the “Questions to Discuss” for each section found on p. 4.
Chunk #1: pp. 5-46
Chunk #2: pp. 47-104
Chunk #3: pp. 105-146
Big Question: Critical Thinking
Ask students to think about this question as they read. Write the question on chart paper or the whiteboard. What makes some people heroes during wartime?
Remind students that a summary is a short statement of the most important ideas in a reading. The steps of summarizing include: identify the topic of the text, find the most important details about the topic, and restate the topic and important details in a short summary, using your own words. Explain that summarizing helps readers understand and remember a text they read.
Use Resource #2: Summarize to model for students how to restate a short summary in your own words. Pass out copies of the resource to students to use for subsequent chapters of the book. Then model for students how to summarize a text, filling out the organizer as you do.
First, I’ll identify the topic of “We’ve Got to Fight Back” on pp. 5-17. The narrative is about John Finn, an officer on Hawaii on the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack. What are the important details? Finn was on the scene when Japanese planes attacked his air station. Finn grabbed a machine gun and shot back at the enemy planes. Despite being injured, he organized and inspired other soldiers to fight off the invaders. He fought on, bleeding and in pain, until the Japanese planes flew off. Give students a brief oral summary of the story in your own words. Encourage them to summarize the rest of the stories as they read.
After You Read
Questions to Discuss
Lead students in a discussion of these focus story elements. Ask them to provide text evidence to support their answers.
After Reading Chunk #1
What motives drove Jack Lucas to his brave actions? (patriotism and revenge)
How did Richard Antrim show his heroism? (He risked his life to stand up for the human rights of another POW.)
3. Words of War
What kind of soldier is a medic? (One who provides first aid to wounded soldiers.)
After Reading Chunk #2
What do you think of the risks that Commander Ramage took to torpedo the Japanese ships?(He risked his own life and the lives of his men. This would have been tragic if he didn’t succeed.)
Why is Private Desmond Doss called a “Hero Without a Gun?” (He wouldn’t use weapons because of his religion.)
3. Words of War
Use context clues to figure out the meaning of the word turret in the narrative about Woody Vosler. (A dome containing a gun)
After Reading Chunk #3
What is the author’s point of view about the heroes in this book? (The author admires and glorifies their courage in the face of death.)
Summarize the challenges Vernon Baker experienced in the military and how he reacted to them. (He was the victim of racism but never let that interfere with his patriotism.)
3. Words of War
Give an example of a mission in World War II. (The airmen flew out on a bombing mission over Germany.)
Questions to Share
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
1. Text to Self
What is your favorite story in the book? Why do you like it best? How did the person
show courage in the face of war?
2. Text to World
Do you think people’s attitudes toward war are different today from how people felt during World War II? Why or why not?
3. Text to Text
How does each story in the book connect to the others to give a complex picture of heroism?
Content Area Connections
Challenge interested students to research one of the fighter planes used during World War II, such as the North American P-51 Mustang, the British Supermarine Spitfire, and the German Messerschmitt Bf-109 “Gustav.” Invite students to present their research results to the rest of the group, using formal English and speaking at an appropriate pace.
World War II Timeline
Pair students to work together to create a timeline of the major events of World War II. Have them create their timeline on the computer and add illustrations, if possible. See Scholastic's concise timeline of the war here.
Have students research major war memorials in Washington, D.C. They might choose the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, The World War II Memorial, or the Iwo Jima Memorial. Students can present their research with photos and a summary of the memorial to the rest of the class.
Ask students to write an argument essay about the hero in the book whom they think was most courageous. Remind them that an argument essay states a claim, supports it with evidence, and restates the author’s position in the conclusion. Encourage them to reread the story of the hero whom they choose to find supporting text evidence. Have students present their essays to the group to critique and compare.
Don't Forget the Big Question
Give each student an opportunity to answer the big question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Tell them there is no one right answer. What makes some people heroes during wartime?
A Hero Award
Ask each student to create a hero award for a type of person whom they admire. The award could be for a soldier, for an athlete, or for an everyday person who stands up for some important value. Pass out the Big Activity: A Hero Award printable to students and clarify the steps of the activity.
About the Author
Allan Zullo has written more than 100 nonfiction books on a broad range of subjects. He has published two best-selling series for middle grade students. Haunted Kids features eerie stories that are inspired by real-life reports of the supernatural. Ten True Tales tells about extraordinary people, often teens, who have survived life-threatening situations. For more information about the author, visit his website.
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