World War II Letters
By: Krista Ruud
AHTC Summer Institute 2007
To download this lesson in PDF format, click here.
Many students view the
lives of soldiers at war as one battle after another. As a way to see the more
human side of soldiers at war and their loved ones at home, students will view
letters written at that time and even learn about the special way of making
letters smaller so they would take up less space on transport. By the end of
the lesson students will create their own wartime letter that reflects some of
the main ideas and topics from the lessons.
- What was the purpose of mail during World War
- How was mail used to encourage soldiers and
people on the home front during World War II?
- What was V-Mail and what purpose did it serve
during World War II?
2-3 class periods
- Students will use the NARA’s Written Document
Analysis Worksheet http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/document.html to analyze letters that soldiers wrote or
- Students will use a Venn Diagram to compare
and contrast regular postal mail and V-Mail that was used during World War
- Students will use the information they learned
about the purpose and content of letters to
Pretend they are a WWII soldier or a family member waiting on the home front
and write a letter to someone overseas (if a student is a ‘soldier’ he/she will
write a letter to someone on the USA home front and visa versa).
Write a letter to a soldier currently serving overseas (it can be a general
letter with no specific recipient).
After spending some time
learning the background of World War II, students will discuss how the United
States got into the war and the overwhelming support most Americans gave to the
war cause. Students will be able
to see this lesson in the context of why citizens and the government felt so
strongly about ensuring communication between soldiers and people on the home
front and why communication was, and still is, important.
- Begin by brainstorming with the class ways
that humans communicate (talking, phone, email, mail, notes, text
messaging, instant messaging, MySpace, etc). Make a list of these ideas on
the board. Go back through and ask students to tell you which ones they
use most often. Secondly, ask students to raise their hand if they have
ever received something in the mail. Make another list on the board of
things that are received in the mailbox (birthday cards, bills, letters,
magazines, etc). As a class, go through the list and discuss for a few
minutes how they feel when they receive mail, especially items off the
- With students in groups of 2-4, have them come
up with at least 3 reasons soldiers would have wanted to receive mail from
family and friends during WWII or family/friends would have wanted to
receive mail from a soldier they knew. You might want to remind students
that during the WWII era, there was no email and phone calls overseas was
not really an option. After about 5 minutes, have the class share the
reasons letters were probably sent during WWII (updates on life, letting
people know they were ok, gossip, flirting, asking for something, etc).
- Now, hand
out the V-Mail Letter, the set of four V-Mail Letters
from Bud, and choose two of the letters from the “Letters from Home”
website as well as NARA’s Written
Document Analysis Worksheet http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/document.html. In groups of 2-4 students should analyze the WWII era letters
(students should have already been instructed on how to use the Document
- After the groups of students have had time to
fill out the Written Document Analysis Worksheet for each of the four
items, go through each item and list topics and features the class noticed
about the letters. It may be good to have a discussion about if there are
any differences or similarities between the local and the national
- Review the purpose of the letters sent from
soldiers to family/friends and visa versa. Discuss how the letters could
be encouraging. Did anyone find anything that wasn’t positive in the
letters? What had been left out of the letters (information about location, descriptions of
violence/death, information on future plans, etc) and why.
- Discuss as a class how the letters were
transported to and from soldiers, how many letters might need to be
transported regularly, and problems there might be with transporting so
many letters. Brainstorm possible solutions to getting so many letters
from one place to another without taking up too much space.
- Pass out the short reading from the National
Postal Museum V-Mail Exhibit. Read this over
as a class.
- Pass out to groups a copy of the
V-Mail informational letter. Using this information and information already
discussed in class about regular postal mail, groups should create a Venn
Diagram that compares and contrasts regular mail and V-Mail as it was used
during WWII. Topics for students to consider might be: uses, ways it
helped the military, ways it helped people on the home front, how it was
sent, how it was received, and why the government was encouraging people
on the home front to sent so much mail.
- As a class, discuss the Venn
Diagram. Have the class discuss the pros and cons of both types of mail and
which they would have preferred.
Letters Final Assessment: Now that students have viewed letters from WWII and
have discussed the different ways letters were sent, they are going to create
their own letter. When students are finished with their letters it might even
be fun to share them in small groups during class and/or compare them with the
real WWII letters that were analyzed at the start of the lesson.
of Materials and Resources
Four V-Mail Letters from
Letters from Home website
Written Document Analysis Worksheet
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