Children of War

In what ways are children growing up in a time of war affected?


Key Staff

History or Language Arts teachers can implement this lesson but the opportunity for collaboration with a theater or drama teacher exists.

Key Skills

Creative Thinking: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Making Art: Performance Skills and Techniques


This lesson explores the realities and effects of war on children by examining diaries, journals, and letters written by children during times of war. Through class discussion and studying various texts of actual events, students will examine the similarities and differences of children's experiences during wartime in different parts of the world, as well as the power of documenting these experiences in writing. The lesson culminates with a variety of creative and interactive theater exercises that broaden students’ understandings of children during times of war.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Develop an understanding of how events of war influence lives, in particular the lives of children
  • Explore the importance of creative expression in war situations, especially the use of diaries, journals, and letters
  • Conduct research to broaden their understanding of the impact of war on people
  • Participate in theater exercises involving the children they studied

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Role Playing
  • Discussion
  • Multimedia Instruction

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
  • Internet Access
Technology Notes

Be sure that you can access the following web sites before class begins:

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

This lesson examines the impact of war on children. This lesson can be tailored to meet curricular needs as far as examining the effects of war on children in whatever culture is being studied.

Prior Student Knowledge

Depending on which cultures are being emphasized, it would be helpful for students to have some background on the following:

  • World War II (basics)
  • Holocaust (basics)
  • Japanese internment camps
  • Bosnian War (basics)
  • Anne Frank
  • Conflict in Northern Ireland

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer Lab
  • Media Center or Library


  • Large Group Instruction
  • Non-Graded Instructional Grouping


  • Test internet connection

Accessibility Notes

This lesson is especially conducive to ELL students. Teachers should be sure to incorporate any conflicts or wars that are part of the history of students’ countries of origin.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.



1. Ask the class to name wars they are familiar with, wars the United States has been involved in, recent wars, and past wars. List examples on the board that students might be familiar with. Possible answers include: the World Wars, the Civil War, the War on Terrorism, religious wars, land feuds, etc.

2. Explore with the class some of the repercussions of war and the effects of wars on families. Possible answers include: loss of homes, lack of food, separation of families, prisoners of war, death, and sickness.

3. Have students visit Beyond the Fire and learn about several different teens who have experienced war.

Build Knowledge

1. Introduce students to Anne Frank. Explain that Anne Frank was a German Jewish girl whose family was under attack, like all Jewish families, from the Nazi government led by Adolf Hitler during World War II. Anne, her family, a neighboring family, and a family friend spent about two years hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam before being captured and sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. She died nine months after her arrest.

2. Review the map of Bergen-Belsen and other concentration camp locations. Have students locate Anne Frank’s hiding spot, Amsterdam, and the concentration camp where she was sent. Anne’s experiences and insights became a classic of modern literature, titled The Diary of Anne Frank.

3. Have students read excerpts from Anne Frank’s diary. Ask them what they think Anne felt as she wrote about her "Jewish friends and acquaintances...taken away in droves." Anne wrote that she "doesn’t care if she lives or dies." Ask students what they think could drive a person to feel this way.

4. Discuss why Anne Frank’s diary has become such an important primary source. Why do many students in the U.S. and throughout the world read it? Why does the writing of a child have such a profound effect on so many people? How do they suppose writing the diary helped Anne Frank deal with living under war conditions? List students’ responses on the board.


1. Divide the class into four or five small groups and assign each of the groups a child of war. The possibilities include:

  • Zlata Filipovic (Bosnian War)
  • Ben Uchida (WWII Japanese internment camps)
  • Louise Ogawa (WWII Japanese internment camps)
  • Yoko Kawishima Watkins (WWII in Korea and Japan)
  • Gemma McHenry (Northern Ireland)

Depending on the focus of your course, you may also look for examples of children affected by war in Israel, Palestine, Tibet, Rwanda, Vietnam, Darfur and Somalia. To help students gain an understanding of the individual’s life and the effects of war on them, distribute the Life Story handout and guide students to collect and organize pertinent details and insights into the person to whom they’ve been assigned.

2. Have students studying Louise Ogawa, a Japanese American child imprisoned in an internment camp access the Japanese American National Museum web site to read several of her letters. Point out that Louise was held at the Poston (Colorado River), Arizona Camp. Locate Poston, Arizona, on a U.S. map and flag the location. These students should then access the PBS Web site: Children of the Camps to locate the other nine internment camps in the U.S. and have the class flag those.

3. Have students studying Ben Uchida read several excerpts from The Journal of Ben Uchida, and explain that though this is the story of a fictional character, much of what Ben experiences in the Japanese internment camps happened to real children.

Suggested passages are as follows:

  • Pages 3 - 7 (1/2 way down) Tuesday, April 21, 1942.
  • Pages 22 - 25 Thursday, April 23rd 1942 - On A Train
  • Page 82 Wednesday, September 16, 1942.
  • Page 104 Friday, November 6th, 1944.

The author of this book chose to use a diary format to convey Ben’s story. Ask the class why they think the diary format is used to tell Ben’s story. Elicit from the class that diary entries help us imagine what daily life was really like during these difficult times.

4. Have students studying Zlata Filipovic, an 11-year-old girl caught in the war in Sarajevo, Bosnia access the Children of War article to learn more about her experiences.

  • Zlata writes that, "As for me, I’m reading through my letters. Letters are all I’ve got left of my friends. I read them and they take me back to my friends." Ask the class what they would think or do if they no longer were able to be with their friends. What are some feelings they might have?
  • Zlata also writes, "That’s my life! The life of an innocent eleven-year-old schoolgirl!! A schoolgirl without school, without the fun and excitement of school. A child without games, without friends, without the sun, without birds, without nature, without fruit, without chocolate or sweets, with just a little powdered milk. In short, a child without a childhood. A wartime child." What does the class think the life of a "wartime child" might be like? Have the class locate Sarajevo on the map and mark it with a flag.

5. Have students studying Yoko Kawashima Watkins read excerpts from her memoir, So Far From the Bamboo Grove. Ask them to consider who and what were instrumental in Yoko’s survival. Why was Yoko’s ethnicity and cultural background significant? What did Yoko have to sacrifice in order to survive? What everyday things did Yoko miss about being home? Why does it remain important to Yoko’s family to take time to observe traditional Japanese customs in a time of war?

6. Have students learning about Gemma McHenry and other children caught in the conflict in Northern Ireland access Discoveryschool.com's Children of War web article. This time they will read about the lives of children in Northern Ireland.

  • Have the group assigned to learn about Gemma McHenry read through several diary entries. Point out the entry of Gemma McHenry, who writes, "I was brought up in a mixed area (Protestant and Catholic) and I had mixed friends and thought nothing of it. We were all innocent children. I would be asked by my Protestant friends to say the Hail Mary. To me it was the only difference between us. Sometimes I needed to say it to prove I was a Catholic!"
  • Ask the class what this says about Gemma and the way she looks at people? Gemma also writes, "Those were happy days of innocence, but reality hit us with a bomb when a Protestant neighbor was shot by Republican paramilitaries for being a member of the Security Forces. And then a Catholic neighbor was shot for being a Catholic." How do students think Gemma’s life was and is affected by the war that is going on around her? Have the class locate Northern Ireland on the world map and flag it. Point out to the class some of the different areas of the world where children were, or are, influenced by the effects of war. Suggest the importance of the written word and how they have come to learn about all these children through their writing.


1. Distribute Theater Exercise Handouts located within the Resource Carousel and have the class participate in several theater exercises/games to further develop their understanding of children's experiences during wartime.

2. Create small groups of students that include one student from each of the previous groups. In other words, each of the new groups should have a representative from the Ben Uchida group, the Zlata Filipovic group, the Louise Ogawa group, the Yoko Kawishima Watkins group and the Gemma McHenry group. They should then do each of the theater exercises to learn about the other children of war.

3. Theater Exercise/Game 1: Role Play

Have students take turns transforming themselves into one of the children of war studied in class. During this transformation, have the class interview the character, asking questions about his or her life. Start the session by telling the class that today they will pretend to be one of the children they have studied in class. Prepare a nametag with the studied child’s name on it, which the student can wear while in character, performing. Tell the class that the performer, as well as the audience/interviewers, must use their imaginations during the performance. Tell the class that, now that they have finished hearing about Anne Frank, you would like them to share some of the things they learned about his life. They will do that by pretending to be Anne Frank. Select a student to play the part. (Teacher note: You may want to ask a student in private if he or she would be willing to go first.)

Have the student come to the front of the room and turn his or her back to the audience. Remind the class that when the student turns around he or she will no longer be their classmate, but will be Ben Uchida. Tell the “actor” that he or she can turn around when ready. When the student faces the audience, welcome Ben Uchida to the classroom. (Talking to the character as Ben Uchida will help the class become comfortable with this exercise.) Ask the class if anyone has any questions for Ben about his life, such as how he felt when he spent time in the internment camps, etc. Give the performer a few minutes to play the part before asking for volunteers to continue the role-playing.

4. Theater Exercise/Game 2: "Then What Happened?"

In this game the class recalls the events of a story or situation by continually answering the question, "Then what happened?"

Provide the class with an opening sentence from the life of Anne Frank. "My name is Anne Frank and I was born in Germany." Then ask, "And then what happened?" and select a student to respond. When that student has added to the retelling, again ask, "And then what happened?" This activity is a great device to help the students focus on the character’s life story and the events that took place. A variation on this activity is to divide the students into small groups, place the character names into a bag, and have students draw the name of the person that their group will talk about.

5. Theater Exercise/Game 3: Imaginary Door

Students will draw an imaginary door and find a multitude of things behind it. Have students draw an imaginary door with an imaginary felt-tip marker (chalk, pen). Tell the class that when they open the door they will see Zlata Filipovic (or any other character that the class has studied). Ask the class what they see. Have them describe what the person is wearing, what he or she is doing, if he or she is with anyone else, etc.

6. Theater Exercise/Game 4: Role Play II

Have the students take on the role of Anne Frank, Yoko Kawashima Watkins, Zlata Filipovic, or Ben Uchida. Discuss with the class several topics that the children could talk about if they were to meet. List these topics on the board. Divide the class into pairs. Have each team create a dialogue in which they discuss what life in hiding is like, what it is like living without some of their family members, etc. Have the class work on their dialogues. After rehearsing, students may perform their scenes for the class.


Assess the student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.

Extending the Learning

Students may create graphic narratives or comic book depictions to relate an episode or episodes in the lives of the children presented in this lesson. The Stapleless Book Activity of the ReadWriteThink web site would be appropriate for this project.

Students may read The Diary of Anne Frank, So Far From the Bamboo Grove and The Journal of Ben Uchida as extra credit homework.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

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Daniella Garran
Original Writer


  • Denenberg, Barry, The Journal of Ben Uchida. Scholastic Inc. 1999, New York
  • Kelner, Lenore Blank. Games 1-3 adapted from The Creative Classroom. New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1993.
  • Spolin, Viola. Theater Games for the Classroom. Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1986.
  • Filipovic, Zlata, ed. Stolen Voices: Young People's War Diaries, from World War I to Iraq. Penguin Books: 2006.
  • Beah, Ishmael. A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.
  • Mortenson, Greg. Three Cups of Tea. Perfection Learning, 2007.

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