Giving Voice to History

What was the experience of the Japanese American citizens who lived in America during World War II?


Key Staff

Language arts or social studies teacher with opportunities for collaboration with the performing arts teacher.

Key Skills

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


In this lesson, students will come to understand a somber period in American history. During World War II, the U.S. government ordered more than 120,000 Japanese Americans to detainment camps - the only reason given: being Japanese American. Drawing upon research and analyzing a variety of sources - including the historical novel The Journal of Ben Uchida, firsthand accounts, government documents, and select portions of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution - students will write dramatic monologues that testify to some of the injustices of this period.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Conduct research and analyze primary and secondary historical sources as background for script writing
  • Work in groups to discuss topics with others in order to help clarify and define to their own opinions
  • Write theater scripts based upon actual people, places, and events

Teaching Approach

Arts Inclusion

Teaching Methods

  • Cooperative Learning
  • Self-Directed Learning
  • Research
  • Role Playing

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

This lesson explores the plight of the Japanese Americans during World War II.

An excellent resource is The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559. Mirror Lake Internment Camp, a historical novel based on actual people, places, and events of the period. Told from the point of view of a young Japanese American boy who is sent to a detainment camp, the novel contains accurate descriptions of camp life and its effects on Japanese Americans. The book also features an appendix of illuminating photographs, documents, and other historical background.

Prior Student Knowledge

  • Familiarity with World War II.
  • Familiarity with the ideas of discrimination and segregation.

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer Lab


  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


  • Test internet connection
  • Make necessary photocopies

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

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

Build Knowledge


1. Introduce the lesson by distributing the Mock Evacuation Order handout located within the Resource Carousel. The handout is adapted from the actual evacuation poster distributed to Japanese Americans during World War II.

2. Ask students the following questions and record their responses on the board:

  • What would you think if you found this poster in your neighborhood?
  • As people under fifteen, how would you feel?
  • What emotions do you think you’d experience?

3. Next, explain to students that the Mock Evacuation Order handout they just received was adapted from an actual government order distributed to Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II. To view a sample of an actual poster, refer the class to page 142 of the novel The Journal of Ben Uchida.

4. Explain to students that it was created during World War II when the United States was at war with Japan - a war that began when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. During the war, Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, allowed for the relocation of persons of Japanese ancestry - even if they were U.S. citizens - from the West Coast. The evacuation took place in two stages: first, Japanese Americans were sent to assembly centers and then on to permanent detention camps. More than 120,000 Japanese Americans - two thirds of them U.S. citizens - were forced out of their homes and spent three years living under armed guard; their rights as American citizens were suspended.

5. Encourage a class discussion regarding what students feel about this. Was it fair? What sort of questions does this raise?

Build Knowledge

1. Tell students that they are going to learn what life was like for Japanese Americans under these conditions. Some of the questions they will try to answer during this lesson include:

  • What was this experience like?
  • How did Japanese Americans deal with their situation?
  • What did they feel?
  • Did they ever think this could happen to them?

2. Divide students into small groups and direct them to this website: A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution. This site provides a good overview of the history of Japanese Americans in this country during World War II, firsthand accounts, and photographs.

3. Assign each group one of the sub categories on the Web site:

  • Immigration
  • Removal
  • Internment
  • Loyalty
  • Service
  • Justice

Have students complete the A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution worksheet as they navigate the web site.

4. When students have completed the worksheet, have a spokesperson from each group summarize their findings for the rest of the class.


1. Tell students that they will explore the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution (in particular the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments) and the question of whether some of these Rights were suspended for Japanese American citizens during World War II.

2. Distribute the Bill of Rights handout located within the Resource Carousel to the class and explain that the Bill of Rights consists of the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States. These amendments are commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights because they provide basic legal protection for individual rights. (Teacher note: For further lessons/activities, visit the Bill of Rights Institute.)

3. Using the Bill of Rights handout, focus the students' attention on the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. Note specifically the areas italicized below.

  • First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
  • Fourth Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
  • Fifth Amendment: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

4. Divide the class into small groups. Assign each group one of the three Amendments above. Based on what they’ve learned about Japanese Americans during World War II, ask groups to discuss: Were the rights of Japanese American citizens infringed upon during World War II?

5. Have students record their ideas on the appropriate Bill of Rights Violation Assessment worksheet, all three of which can be found within the Resource Carousel. Remind students to cite specific facts that support their viewpoints. If students have read The Journal of Ben Uchida, suggest that they reference specific examples from the text to support their argument.


1. Based upon all they have studied regarding Japanese Americans during World War II, students will use the Monologue Planning Worksheet handout located within the Resource Carousel to write monologue scripts from the points of view of Japanese American characters from The Journal of Ben Uchida or from the Web site, A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution.

2. Have each student write a monologue script (1–2 pages) from the point of view of a Japanese American character from the past who is speaking to young people today. Have students consider the following:

  • What would this character say about what he/she experienced?
  • What are his/her feelings?
  • Does he/she feel that his/her rights were violated?
  • What would he/she want young people of today to learn from the past?

3. Discuss with the class what a monologue is: a speech performed by one person. In writing the monologue script, students will write in the voice of the character they’ve chosen from The Journal of Ben Uchida or the Web site, A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution.

4. As a class, discuss the differences between writing a monologue script and writing an essay. Stress that in writing a script, one writes in the voice of a character. The character might not speak in complete sentences, or might use slang; thoughts may jump from one place to another. Refer to the dialogue from The Journal of Ben Uchida. Have students consider the style of writing and the way Ben Uchida "speaks" in his diary. Students must write in the voice of the character that they choose. It’s also important to consider the audience the character is speaking to and to have the character portray a scene that describes:

  • The time period and location in which your character is living.
  • What has happened to your character.
  • Any other background information important for the audience to understand about the character.

5. Have students work in pairs or small groups as they write their monologues. Have them share their monologues with their partners and have their partners offer constructive criticism. Tell students that they are to ask questions about the monologue, not offer suggestions. If something is not clear, the partner should say so.

6. After a day or two of first-draft writing and revising in peer groups, have students turn in their scripts and/or perform them for the class.


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


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.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade 5-8 Theater Standard 1: Script writing by the creation of improvisations and scripted scenes based on personal experience and heritage, imagination, literature, and history

Grade 5-8 Theater Standard 5: Researching by using cultural and historical information to support improvised and scripted scenes

National Standards in Other Subjects
United States History

US History Standard 25: Understands the causes and course of World War II, the character of the war at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the U.S. role in world affairs

US History Standard 8: Understands the institutions and practices of government created during the Revolution and how these elements were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights

Language Arts

Language Arts Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Language Arts Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts



Daniella Garran
Original Writer


  • The Journal of Ben Uchida (Scholastic, 1999)


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