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The Normandy Invasion


Two class periods



World History

June Behrmann, M.Ed., former teacher and current education writer.


Students will understand the following:

1. The Normandy invasion was a combined effort by several nations.

2. War has significant psychological costs.

3. Documentation of an event as it occurs helps later generations understand the event.


For this lesson, you will need:

Reference materials about D-Day 1944

1. Remind students that in the course of their reading they have probably come across two kinds of writing about history. The more common is what they find in their history textbooks, writing that purports to give and interpret the facts and to stop there. The second kind of writing about history is historical fiction, which takes off from the facts but then may create details about people, times, and places; writers of historical fiction may invent what real-life characters say and think. In this activity, students will have a chance to write both kinds of texts about history and then to offer their opinions about how the two kinds of writing compare and contrast.

2. The project starts with students identifying a leader involved with Normandy and doing substantial research on that figure. A list of some of the key figures in that conflict includes U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, German Commander Erwin Rommel, and Nazi Führer Adolf Hitler.

3. Using printed and Internet sources, students should seek out biographical information on the leader they select. They should attempt to answer at least the following questions about the man under study:

- What were the contributions of their chosen leader to the war as a whole?
- What are the leader's most significant biographical details?
- In what ways did the leader indirectly or directly bring about the Normandy invasion?
- Where, physically, was this leader on June 6, 1944?
- What, if any, documentation do we have about how this leader reacted to the invasion?

4. When the students' research is complete, ask them first to write a short objective piece of exposition about their leader and the Normandy invasion.

5. Then invite students to go on to a second piece of writing, this time creative writing—namely, writing that involves the invention of or elaboration on historical facts. Specifically, ask students to write a short journal entry in which they show what the leader they chose thought, did, and felt at the end of the day, D-Day, when the British, Canadians, and Americans invaded Normandy. Their entries will be fictional but must be based on the facts of D-Day and what students know about human nature.

6. Finally, ask students to write a paragraph comparing and contrasting their two writing experiences—the expository and the creative. Which did they find easier, and why? Which did they find more challenging, and why?

As with the older group, you should expect your students to do research and take notes on a leader who was involved, directly or indirectly, with the Normandy invasion. But confine the writing tasks to the invented journal entry only.

1. Identify various factors that contributed to the start of World War II. Why do you think that attempts by Britain and France to negotiate peace with Germany failed?
2. Although U.S. women were not involved in the fighting during World War II, they played crucial roles in the production of goods, the collection of scrap metal, and the selling of war bonds. Compare the roles they played then to the roles they play in war today. Has equality between the sexes been achieved, as far as war is concerned? Is such equality a valuable goal? Why or why not?
3. Part of Hitler's strategy for developing a powerful military was to cultivate a strong German youth movement. Children as young as 10 were recruited to engage in premilitary activities. How would such a movement fare today in the United States? What would be your strongest arguments against such a plan?
4. Determine the value of using authentic film and newsreel footage, first-person accounts, photographs, voice recordings, and period music to impart an understanding of history. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of using these features to analyze and interpret the past. Are they reliable sources? Why or why not? How do they compare to official government records and news reports as sources of information?
5. General Eisenhower commented that “if we should fail, the responsibility will be entirely mine.” Given the hundreds of thousands of soldiers that participated in the Normandy invasion, why did one man feel he should shoulder the entire responsibility if the effort failed? What did Eisenhower's attitude demonstrate about the meaning of leadership? How did his leadership qualities differ from those of leaders you are familiar with today?
6. How do you think military commanders cope with massive casualties? How would you have kept up the morale of your remaining troops after the devastating losses on the Normandy beaches?

You can evaluate your students on their writing using the following three-point rubric:

- Three points:substantial facts in both pieces of writing with significant, obvious invention in the journal piece; very clear organization in the expository writing; error-free grammar, usage, and mechanics

- Two points:some facts in both pieces of writing with some obvious invention in the journal piece; moderately clear organization in the expository writing; some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
- One point:inadequate facts in either or both pieces of writing with insignificant invention in the journal piece; poor organization in the expository writing; many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining how many facts should be required and what would constitute a well-organized presentation.

Recording History

How is war history recorded? Who is responsible, and what is the nature of such people's work? Ask your students to tell why a team of historians, translators, editors, and cartographers is required to portray historical events thoroughly and correctly. Then divide your students into groups in which students will take on the roles of historian, translator, editor, and cartographer so that, together, they can prepare a report on an event that took place locally: the founding of the community, a battle, a political campaign, a controversial change in the community, and so on. Each group should prepare to give the rest of the class an oral report on the chosen historical event, perhaps using PowerPoint or HyperStudio to create a multimedia presentation.

Women in Wartime

A great many things have changed about the U.S. military since World War II, but one of the most profound developments has been the increasing involvement of women. Ask your students to research the role of U.S. women during World War II and during the war in the Persian Gulf. How have the opportunities for women in the U.S. military changed through the years? When research is complete, divide your class into two groups. The members of one group should assume the role of Rosie the Riveter from the 1940s. The members of the other group should assume the role of G.I. Jane from the Gulf War. The groups can then discuss and argue the value of their contributions to the war effort.

World War II: A Student Companion

William L. O'Neill. Oxford University Press, 1999.

This student companion includes compelling black-and-white photography, Web site links, an index, maps, further readings, time lines, and a guide to museums and historical sites.
Voices of D-Day: The Story of the Allied Invasion Told by Those Who Were There

Ronald J. Drez, ed. Louisiana State University Press, 1996.

This powerful book contains the testimony of 150 participants in the Normandy invasion. Readers will encounter the firsthand emotional recollections of this historic battle from American, British, Canadian, French, and German witnesses.

Normandy 1944: Imagining D-Day

This study guide features several special exhibits, including leaders, the build-up and training, the invasion, inland fighting, weapons, people, places, memories and much more.

The National D-Day Memorial Foundation

"The National D-Day Memorial Foundation is a group of veterans and volunteers charged with designing, building and operating a national memorial that will provide a place of reverence and solemnity honoring those who sacrificed so much on D-Day. The site features a virtual tour and living histories."

The History Guy: World War 2: Invasion of Normandy (1944)

Start with this page for specific information on Normandy, but be sure to visit the home page for information on many other aspects of military history.

CMH (Center for Military History) Series and Collections

Read all about the Omaha Beachhead, see the armed forces in action, and examine some World War II commemorative brochures at the Center of Military History.

The Valour and the Horror: Canada At War. In Desperate Battle: Normandy, 1944

The site highlights maps, stories, issues, a chronology and the background for Canadian participation at Normandy. It also offers a section on Canadian women in World War II.



A military person lost through death, wounds, injury, sickness, internment, or capture or through being missing in action.


World War II claimed more casualties than any war in history.


A system for or act of selecting individuals from a group (as for compulsory military service).


The draft is designed to be a fair system that enrolls men for military service and chooses those qualified for active duty.


Evil reputation brought about by something grossly criminal, shocking, or brutal.


As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”


A movement seeking equal rights and status for a group.


The liberation of Europe from Hitler's armies took six years and involved fighting by 70 million solders from 40 countries.


An especially fierce attack.


During Operation Overlord, the onslaught of more than 1,000 transports dropped paratroopers in order to secure the flanks and beach exits on the Normandy coast.


Characterized by fully conscious willful intent and a measure of forethought and planning.


The attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was premeditated by Japan and resulted in the Congress of the United States declaring war.


The spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.


To advance his plan to rid Germany of people he called undesirable, Adolph Hitler used propaganda to gain the support of the German people.

Grade Level:

7-8, 9-12

Subject Area:

historical understanding


Understands the historical perspective.


(7-8):Understands that specific individuals and the values those individuals held had an impact on history.

(7-8):Analyzes the influence specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history.

(7-8):Analyzes the effects specific decisions had on history.

(7-8):Knows different types of primary and secondary sources and the motives, interests, and views expressed in them (e.g., eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifacts, photos, magazine articles, newspaper accounts, and hearsay).

(9-12):Analyzes the values held by specific people who influenced history and the role their values played in influencing history.

(9-12):Knows how to perceive the past with historical empathy.

(9-12):Uses historical maps to understand the relationship between historical events and geography.
Grade Level:

7-8, 9-12

Subject Area:

world history


Understands the causes and global consequences of World War II.


(7-8):Understands the positions of the major powers Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union on fascist aggression, and the consequences of their failure to take forceful measures to stop this aggression.

(7-8):Understands the impact of World War II on civilian populations (e.g., the roles of women and children during the war and how they differed in Allied and Axis countries, the hardship of war on soldiers from both sides).

(9-12):Understands the overall effect of World War II on various facets of society (e.g., the impact on industrial production, political goals, communication, national mobilization, technology innovations, and scientific research; how these in turn made an impact on war strategies, tactics, and levels of destruction; the consequences of World War II as a “total war”).

(9-12):Understands the climax and moral implications of World War II (e.g., the moral implication of military technologies and techniques used in the war, statistics of population displacement caused by the war, debates surrounding the use of the atomic bomb to end the war with Japan).

Copyright 2001 Discovery.com.

Teachers may reproduce copies of these materials for classroom use only.

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