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Map Studies of the Pacific Theater | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Map Studies of the Pacific Theater

Wisconsin World War II Stories: The Pacific

Map Studies of the Pacific Theater | Wisconsin Historical Society

Grade level: Secondary

Duration: More than one class period

EnlargeMan pointing to a map.

Rev James C. Flint with a Map of Europe, 1948

Madison, Wisconsin. The Reverend points to a map of Europe as part of a lecture about post World War II relief work overseas. View the original source document: WHI 50336

In the following lesson, the student will be asked to take on the role of the historian, completing a research assignment in order to construct logical interpretations of the historical record. One of the most important skills our students must have is the ability to do historical research. Students will:

  • Part I: Background on the Pacific: Working in small groups, students will take on the role of historians, developing their own questions, based on the analysis of three different maps.
  • Part II: Battles: Using a series of maps covering major Allied and Axis Battles in the Pacific, students will collaborate on the construction of a wall-sized map that familiarizes the class with strategies and outcomes of those battles.
  • Part III: Interpreting Military Maps: Students will have an opportunity to learn terminology such as battalion, platoon, division, and company in their work with military maps. After a close analysis, students will be asked to show an understanding of how particular battles were planned and executed.

This lesson is one of four lessons related to Wisconsin Public Television World War II Stories video series. Depending upon time available, the lessons may be used with the videos, or they can stand alone. Since the subject of the video is World War II Europe, several of the lessons could be used in a World History or European History course as well as in U.S. History. Specifically, these lessons offer greater depth on the topics found in video one, The Struggle, although you will notice some overlap. They should provide students with a smooth transition to deeper study of World War II.


Students will:

  • Formulate historical questions
  • Obtain historical data
  • Interrogate historical data
  • Identify the gaps in the available records


When the war in Europe ended in the spring of 1945, Americans were jubilant, but there was also an awareness that our soldiers would not necessarily come home. The war in the Pacific raged on, and victory there was still to come. The third video in the Wisconsin World War II Stories examines the Pacific Theater through the stories of sailors, pilots, medical personnel, and U.S. Marines who served there.

Over the past several decades, high school students have learned a great deal about the European theater of World War II. From the 1950s onward, the popular media created numerous images of the war in Europe. In addition, U.S. history textbooks devote significantly more space to the war in Europe, and most of their coverage of World War II in the Pacific centers on two events: Pearl Harbor and the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Today, students tend to be unfamiliar with the geography of the Pacific, the battles, or the timeline beyond the attack on Pearl Harbor and the conclusion of the war.

As you view the video on the Pacific you will learn that this story is very compelling. In dealing with less well-studied subjects---the story of the USS "Indianapolis", for example -- the video presents a tremendously interesting history. The lessons in this part of "Wisconsin World War II Stories "span interest areas and levels. They include geography, technology, and human interest studies, and draw upon a wide array of social studies skills. The lesson plans can be combined with partial or whole use of the videotape or online video clips, or the lessons can be used independently. The five videotapes in this series can, with the lesson plans, constitute a complete World War II unit.

Resource Materials


Part I

Divide the class into groups of three students per group. If students are not at computers, make copies of the following three maps and hand out one map to each group (several groups will have the same map):

  1. Map – "Imperial Powers in the Far East, 1939"
  2. Map – "Plans and Forces at the Beginning of the War, December 1941"
  3. Map– "Allied Theater Organization, 30 March – 6 August 1942"

Give the groups 20-30 minutes to analyze their maps and brainstorm a series of questions that the map raises for them about the beginning of World War II in the Pacific. Each group should be able to list 10-20 questions. Use the Brainstorming Questions on the Pacific worksheet for recording ideas.

Bring the group back together as a class. Project each of the three maps onto a screen, one at a time, so that all students can see the map in question. As each group presents the questions they created, have one student record those questions onto a large sheet of paper that will remain in the classroom throughout the unit of study. (To save time, the teacher may wish to ask each group to select the 2-3 most important questions they developed.)

Part I Enhancement:

As a final unit evaluation, select the most important or unanswered questions. Have each student research a question of their choice to write a one-or two-page paper.

Part II

Students will be making maps for the bulletin board. The teacher should decide the size and level of detail of the maps, given the size of the classroom. If teaching more than one class in the same room, decide if there is space for each class to create their own wall map.

Assign Groups 1-10. Group 1 should consist of a small number of students whose task it will be to create an outline map of the entire Pacific theater on your bulletin board using their assigned map as a guide. Each of the remaining Groups (2-3 students per group) will be assigned one specific map to recreate from the West Point Department of History website.

The group assignments are as follows:

Groups 2-10 will analyze key battles and create individual maps to fit on the bulletin board outline map. They may use small pictures or create drawings to enhance understanding of their part of the classroom map. (Each group can attach their work to the larger outline map with tacks and string links, if they do not fit directly onto the outline map.

Following the chronology of the war in the Pacific theater, have students present their findings and add their materials to the bulletin board in turn. Each group should use the "Battlefields of the Pacific Theater" handout to guide their research and presentation.

Part II Enhancement:

Have students gather photographic images or oral history accounts of this battle. They can print or draw one or more pictures from these sources to help your classmates gain a visual understanding of the experiences of soldiers who fought here.

Part III

Assign each student one map to study from the following set of four maps:

Using the assigned map and the worksheet called "Winning the War: In-depth Battle Analysis," have students individually analyze troop strengths and battle strategies. Have each student write a "battle summary" for their map.

Part III Enhancement:

Have students read the transcript of the stories told by two veterans George Bloczynski (Marshfield, Wisconsin Third Marines) and Mel Jacobs (Manitowoc, Wisconsin Marine on the USS "Indianapolis"). Click on "The Pacific" and then "transcript". George Bloczynski story is located in the Iwo Jima section and Mel Jacobs is in the Atom Bomb section. Using the information provided by these veterans and any additional information they have learned, students should create a dramatization of one of their stories and present it to the class. Following the dramatization, have a class discussion on the subject of the sacrifices people make during wartime.

One subject that surfaces during war is "sacrifice." Americans debate the meaning of sacrifice in wartime, whose sacrifice, how much should be expected of a nation's citizens, and the relationship between sacrifice and patriotism. In particular, the willingness of our nation's youth to sacrifice for their country is a hotly contested topic.

In this Enrichment Activity, students will conduct research on the subject of "war and the sacrifice of youth" in order to discuss the question,

How are modern attitudes about wartime sacrifice similar to or different from those expressed by veterans in the 'World War II Wisconsin Stories' video?

Transcripts are available at Wisconsin World War II Stories. (Especially see Edmund Rohland's comments in the "Home Front" video transcript.) Research should also include news stories, essays, and other primary source documents. The primary source soldier's e-mail is one example of a current primary source that may be helpful in answering the question.


National Standards for United States History: Exploring the American Experience

(National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA)

Era 8, Standard 3 - 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.


Standard 3B - The student understands World War II and how the Allies prevailed.
5-12 Explain the major turning points of the war and contrast military campaigns in the European and Pacific theaters.
7-12 Evaluate the decision to employ nuclear weapons against Japan and assess later controversies over the decision..
5-12 Explain the financial, material, and human costs of the war and analyze its economic consequences for the Allies and the Axis powers.

Wisconsin's Model Academic Standards for Social Studies


Standard A - Geography: People, Places, and Environments
A12.13 Explain the major turning points of the war and contrast military campaigns in the European and Pacific theaters.
Standard B - History: Time, Continuity, and Change
B.12.1 Explain different points of view on the same historical event, using data gathered from various sources, such as letters, journals, diaries, newspapers, government documents, and speeches
B.12.2 Analyze primary and secondary sources related to a historical question to evaluate their relevance, make comparisons, integrate new information with prior knowledge, and come to a reasoned conclusion
B.12.4 Assess the validity of different interpretations of significant historical events
B.12.5 Gather various types of historical evidence, including visual and quantitative data, to analyze issues of freedom and equality, liberty and order, region and nation, individual and community, law and conscience, diversity and civic duty; form a reasoned conclusion in the light of other possible conclusions; and develop a coherent argument in the light of other possible arguments
B.12.6 Select and analyze various documents that have influenced the legal, political, and constitutional heritage of the United States
B.12.7 Identify major works of art and literature produced in the United States and elsewhere in the world and explain how they reflect the era in which they were created
B.12.9 Select significant changes caused by technology, industrialization, urbanization, and population growth, and analyze the effects of these changes in the United States and the world
Standard C - Political Science and Citizenship: Power, Authority, Governance, and Responsibility
C.12.1 Identify the sources, evaluate the justification, and analyze the implications of certain rights and responsibilities of citizens
C.12.8 Locate, organize, analyze, and use information from various sources to understand an issue of public concern, take a position, and communicate the position


These lesson plans are designed to be used with Wisconsin World War II Stories: The Pacific, a video series created by Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin Historical Society, in association with the Wisconsin Dept. of Veterans Affairs. The lessons in this part of Wisconsin World War II Stories span interest areas and levels. They include geography, technology, and human interest studies, and draw upon a wide array of social studies skills. Information on the series can be found at: Wisconsin Stories Website.

Author: Victoria Zuleger Straughn