Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan:
Memorandum Regarding the Enlistment
of Navajo Indians
This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.
- Era 8-The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)
- Standard 3B-The student understands World War II and how the Allies prevailed.
This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.
- Standard V.C.6.- Students should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions
on issues regarding the personal responsibilities of citizens in American constitutional
Share this exercise with your history, government, and language arts colleagues.
- Distribute copies of the document to students or project it on an overhead
screen. Ask one student to read it aloud while the others follow along. Lead
a class discussion by posing the following questions: What type of document is
it? What is the date of the document? Who was the intended recipient? Who created
it? For what purpose was it created?
- Divide students into groups of three and provide each group with a copy of
figure 1 (Navajo dictionary). Assign one student
the role of a Marine Corps staff member and the other two the role of Navajo
messengers. Ask students to practice sending messages within their group using
the method described in item 2 of the featured document. Discuss with students
the exercise and ask them to identify the benefits and liabilities of such a
system of sending and translating messages during wartime.
- Inform students that Major Howard Conner, a signal officer from the 5th
Marine Division on Iwo Jima, remarked to Philip Johnston after the war, "Were
it not for the Navajos, the Marines never would have taken Iwo Jima." Direct
students to conduct research into the Battle of Iwo Jima to determine the validity
of this statement and write one page supporting or refuting the claim.
- Tell students that between 375 and 420 Navajos served as code talkers during
World War II. Explain that on December 21, 2000, the Honoring the Code Talkers
Act (Public Law 106-554), introduced by Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico,
was signed into law. Encourage students to read the text of the law, available
online at http://bingaman.senate.gov/code_talkers/legislation/legislation.html,
and find out what the law will do. Direct students to brainstorm a list of other
lesser-known individuals or groups that contributed to the Allied victory in
World War II and list ways their contributions have been recognized and honored.
Their list might include Dorie Miller, the 442nd Infantry, and "Rosie
the Riveter." Ask students to consider what factors affect such honors.
- Ask student volunteers to watch the movie Windtalkers, released by
MGM, and write a review of the movie's historical accuracy (www.mgm.com/windtalkers).
- Divide students into five groups and assign each group one of the following periods: the Revolutionary War, The Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the modern era. Ask student groups to conduct research into the codes and code-breaking methods of their assigned period. Direct each group to demonstrate a code-breaking method from their assigned period to the class. (Note: The National Security Agency [NSA] operates the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland. Its web site, http://www.nsa.gov/museum/ may be a good starting point for student research).