Teaching With Documents Lesson Plan:
Memorandum Regarding the Enlistment of Navajo Indians

Teaching Activities

Standards Correlations

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 democracy.

Cross-curricular Connections

Share this exercise with your history, government, and language arts colleagues.


  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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).

  6. 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).


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