Nikkei Legacy Center – The Japanese-American Incarceration: Was it Constitutional?

For the Museum in a Suitcase project for the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, I wanted to create a lesson plan that encompassed the cultural experience during the time of Pearl Harbor and Incarceration of Japanese-Americans as well as discussing the question of whether it was Constitutional or not. It is a unique story that lends itself well to the study of marginalized communities throughout American History. This lesson is adapted primarily from OPB’s The Fillmore Neighborhoods and Japanese-American Internment Lesson. The following lesson plan can be utilized in any social studies classroom studying the Constitution for a lively role-play or those American Studies classrooms investigating what really happened to the Japanese-Americans after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Enjoy!

For a PDF of the whole lesson plan, click here (File size 161 KB).
Japanese Ancestry Internment Order

Overview of the Japanese-American Incarceration Experience: What would it feel like to have family and friends rounded up and ‘deported’ because of their race? In this lesson, students will gain a sense of what the experience may have been like for Japanese-Americans from Portland, Oregon’s Japantown during World War II. This lesson would fit it reasonably well with students who have already studied WWII, the bombing at Pearl Harbor, and constitutional history.

Goal: To analyze the Japanese-American experience of leaving their homes for years of incarceration. To observe and analyze the photographs and newspaper articles that describe this experience. To interpret the incarceration policy as constitutional or not.


  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.8 Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.



  1. Students will be able to analyze photographs and newspaper clippings from the time period in which Japanese-Americans were incarcerated.
  2. Students will be able to write a reflection that explains the experience of these Americans making connections from prior knowledge, experience, images analyzed.
  3. Students will be able to interpret the U.S. Constitution to uphold or reject the incarceration policy; discuss the constitutional issues in conflict during this time (habeas corpus, treason, equality before the law, citizen rights, search and seizure).

Time: Approximately 2 hours

DBQ “The Red Scare” Reflection


Christina Steiner and I have been working on this project for several weeks. We started out with the idea that propaganda is meant to stir feelings in a certain direction, bad or good. Then we decided that we wanted students to recognize the use of propaganda throughout history. Our general question was “What do we want students to learn from the DBQ overall?” The generative question that we formed out of this starting idea was: “How does a nation develop such an intense fear of an enemy, creating mass hysteria?”

We thought that a good starting point to understand such hysteria would be the Red Scare in 1950’s America. We wanted students to learn about the paralyzing fear of communism that existed among Americans at that time. We wanted students to understand what caused such terror to develop. We wanted students to think about what words, images, actions, and depictions might cause fear and what is needed to cause mass hysteria. Student will then be able to understand the driving force of the Red Scare in 1950’s America. The DBQ slowly leads students to think in an investigative manner.

Christina and I chose documents that would help answer the generative question. We found A LOT of interesting documents and images, but we tried to stick to those that would answer that generative question. This kept us focused on the task at hand. We also ended each document or image with follow-up questions, to scaffold student understanding of propaganda. We wanted each document or image to provide a great deal of information that could lead to greater student discovery and interaction with each piece.

The final project can be found here on Learnist and will soon be part of a larger iBook. Through this project, students will come to see and learn how America held such great fear of communism though images, books, comics, films, and posters. We looked specifically at media, examining the creation of enemies based on common perceptions rather than true events or facts.

This DBQ is part of our class-produced, multi-touch iBook. Available free at iTunes

Nikkei Suitcase Lesson Plan – Legalities of the Incarceration

Reading evacuation orders on bulletin board at Maryknoll missionReading evacuation orders on bulletin board at Maryknoll mission

This project was really interesting to work on, because we had to take the images from the suitcase and then build lesson plans around them. We looked at the images to decide what point they were trying to make, and then we took those images and included them in our lesson plans. Making the lessons was a very educational experience, as I thought that it forced us to think more critically about the images – what does it say? How can a teacher use this? What would a elementary/middle/high school student take away from this image?

My lesson, titled Legalities of the Incarceration, is designed to be used with a travelling collection of artifacts from the Nikkei Legacy center. It is also intended to be used in a legal or government class or unit – for example, a unit on Japanese-Americans in World War II that concentrates on the legal question of incarceration, or a unit on the Bill of Rights with an examination of the Japanese-American incarceration as it relates to the Constitution, etc. I deliberately made this lesson extra-long, so that teachers can pick and choose what aspects they want to focus on in their classes. Continue scrolling down to find the lesson:

1. Identifying Information

Teacher: Location:
Class/Topic:   Social Studies/Japanese-American Incarceration Legal Study Time: 50 minutes
Grade Level: Middle School Date:

2. Overview:

This lesson is meant to be used as an overview of the legal aspects of the Japanese-American incarceration in concentration camps during World War II. The lesson can be used to introduce the history of the Japanese-American incarceration, or as a lesson meant to challenge students to think critically about the legal aspects of the incarceration. In this lesson, the students will be asked to think about the various legalities of interning people based on race and ethnicity, particularly how it relates to the incarceration of Japanese-Americans. This lesson is meant to complement a unit on either the Constitution/Bill Rights or World War II.

Note: Teachers, please use your discretion on what material you wish to cover. If your classroom is studying World War II, please feel free to just cover the vocabulary from WWII – make the lesson fit your needs!

3a. Goal:

Unit Goals:

  • TSW: develop an understanding of the Japanese-American incarceration.
  • TSW: be familiar with various legal terms (internment, incarceration, detain, lawsuit, civil rights, etc).
  • TSW: be familiar with the social, legal, and ethical arguments surrounding the Japanese-American incarceration.

Lesson Goals:

  • TSW: be familiar with the causes and effects of the Japanese incarceration.
  • TSW: be able to give definitions for the legal terms used in this unit.
  • TSW: describe the importance of the Japanese-American incarceration in its historical context.
  • TSW: describe the similarities and differences of the Japanese-American concentration camps to the concentration camps used by Nazi Germany.

More: Incarceration Lesson Download PDF version of the complete lesson (81kb)

Image credit: Library of Congress  LC-USF3301-013292-M2
Title: Los Angeles, California. Japanese-American evacuation from West Coast areas under U.S. Army war emergency order. Reading evacuation orders on bulletin board at Maryknoll mission
Creator(s): Lee, Russell, 1903-1986, photographer
Date Created/Published: 1942 Apr.

Irish Revolutionary Period DBQ Reflection


Irish Volunteers with the flag of the Irish Republic, Easter 1916. Courtesy of the BBC.

When I set out to begin my DBQ assignment, the scope was wide and the learning rather shallow. I realized fairly early on that I was looking at a yearlong unit rather than an isolated DBQ assignment, and set out to narrow my focus. I settled on the Irish Revolution, often called the Anglo-Irish War, as the subject of my DBQ. The revolution encompassed many of the points I had hoped to make in the larger unit on revolution, so it seemed like a good platform from which to teach. I had wanted to teach students about the relatively transient elements to many revolutions, that they are progressions rather than moments, summations rather than beginnings. The primary skill taught within the lesson would be the reading of primary documents as a means of historical inquiry. Once I narrowed the focus of my DBQ, I found it much easier to teach said skill. Rather than picking and choosing from a vast array of primary documents that, in some way or another, represented a 20th century revolution, the selection of ten images, documents, and artistic renderings of the Irish Revolution allowed for a deeper understanding of revolutionary sentiment at the outset of the 1900’s.

The final project, entitled “The Irish Revolutionary Period,” traces the development of the Irish Revolution from Easter 1916 to the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in 1921 through images and documents. I tried as best I could to limit the contextual history and allow the documents to speak for themselves, though it could be difficult at times. The topic is one I’m very familiar with, so it took a bit of effort to exclude my editorial inclinations. I feel the project is fairly well-rounded, though I would like a chance to supplement the DBQ with some background lessons. I learned that the process of putting together a DBQ can be especially difficult as a teacher, because it requires one to step back and allow the students to connect the dots, rather than doing the work for them. All in all, I’m happy with the product, and its one I’m bound to use in future lessons, wherever I end up teaching.

This DBQ is part of our class-produced, multi-touch iBook. Available free at iTunes