Words from War – A Primary Source Mini-Lesson


Arthurs Letters


The following two letters were written by soldiers deployed to war over twenty years apart. Letter A was composed in Belgium, Letter B in France.

Read the letters and determine which was written first. Then explain your answers using evidence from the text and your own knowledge of history.

Source text

Letter A:

I hardly know how to begin after such a long time and I really have been sweating it out. But speaking of sweating things out, in the past two weeks there was a few mornings that really called for a good deal of sweating out. It used to be fairly peaceful to lay in our foxholes but these particular mornings there was aplenty of big stuff falling nearby. I never was too scared of the stuff until then. We happened to be about eight miles inside of the Reich and the artillery was coming from all directions. Every Time a shell started to whistle in, I was beginning another prayer. As one of the ‘doughfeet’ put it. “I may not get the Purple Heart for being wounded but if they give them out for being scared as hell I certainly rate one.” and that’s no kidding’…

Carl Schluter

Source text

Letter B:

My Dear Mother,
Yrs. of Dec 27th & several enclosures to hand 3 days ago. I am glad you sent me poor Mowbrays card, I always think his death particularly sad, as he was on a pleasure round of the trenches & need never have gone at all. I suppose you will not go to Foxcote.

Here mild for time of year & cloudy, some rain & everlasting wind. I sincerely hope it will not freeze, so hard on the poor men in trenches standing in mud & water up to their waists, it would mean so many frozen feet; there was a lot of it first winter we were out.

I was moved again new years… We have little cubicles in a hut, made by hanging blankets on wires & at least we are on the surface tho’ in a sea of mud! This place is only 4 kil. from where I was. Cellar before used to get damp & water leaked through & down steps after heavy rain. We are6961369580_dea219e20f_k all off again very soon I hear, expected to be here 6 weeks. Shan’t regret it, but very glad to have seen it & the utter desolation of everything about the front.

My new years eve night & new years morning I spent in a dugout lying on a stretcher on floor with a wounded man on one over me, rats playing about all over, shells bursting all round & shaking the place, so it was not much to boast of; sort of shelling out the old year & in the new. Next morning 2 burst close to entrance & threw mud & stuff into the dugout just where we were sitting round the fire or stove rather. Following morning at about same hour one burst & knocked in all the entrance & one of our fellows was hit on head by debris, but none the worse much! It only left a little hole for them to get out through. Another morning a shell burst just across the road, hit car in several places & blew Dr., volunteer & 2 or 3 others standing at entrance right into the dugout down the steps. No harm beyond a shock….

Best love
Yr affect son

 Questions to answer:

Letter ____ was likely written first because

Letter ____ was likely written later because

Questions for further discussion:

Were there similar elements or details shared in each letter that made deciphering which came first particularly difficult?

What details would you have expected to find in a letter sent from the front lines of WWI vs. the front lines of WWII? Did you find any of these details in either letter?

Did the author’s use of language help you come to any conclusions about the time period or circumstance the letters were written in?

Letter B is addressed to presumably the author’s mother, but Letter A is not addressed to anyone. How might the authors intended recipient of the correspondence affect the details found within?

Reflection: Primary sources, what a treasure trove of possibility for the social studies classroom. Creating this lesson has further ignited my own desire to purposefully and prominentely utilize primary sources in my classroom in order to link students to the past in a very tangible way. Our exploration into the wonderful  resource of Beyond the Bubble has help re-illustrate for me that primary source work does not have to be dry or arduous for students, it can be exciting and meaningful with a little purpose behind itl. This mini-lesson was my entry into the shallow end of the process of shaping lessons around primary source documents. I hope it is my first such lesson of many.


Letter A
PBS Letters from the Front

Letter B
Battles of WWI & Arthur’s Letters

Photo Credits:
Image 1 – Arthur’s Letters
Image 2- Flickr Commons

Type of Assessment: Contextualization

Lesson Audience: 9th grade 20th Century Social Studies Class

Bringing Primary Sources to the Classroom: Nikkei Center Suitcase Lesson

           ImageFor the EdMethods class a few peers and I have created a set of lessons for the Nikkei Legacy Center (a museum located in Portland, OR) to pair with the museum’s suitcases. Educators can check out the suitcases, which contain numerous primary sources about Japanese Americans in Portland and their time spent in incarceration camps. The lessons we created range from elementary, middle to high school level.

Creating lessons is always a bit of a challenge but it is even more of a challenge when making them for someone else. The suitcase project has been a great way to practice my lesson making skills by making sure the lessons are thorough in explanations, complete in resources but still flexible so teachers can adapt them to their classrooms.

My lesson is for a middle school social studies classroom. The lesson (that can be broken up into two days) focuses on the incarceration of Japanese Americans from a cultural perspective. The lesson will show students the daily life of internees. The lesson uses readings, videos, and primary source documents with individual and group activities. The lesson would be best used in a class that has already covered World War II.

Here is the procedure of the lesson. For a PDF of the whole lesson click here Suitcase Lesson. (138KB pdf)

Overview: Today’s lesson will focus on the incarceration of Japanese Americans from a cultural perspective. This lesson would fit in after learning about WWII.

Goals: To understand the experience of Japanese Americans being incarcerated during the WWII.

Objective(s): Students will be able to identify the key aspects of life for Japanese Americans in incarceration camps during WWII.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

Resources: suitcase, pencil/pen, paper, projector, internet access, printed documents included in lesson plan


  • Ask students if they know the following terms: interned, incarceration, Japanese-American, Nisei and Issei. If not, go over as a class making the definition together using previous knowledge.
  • Read them Scenario A. Have them write a short paragraph on how they would feel, what would they do. Then share with a partner. Have a few students share with the class aloud. [Attached to lesson plan. Called “SCENARIO A”]
  • Have students read brief background on why the Japanese Americans were incarcerated. Either read aloud, popcorn style or at teacher discretion. [Attached to lesson plan. Called “HISTORICAL CONTEXT”]. Answer follow up questions.
  • Have students watch a short interview with George Takei about leaving behind his life to go to an incarceration camp. Answer follow up questions [Attached to lesson plan. Called “Video Questions.”]
  • Have students read about life in the incarceration camps. Split up students into different groups based on the sections. Then have them create a poster depicting their section. Share with class. Have class answer as a whole the follow up questions. [Attached to lesson plan. Called Behind the Fence: Life in the Incareration Camp]
  • Show pictures of incarceration camps. Have students draw connections between what they read and what they see in the pictures. Have class discussion. [Pictures in suitcase. Choose from the following images: G3, G2, I6, I5, D2, I3, I4, H2, F2, G1]
  • For the remainder of class and homework, have students write a letter home to a friend pretending to be an incarcerated Japanese American. Have them use material that they learned about from the day. Have them express their feelings of being interned, and have them tell their friend if they still feel like an American after this experience.

Formative Assessment: Students will answer follow up questions to readings, and the class will go over them as a whole.

Summative Assessment: Students will write a letter pretending to be an incarcerated Japanese American.

Photo Credit: A Japanese Child in an incarceration Camp from http://all-that-is-interesting.com/japanese-internment-camp