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Lesson Plan: A Long Way From Home

A Hands-on Geography Lesson about World War II




TIME FRAME: 2-4 class periods


Computer with Internet access, printer, card stock, scissors, thumb tacks, hammer, nails, saw, lumber (1 six-foot 2x2, 1 six-foot 1x2)


In this lesson students will:

• Learn the geography of WWII through a hands-on exploration

• Analyze a WWII-era photograph

• Research significant WWII events

• Determine key facts about WWII events

• Write descriptions about geographical locations during WWII

• Use a computer application to determine distances

• Create a 3-dimentional reproduction of a WWII artifact

• Discuss the importance of morale for servicemen and women during WWII

• See their work presented on The National WWII Museum's web site!





A World-Wide War

World War II was truly a global conflict.  Nearly every country in the world was affected.  More than 100 million soldiers fought on three continents and on all of the world’s oceans.  At least 70 million people—mostly civilians—died, making WWII the deadliest war in history.
Young men and women from the United States were sent all over the world during WWII.  Many fought in places that they had heard of, but had never seen: The Philippines, France, Germany, Italy.  Many fought in places that they had never heard of before the war: Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Kasserine.

Far From Home

With so many soldiers serving so far from home, Americans had to learn the geography of the world if they wanted to know where the fighting was going on.  People taped up world maps on their living room walls and used them to follow the course of the war as they listened to wartime radio reports or read newspaper stories.  For the soldiers in far off places—many away from home for the first time in their lives—any reminder of home was a comfort.  In 1942, while building the Alaska Highway through the vast Yukon Territory, a homesick soldier, Carl K. Lindley, erected a sign pointing the way to his hometown of Danville, IL.  On the sign, he included the distance—2,226 miles!  Other soldiers served even farther away.  On Leyte Island in the Philippines, soldiers were as much as 10,000 miles away from home.  Direction signs like these were a common sight wherever U.S. soldiers served during WWII.  These signs served as small reminders of home—reminders of what we were fighting for.

Where in the World was WWII?

Now is your chance to learn the geography of WWII.  As a class you will create your own direction sign pointing the way to and describing important WWII locations.  You will be researching, writing, using the computer, and maybe even hammering some nails!




*Feel free to adapt these instructions to best fit your students’ level and your classroom resources.

STEP 1: Researching a WWII Location
Alone or in pairs, assign students to select one WWII location from the list below.  Students then conduct research on that location using available classroom, library, and/or Internet resources.  Students should take notes as they conduct their research.  You and your students can add other WWII locations if you wish.

Alamogordo, NM Kiska, AK Peking (Beijing)
Amsterdam Leningrad Port Chicago, CA 
Anzio London Rome
Auschwitz Madrid Saipan 
Bastogne Manzanar Singapore
Moscow St. Mere Eglise
Berlin Nagasaki Stalingrad
Brisbane Normandy Tokyo
El Alamein Oak Ridge, TN Torgau
Guadalcanal  Okinawa Tuskegee, AL
Hiroshima Oran Vichy
Iwo Jima  Paris Washington, DC
Kasserine Pass Pearl Harbor, HI Yalta

STEP 2: Writing a Description of the WWII Location
Students write a short description of their WWII location and what happened there during the war.  This description should be no more than 50 words.  As students will be limited in their descriptions, they will have to choose carefully the facts and words they include.

STEP 3: Determining Distance
Students determine the distance between their city or town and their WWII location.  This can be done by using the Daft Logic Google Maps Distance Calculator site and following the simple directions below.  Decide ahead of time if you want students to determine distances in miles or kilometers.

You can use the Google Maps Distance Calculator to find out the distance between two or more points anywhere on the earth.  In other words, the distance between A and B. Click once on the map to place the first marker and then click again to position the second marker.  The distance between the points will then be displayed.

How To Use

1. Zoom and drag the map to find the location of marker 1
2. Click to place marker 1.
3. Zoom and drag the map to find the location of marker 2.
4. Click to place marker 2.
5. The distance will be displayed below the map in miles or kilometers. You can change between miles or kilometers at any time.
6. You can also drag and drop markers after they have been put on the map

STEP 4: Creating Direction Arrows
Once students have composed their WWII location descriptions and determined the distances to those locations, they will create their sign post arrows. 


  1. On the computer, open a blank text document
  2. Turn the Page Orientation to Landscape
  3. Insert an arrow shape (see below) and make it stretch across the page
  4. Insert a text box inside the arrow and type in your location and the miles
  5. Insert another text box below the first and type in your location's description.
  6. You can add color to your text, if you wish
  7. Print your arrow out on a sheet of card stock and cut it out

IMPORTANT: For locations in the Pacific, Asia, and points west, be sure to use a left-pointing arrow.  For locations in Europe, North Africa, and points east, be sure to use a right-pointing arrow.


Don't have enough computers in your classroom?  PRINT OUT and copy arrow templates on card stock and let your studnets write out their direction arrows.

Sample direction arrow:




STEP 5: Building the Sign Post
You will need the following supplies:

• One 2x2 board, 4 to 6 feet-long
• One 1x2 board, cut into 4 equal-sized pieces
• A saw
• 4-8 three-inch nails
• Hammer
• Thumb Tacks

Consult the diagrams below to construct your sign post.  Please be sure to provide appropriate adult supervision if students participate in the construction.  Feel free to use a different building method, if you wish.


Next have your students afix their arrows to the sign post with thumb tacks.  You can add a title sign with your school's name on top. 



 Here is how our's looks. 
We left off the historical descriptions.

 A more detailed look.

Once you've built your sign post, you can use it for each of your classes if you wish.  Just remove one class's arrows and add the next.  Don't forget to take a picture of each class's sign post before you dismantle it. 


(If you don’t have the supplies to build a sign post, you can simply create a paper sign post for your bulletin board and affix the arrows to it.)

STEP 6: Hold a Class Discussion
Have students describe to the class their WWII locations.  Have them point them out on a world map or globe.

Hold a discussion with your students about what they have learned:

Were you surprised at the distances to you WWII location?  Why or Why not?

Why do you think soldiers during WWII put up these kinds of signs all over the world?

What other ways do you think soldiers kept up their morale?

If you were in charge of morale, what would you do for the soldiers?

Have you ever felt homesick?  What did you do to make yourself feel better?

What did you learn from this lesson?

STEP 7: Share Your WWII Sign Post with the World
Email photos of your sign posts to The National WWII Museum, and we will display them on our web site.  You can see other schools' sign posts HERE


Email photos to  Please include teacher name, school name, city and state, the grade, and subject of your class.

Did you like this lesson?  Do you have suggestions for improving it? 
Email us HERE with your comments.

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