A Japanese American Family's Experience During World War II: A Living DBQ

Guiding Question:

How did Japanese Americans make sacrifices to help the United States win World War II?


Students will be given a series of document packets concerning the Akimoto family during World War II. Each of the four groups of documents deals with a different time period in the lives of the Akimotos. Once the students have reviewed the documents, they will act out specific scenes for the rest of the class. While students are acting out the scenes, the rest of the class will be completing a visual graphic organizer.


Historical Context

Most middle school students have a vague understanding of Japanese internment in the United States during World War II. However, the events leading up to Japanese internment, prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the role of Japanese-American soldiers in World War II help to expand students’ knowledge of U.S. history and issues related to World War II including training camps, shipping out overseas, loss of life, and prisoner of war camps. Private First Class John Akimoto and Private Victor Akimoto are one of 26 sets of brothers buried in a special section at Lorraine American Cemetery. These Japanese-American brothers and their families back home in the states directly felt the implications of internment.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Explain anti-Asian and anti-Japanese sentiment before Pearl Harbor;
  • Discuss the internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans;
  • Examine issues related to the military service of 33,000 Japanese Americans; and
  • Reflect on how these topics affected an individual family.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
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.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.
D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why
they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.


Lesson Preparation

  • Teachers are encouraged to read the book, When the Akimotos Went to War. A free copy of the book can be downloaded here.
  • Print one copy of each of the source packets (consider laminating for future use):
    • Group One: Anti-Asian Sentiment and Akimoto Family
    • Group Two: Japanese-American Internment
    • Group Three: Military Life and Death
    • Group Four: Life of a Prisoner of War (POW)
  • Have students create a Graphic Organizer of Events (a large sheet of white paper folded into four quadrants marked as Section One, Section Two, Section Three, and Section Four) to track the story.


Activity One: Sponge Activity (15 minutes)

  • Teacher Tip: Depending on the level of knowledge of the students, the teacher may want to play one or both of the video clips by Aleksi Solorio or the New York Times to introduce the topic of Japanese-American soldiers of World War II.
  • Ask students to respond to the following question in a student journal or notebook:
    • After Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 in January 1942. The order forced 110,000 Japanese Americans, many of them citizens of the United States, to leave their homes in California, Oregon, and Washington State and move into internment camps surrounded by barbed wire and guarded with machine guns. If you were an eligible Japanese-American male, living in an internment camp during World War II, would you enlist in the United States Army? Why or why not?

Activity Two: Document Analysis and Presentation (60 minutes)

  • Explain to the students that they will be assigned to one of four groups. Teachers may want to have a balance of male and female students in each group. Each group will be given a series of primary and secondary sources to examine.
  • Ask students to read through the documents and work as a team to interpret and discuss the various items.
  • Ask students to prepare a creative skit or dramatic reenactment of their evidence. Each piece of information as well as each student should be used in the group presentation. Each presentation should last two to three minutes.
  • Circulate the room and help the students interpret the evidence, provide support for historical questions, and advice or ideas for acting out the skit.
  • Distribute a piece of paper to create the Graphic Organizer of Events to each student. Ask each student to construct their organizer (fold to create four equal quadrants, label as sections one through four) and start by making a quick sketch/description of their part of the story.
    • Teacher Tip: Remind the students that they are reenacting events that directly affected the real lives of specific individuals and families. Their behavior and attitude should be respectful.
  • Ask each group to present their skit or dramatic reenactment to the class. Provide time after each skit for the students to draw and write.
    • Teacher Note: It is very important to recap the scene and clear up any confusion, misconceptions, or questions for the entire group.

Activity Three: Reflection (15 minutes)

  • Watch this eulogy for Johnny Akimoto or Victor Akimoto presented at the Lorraine American Cemetery.
  • Watch this video about the Akimoto story filmed on location at the Lorraine American Cemetery.
  • Engage students in discussion as to what they have learned and what questions still remain.

Assessment Materials

  • After the presentations, have the students respond to the following questions in their reflection journals or notebooks:
    • Considering what you now know about Victor and Johnny Akimoto, if you were an eligible Japanese-American male, living in an internment camp during World War II, would you enlist in the United States Army? Why or why not?
    • Given these circumstances, are there other perspectives on the issue of enlistment for Japanese Americans during World War II? Discuss one or more perspectives.
    • Cite evidence from the performances to support your response.
  • Teacher can assess student responses using the Writing Assessment Rubric.

Methods for Extension

  • Download and read the book, When the Akimotos Went to War.
  • More advanced students may want to investigate the resources provided in the bibliography of the book to gain more insight into this time period and these events.
  • The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains U.S. military cemeteries overseas. These cemeteries are permanent memorials to the fallen, but it is important that students know the stories of those who rest here. To learn more about the stories of some of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, visit the Understanding Sacrifice Interactive Map.


  • A support teacher could read aloud the captions and content of the letters when necessary.
  • Teachers can orally record a written document so students can play back and repeat as needed.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Other Sources