A Blitz Through the Ardennes: Using the Battle of the Bulge to Practice Reading and Analytical Skills

Guiding Question:

What decisions and sacrifices did the Battle of the Bulge demand of the soldiers and leaders involved?


This lesson addresses the Battle of the Bulge, one of the largest battles in American history and one of the pivotal battles of World War II. It challenges students to interpret the battle by using a set of primary and secondary sources. Working in groups, students will analyze sources using historical thinking and writing skills.


Historical Context

The Battle of the Bulge: After D-Day, Allied forces recaptured most of France within a matter of months. But in December 1944, Germany launched a counteroffensive that briefly set the Allies back. German forces pushed back part of the Allied line — the “bulge” in the front line that gave the battle its name. After weeks of hard fighting in bitterly cold weather, the German army was pushed back into Germany in January 1945. More than 800,000 Allied soldiers fought in the battle, the great majority of them American. The Americans suffered over 90,000 casualties in what became one of the largest battles in which American forces have ever fought.

Many airmen, like Staff Sergeant Charles H. Crossley, were recovered and brought to Ardennes, Belgium, for proper identification after the war. Crossley is buried today at Ardennes American Cemetery, along with more than 5,000 of his comrades in arms.


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

  • Analyze primary and secondary sources to determine how and why the Battle of the Bulge unfolded;
  • Analyze the important decisions that helped to shape the battle;
  • Evaluate the cost of war and sacrifice on the part of its participants by studying the Crossley telegrams and letters; and
  • Compare newsreel footage from January 1945 to primary and secondary accounts of the battle.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
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.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
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 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Connections to C3 Framework
D1.5.9-12 Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of view represented in the sources, the types of sources available, and the potential uses of the sources.
D2.His.6.9-12 Analyze the ways in which the perspectives of those writing history shaped the history that they produced.
D2.His.8.9-12 Analyze how current interpretations of the past are limited by the extent to which available historical sources represent perspectives of the people at the time.
D2.His.9.9-12 Analyze the relationship between historical sources and the secondary interpretations made from them.
D2.His.12.9-12 Use questions generated about multiple historical sources to pursue further inquiry and investigate additional sources.
D2.His.14.9-12 Analyze multiple and complex causes and effects of events in the past.

Lesson Preparation

  • Make one copy of the Battle of the Bulge Reporter’s Notebook and Ardennes News Article Rubric for each student.
  • Have newsreel cued to play for students.
  • Create groups of four or five students each.
  • Compile (either printed or online) the documents listed in the materials section. If printing copies, print one copy for each group.
  • Cue the World War II Interactive Timeline in front of the class. To access the map, click on “1944” on the timeline at the bottom, and then click on the “Ardennes-Alsace Campaign.”


Battle of the Bulge Reporting (90 minutes)

  • Show newsreel clip to class. Explain that this is a contemporary depiction of today’s topic, the Battle of the Bulge. Have students think-pair-share their observations from watching the newsreel.
  • Distribute Battle of the Bulge Reporter’s Notebook to students, and divide them into groups of four or five.
  • Distribute source documents in paper or electronic form.
  • Explain to students that from December 1944 to January 1945, fighting raged in the Ardennes Forest. It is now February 1945. Now that the battle has subsided, it will be their job as reporters to make sense of what has happened and communicate it to the public.
    • They will use a series of sources concerning the battle to make sense of it.
    • For each source, they will answer questions that require them to apply historical thinking skills.
    • They must also complete a series of decision points, at which they reflect on the events or experiences outlined in the sources.
    • Teacher Tip: The exact procedure for what the students are looking for and answering about each document is spelled out in detail on the Battle of the Bulge Reporter’s Notebook. Please consult that for specific instructions regarding each source.
  • Teachers can assign students to divide the sources among group members and to answer the questions that go with each source. As they complete the questions, they should share the answers with their group members.
  • Require students to complete Decision Points individually as they complete each source. These critical thinking questions help them identify individually with the battle.
  • Instruct students who have completed their Reporter’s Notebook to begin writing their news report.

Assessment Materials

  • Students will act as news reporters and write as if they were war correspondents in the Battle of the Bulge. The story must reference the sources they studied in the assignment. For example: They could interview Gene Grayson, ask the generals what happened, make reference to places on the maps, or describe the battle based on images in the newsreel or on the photographs of Bastogne.
  • Assignments can be assessed using the Ardennes News Article Rubric.

Methods for Extension

  • Students can create their own newsreels of the battle using a program like MovieMaker or iMovie.
  • Students can focus on one of the major personalities in the battle and further research their role in the events (General Omar Bradley, General George Patton, General Gerd von Rundstedt, and Adolf Hitler are examples.)
  • Students can choose another battle and compile similar sources (secondary, primary, written, video, photographs, etc.).
  • Students can read a source about air power and its role in the Battle of the Bulge.
  • Teachers can turn this into a fuller-length writing assignment (more of an essay than a news story) and instruct students to use longer answers/summaries from their Graphic Organizer as the basis for their arguments. It can be a more personal reflection on the battle (thus including the Decision Points) or it can be more of an overview of the battle that forces them to use a series of the documents.
  • 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.


  • Teachers can show students a sample news report from the front lines during the war, or from any news source today, to help them understand how one is structured.
  • Teachers can identify difficult words in advance and make a glossary for the day (some military terminology may not be familiar to the students).
  • Teachers can eliminate some of the sources to allow more time. The lesson is designed so that swapping in/out sources will not affect the overall goals of understanding the battle and drilling historical skills.
  • Teachers can create mixed-ability groups in advance.
  • Teachers can use a document camera to capture good examples and share them with the class. For instance, if a student completes a thoughtful “Decision Point” it may help others who are struggling with that critical thinking piece. If no document camera is available, then teachers can read good answers aloud.
  • Teachers can orally record a written document so students can play back and repeat as needed.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Other Sources