Making a Difference: Service & Sacrifice at the Battle of Midway

Guiding Question:

How did Americans confront difficulty, danger, and loss of life as part of victory at the Battle of Midway?


Using materials from the American Battle Monuments Commission and primary and secondary source documents, students will determine how U.S. forces discovered Japanese intentions before the Battle of Midway, identify the risks taken by those who fought in the battle, and assess how the U.S. victory gave the Americans an advantage in the Pacific Theater. Throughout the lesson, students will consider the impact of these events on Ensign George A. Hopper, Jr., a naval aviator who fought in the battle.


Historical Context

The Battle of Midway is often described as the turning point of World War II in the Pacific. Here, American forces dealt a decisive blow to the Japanese Navy, sinking four of its aircraft carriers, downing over 200 aircraft, and inflicting more than 3,000 casualties. These Japanese losses could not easily be replaced, and allowed the U.S. to take the offensive in the Pacific. Knowing the story of how U.S. forces used radio intelligence, air power, and individual daring to achieve victory in this battle is crucial to understanding later events in the Pacific Theatre.


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

  • Describe the role of radio intelligence in helping American planners prepare for the Battle of Midway;
  • Describe the perils faced by servicemen fighting at Midway;
  • Analyze the losses suffered by American and Japanese forces at the Battle of Midway; and
  • Assess the consequences of the battle for Japanese forces, U.S. forces, and servicemen like Ensign George A. Hopper, Jr.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
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.6-8.5 Describe how a text presents information (e.g., sequentially, comparatively, causally);
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;

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts;
D2.His.14.6-8. Explain multiple causes and effects of events and developments in the past;

Lesson Preparation


Activity One: Setting the Stage (15 minutes)

  • Project World War II: A Visual History Interactive Timeline. Click “enter,” then click “1942” on the bottom of the page. Then click “Central Pacific Campaign” on the left side of the screen.
  • Read the first page of text aloud.
    • Teacher Tip: Do not go beyond the first page of the written portion because it will give away information that students should discover later in the lesson.
    • Ask students:
      • Since Pearl Harbor, who seemed to be having more success in the Pacific Theater, the Japanese or the Americans?
      • What did you read in the interactive that led you to your conclusion?
      • Based on what you read, what was the goal of the Japanese military in 1942?
  • Inform students that today they will be learning about the Battle of Midway. As they learn about the battle, they will think about how some of the most important aspects of the battle affected one of the men who fought there, Ensign George A. Hopper, Jr.
  • Project the picture of Ensign Hopper and read the Excerpt: Ensign George A. Hopper, Jr. Fallen Hero Profile aloud.
    • Ask students, Why do you think Ensign Hopper joined the U.S. Navy? What risks were Ensign Hopper taking by becoming a Navy fighter pilot during World War II?

Activity Two: Document Analysis (60 minutes)

  • Move students into groups of two or three students each.
  • Distribute materials to each group:
  • Assign students to complete the Battle of Midway: Graphic Organizer by using the documents located in the Documents Packet.
    • Describe the documents in Document Group A in the first row of the Battle of Midway: Graphic Organizer.
    • Divide the questions from the second row of the Battle of Midway: Graphic Organizer among group members and answer them independently. Take turns discussing and explaining answers with partner(s). All group members should record an answer for each question before moving on to the next row.
    • Discuss the impact of what they just learned on Ensign Hopper and the other servicemen who were involved in the battle by collaborating to answer the question in the third row.
    • Repeat the process described above until all three Document Groups have been analyzed.

Activity Three: Drawing Conclusions (15 minutes)

  • Complete the following tasks as a class:
    • Discuss the meaning of the sacrifice made by Ensign Hopper and the other servicemen killed at Midway by relating their deaths to the aftermath of the battle.
    • Ask students:
      • Think about all of the Americans whose contributions to the Battle of Midway we learned about in these documents: the codebreakers who intercepted Japanese radio communications, the pilots who flew combat missions, and the sailors on the ships at sea. How did their actions help the U.S. win the battle?
      • In his message to the U.S. troops involved in the battle, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz said, “If you follow up your success vigorously [the Japanese] will be so crushed that [their] defeat will be inevitable.” Although the U.S. had won the battle, the map in Document Group A shows that Japan still controlled many parts of the Pacific. Brainstorm what the U.S. military would need to do to build on their victory at Midway, defeat the Japanese, and end the war.
    • Record student responses on the board.

Assessment Materials

Methods for Extension


  • Teachers can group students in several ways. One option is to have similar ability partners or groups work their way through all of the documents. Another option is to create three larger heterogeneous groups that will deal with one document each, each group reporting back on their document to the other groups. Students can also switch partners or groups after each document analysis is complete by using an “appointment clock” to facilitate multiple partner pairs or groups.
  • For learners who may struggle with written communication, the final assessment may be adapted to creating comic strips or other artistic works that allow students to storyboard what they have learned.
  • Teachers can adapt the lesson to older or more advanced learners by making the final assessment into a multiple paragraph letter.


Return to Activity

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Other Sources