Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

World War II and the Atomic Bomb
Nancy LaRiviere
US History
Time Frame:
Five 50 minute class periods
Atomic Bomb
World War II

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

Students will be able to analyze one or more primary sources in order to take and defend a position on the World War Two atomic bombing in Japan.


Essential Questions: 

Does the end justify the means? 

Who made the decision to drop the atomic bomb? 

Why did the US decide to drop it? 

Why did they choose Japan to bomb? 

How did it change international relations with Japan after the bombing?

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  1. Sorting through historical detail to determine core understanding
  2. Studying ways that the events and trends of history have impacted individual lives
  3. Analyzing the impact that current values and beliefs have on interpreting the past and attempting to look past them
  4. Examining the complexity of causation and how it relates to the themes of continuity and change throughout the past.
  5. Look for application of the “law of unintended consequences”
    1. Analyzing the significance of historical trends, changes, and controversies over time.
    2. How historical change impacted the nation and the individual
    3. Examine and analyze the key controversies that shaped the nation

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Lesson materials and protocol:  bright colored 4 x 6 index cards, journals, Cause/Effect chart, graphic organizer (I See I Think), pre-teach vocabulary (uranium, plutonium, atom, nuclear waste, fission, reaction, nuclei,) and Justify, means, morals, nuclear, cause, effects, ethics)

student-generated list of questions to research

primary source analysis worksheet

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

history of atomic power Harry Truman – Manhattan Project (mini-lesson on the history of atomic power along with Cause & Effect graphic organizer

www.AtomicBombMuseum.org/1_overview.shtml - background reading on atomic bomb

see attached primary sources 12/16/1945 letter to Truman; 3/25/1945

letter from Einstein; 12/12/1946 Truman letter;

and, 8/9/1945 Truman letter to R. Russell


Collections of documents for this lesson can be found here

Full description of activity or assignment.

Day One:  Pre-teach vocabulary and background information on atomic power

(use attached articles and diagram)


Day Two:  Review vocabulary, share completed cause/effect charts, watch YouTube video clips (How Nuclear Energy Works – 4:37 mins.

The Manhattan Project – 10:58 mins.

Hiroshima Atom Bomb – 9:30 mins.

Hiroshima/Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Blast – 8:17 mins.)

Generate student questions (pair-share work) based on the video clips watched and the articles read

Class discussion after video clips and after pair-share activity


Day Three:  Read and analyze Truman’s letters/primary sources using the written document analysis worksheet (attached); connect to student questions, student notes, and articles already presented and read


Day Four:  Student work time to formulate their claim, research for evidence, and write a rough draft of speech defending a position – speech will include:  citing evidence to back up position, include full citing of the source (example:  On September 10, 1944, President Truman said in his speech to congress that….)


Day Five:  Teacher will prepare by creating a simple rubric for students to use while listening to their classmates’ speeches (example:  content, delivery, and evidence)

Students will present their speeches

Time to Celebrate work completed!

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:


Use the rubric posted here as a guide.  Each section can be worth from 1 – 5 points or any other value.  What’s important is if the student met or exceeded standard for each section.  For this lesson, the last section (“Final Product”) can be dropped off or changed to reflect the student’s “Final Presentation”.  One idea would be to add it as final assessment if you want the class to turn their analysis into an essay using their index notecards after making their presentation.  I remind and review the rubric before students start writing so they have a guide and so the students will know how to meet standard.


Area of assessment 

Above Standard

      At Standard

Approaching Standard



W.1.a and 1.b

Claim is logically introduced with a transition from the hook in the introduction 

States a strong claim that can be argued by both sides and demonstrates understanding of topic

States a weak claim that is an opinion or fact

 Organization CCCSS ELA

W.1a and 1c

Paragraphs flow in a logical order with one main idea in each of three body paragraphs.  

Clear introduction, body paragraphs, and concluding statement


Only one or two paragraphs




Includes a concluding paragraph  that echoes the introduction


Includes a concluding section

no concluding section

Evidence CCCSS ELA


RI 1

More than three pieces of relevant evidence from the texts with at least three different kinds of evidence


Three pieces of relevant evidence from the texts with at least two different kinds of evidence


Less than three pieces of evidence

Less than two kinds of evidence




Analysis of evidence or reasons that demonstrates understanding of ideas of equity, equality, and fairness and that consistently supports the claim

Analysis of evidence or reasons that demonstrates understanding of ideas of equity, equality, and fairness

Analysis does not relate to the  ideas of equity, equality, and fairness





Varied sentence structure with consistent use of correct punctuation.

Mainly correct sentence structure with an occasional fragment or run-on.

Many sentences not punctuated well



Legibility and conventions do not prevent understanding 


Final piece is publishable and free of errors

Legibility and conventions do not prevent understanding

Legibility or conventions need to be revised


What I learned from writing this included: _____________________________________________________________________________________


What was hardest for me in writing this was: _____________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________