Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Mistaken for the Enemy

The Internment of Japanese Americans During World War II

Daniel Schwarz | Published: July 12th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 11th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 100 minutes
  • Duration More 2 Periods


This lesson addresses the circumstances that led up to the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. It asks students to consider the impact that internment had on the lives of those who were detained. Students will have opportunities to look at photos from internment camps and read the testimony from individuals who were imprisoned in those camps. They will also learn about important documents and court cases relating to the subject of Japanese-American internment, such as Executive Order 9066, Korematsu v. United States, and Ex parte Endo.

Essential Question(s)

Why were Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II? How did internment alter their lives?



Students read, analyze, and discuss a poem that a high school student wrote while she was detained at a relocation center during WWII.


Students use the Painting a Picture strategy to make observations and inferences about six photos that depict the hardships Japanese Americans endured before and during internment.


Students watch a video and read an article, both of which detail the circumstances surrounding the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. During this activity, they fill out Paired Texts H-Charts in order to understand how Japanese Americans dealt with the conditions that were forced upon them.


Students analyze a series of quotes from Japanese Americans who were imprisoned during WWII and explain their feelings about those quotes using the S-I-T strategy.


Students write a Two-Minute Paper answering the lesson’s essential questions. An optional activity provides them an opportunity to reconsider their feelings about the poem they read at the start of the lesson.


  • "The Upward Trail" (attached, one copy per student)

  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Painting a Picture Document Packets (attached, one copy per group)

  • Painting a Picture Chart Handouts (attached, one copy per student)

  • Painting a Picture Chart (Teacher’s Notes) (attached)

  • Paired Texts H-Chart Handout (attached, one copy per student)

  • Mistaken for the Enemy - Article (attached, one copy per student)

  • S-I-T (Surprising, Interesting, Troubling) Handout (attached, one copy per student)

  • Paper and pencils/pens

  • Computers with internet access


15 Minute(s)

Begin by having students split into groups of four to read "The Upward Trail." Use the attached Lesson Slides to guide the lesson.

Display slide 3, which includes the following questions to guide their discussions:

  • What are your impressions of the place the author is describing?

  • What do you think the author was feeling as she wrote the poem?

  • What would you guess was the age of the author?

  • Where do you think she lived?

After about 10 minutes of discussion in groups, have a student from each group share with the class what their group thinks the poem is about.

Explain that the poem was written by Janet Matsuda, a high school student who had been detained along with other Japanese Americans during World War II at the Jerome War Relocation Center in Arkansas. Have the class discuss how their opinion of the poem changed after the discussion/sharing.

Before moving on, briefly display slides 4 and 5, which detail the essential questions and learning objectives of the lesson.


15 Minute(s)

Display slide 6. Introduce students to the Painting a Picture strategy. Tell students that, in their groups of four, they will examine a document packet containing six photos that depict the hardships Japanese Americans endured before and during internment.

Pass out the Painting a Picture Document Packets to each group, and pass out the Painting a Picture Chart Handouts to each student. Tell students that they will have about 15 minutes to make observations and inferences about the photos. For examples of potential observations and inferences, feel free to consult the Painting a Picture Chart (Teacher’s Notes).


35 Minute(s)

Pass out the Paired Texts H-Chart Handout to students.

Move to slide 13. Explain to students that they will watch a TED-Ed video, Ugly History: Japanese American Incarceration Camps. Instruct students to take notes as they watch. Have them take notes in the lefthand column of the Paired Texts H-Chart about the circumstances Japanese Americans faced and how they reacted to those circumstances. The video is approximately 5 minutes long and is found on slide 14. Give students extra time if they want to watch portions of the video again.

Give each student a copy of the Mistaken for the Enemy - Article, which summarizes the circumstances that led to the internment of Japanese Americans and details their experiences by including excerpts from oral history interviews.

Show slide 15 after students have finished watching the video. Ask students to use the Stop and Jot strategy. Instruct them to stop at the end of each paragraph to jot brief answers to the questions on the right side of the article handout. Have them add the most important points from their notes into the righthand column of the H-Chart once they have annotated each paragraph.

Once they have finished reading and taking notes, have students take a few moments to share some of the observations they have made so far.

Display slide 16 after volunteers have shared their observations about the video and/or the article. Have them confer with their group members and decide on a "third text" that weaves together the information they have gleaned from both sources. The question their third texts will answer is How did Japanese Americans cope with the hardships that they faced before, during, and after internment?

Ask students to add their responses from the Stop and Jot exercise to the Paired Texts H-Chart.


20 Minute(s)

Display slide 17. Pass out the S-I-T (Surprising, Interesting, Troubling) Handouts. This handout contains a list of quotes that were taken from oral history interviews and other sources. Give students at least 10 minutes to read over the list with their groups. Next, ask student groups to use the S-I-T strategy to determine and discuss why the information presented in the quotes strikes them as surprising, interesting, and/or troubling.

After groups have had time to make their decisions, call on a member of each group to share at least one of the quotes that they found surprising, interesting, and/or troubling. Invite student groups to share their reasoning with the class. Follow up student contributions to the discussion with questions that will help students consider why the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was unjust and unconstitutional.


5 Minute(s)

Display slide 18, which lists the two essential questions of the lesson. Have students write on a blank sheet of paper a Two-Minute Paper that addresses the two essential questions:

  • Why were Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II?

  • How did internment alter their lives?

There are several options for lesson assessments:

  • Two-Minute Papers

  • Painting a Picture Charts

  • Paired Texts H-Charts

  • Responses (written or oral) to the S-I-T activity