Learning Description

In this lesson, students will use photos that relate to World War II as a springboard to write a first person monologue embodying the person who is pictured. This monologue explores the character’s views on the subject of the second photo that deals with the historical context. Next, students will bring the photo to life in an improvisation. By allowing your students to explore what they have read and learned about World War II through the eyes of another person, they learn empathy and better embody the concept. This exercise is a wonderful tool to increase presentation skills, empathy and ensemble in your classroom.


Learning Targets


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"I Can" Statements

“I Can…”

  • I can write a monologue using photography as inspiration.

  • I can improvise a scene with a partner using photography as inspiration

  • I can use theatre techniques to help me better understand a historical event.

Essential Questions

  • What impact does a photograph have on our perception of a society and/or historical event?

  • How can theatre techniques help us better understand World War II?


Georgia Standards

Curriculum Standards

Grade 5:

SS5H4 Explain America’s involvement in World War II. 

  1. Describe German aggression in Europe and Japanese aggression in Asia. 
  2. Describe major events in the war in both Europe and the Pacific; include Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, D-Day, VE and VJ Days, and the Holocaust. 
  3. Discuss President Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
  4. Identify Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill, Hirohito, Truman, Mussolini, and Hitler. 
  5. Describe the effects of rationing and the changing role of women and African Americans or Blacks; include “Rosie the Riveter” and the Tuskegee Airmen. 
  6. Explain the role of Eleanor Roosevelt and the U.S. in the formation of the United Nations.

Arts Standards

Grade 5: 

TA5.CR.1 Organize, design, and refine theatrical work.

TA5.PR.1 Act by communicating and sustaining roles in formal and informal environments.


South Carolina Standards

Curriculum Standards

Grade 5:

Standard 3: Demonstrate an understanding of the economic, political, and social effects of World War II, the Holocaust, and their aftermath (i.e., 1930–1950) on the United States and South Carolina.

Arts Standards

Anchor Standard 1: I can create scenes and write scripts using story elements and structure.


Anchor Standard 3: I can act in improvised scenes and written scripts.

Anchor Standard 8: I can relate theatre to other content areas, arts disciplines, and careers. 


Key Vocabulary

Content Vocabulary

  • World War II - A global conflict that lasted from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations; it was the most widespread war in history, resulting in significant changes to the global political landscape


  • Attack on Pearl Harbor - A surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941; this event led to the United States' entry into World War II


  • The Battle of Iwo Jima - A major battle during World War II in which the United States Marine Corps and Navy landed on and eventually captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army


  • D-Day - Also known as the Normandy Invasion, took place on June 6, 1944, and was a pivotal operation during World War II; it involved the Allied forces landing on the beaches of Normandy, France, to begin the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi occupation


  • VE Day - Victory in Europe Day, is celebrated on May 8th to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender of its armed forces


  • VJ Days - Victory over Japan Day, marks the day on which Imperial Japan surrendered in World War II, effectively bringing the war to an end


  • The Holocaust - The systematic, state-sponsored persecution and genocide of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and its collaborators during World War II


  • Atomic bomb - Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two pivotal events during World War II that took place in August 1945 and led to Japanese surrender; they marked the first and only use of nuclear weapons in warfare

  • Expository Writing - Writing with the purpose to demonstrate or explain

Arts Vocabulary

  • Ensemble - All the parts of a thing taken together, so that each part is considered only in relation to the whole

  • Theater - Dramatic literature or its performance; drama


  • Improvisation - A creation that is spoken or written without prior preparation


  • Monologue - A speech by a single character in a play, film, or other dramatic work; often used to give the audience deeper insight into the character's motivations and feelings


  • Scene - A division of a play or act that presents continuous action in one place or setting

  • Dialogue - The conversation or interaction between characters in a written work 



  • Printed photos of events and people related to World War II
  • Index cards and pencils
  • Music and sound source


Instructional Design

Opening/Activating Strategy

Classroom Tips: This activity works best in an open space with room for students to move. 


  • Begin by playing music from the late 1930’s/early 1940’s quietly as you pass out the images (photographs). 
    • Each student should have one sheet of paper with two images, an index card, and pencil.  
    • The first picture is of two people engaged in an activity. The name of the country or event should be written at the bottom of the photo. One of the people should be circled so you can pair up the students to act out the scene later. 
    • The second picture is of a prominent figure who played a key role in a specific event related to World War II, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, D-Day, VE and VJ Days, and the Holocaust. 
      • The photo should be titled with the reference to the event.
    • Have students write their name in the top right hand corner of their index card.
    • Ask the students to closely observe the person that is circled in the top photo. 
    • Ask questions for them to more deeply embody their character.  
      • They should list the following on the left hand side of the card:  Character’s name, character's age, home country, how does the character feel about what is happening or who is pictured in the second photo and how is it affecting them and their people.
      • What is the character’s greatest fear?  
      • What is the character’s greatest dream? 
      • Encourage students to use descriptive phrases and relevant details and facts from the unit of study as they complete the card.
  • Provide time for students to pair-share or share responses with the class.


Work Session

  • Tell students that they will be writing a monologue in the first person introducing themselves as the person in their photograph. 
    • Tell students that a monologue is a speech by a single character in a play, film, or other dramatic work. Monologues are often used to give the audience deeper insight into the character's motivations and feelings. 
    • Tell students to turn the card over and write a monologue in the first person introducing themselves and including all of the elements on the front side of the card. 
      • Tell students to make sure to summarize the paragraph with their character’s greatest dream for themselves and their country.  
      • Turn up the volume of the music while students are writing. Give them a set amount of time to write. This could also be a longer exercise or assignment that they bring in the following class period.  
    • When everyone is finished writing, introduce the next section. 
    • Tell students, “Today we are going to learn about World War II (or a specific event related to World War II) through the eyes of the people who lived through it. Each of you have been brought here to help us explore this time. Welcome!”
    • Tell students, “Using a voice different from your own, the voice of the character in the picture, on a count of three, softly but out loud, tell me what you had for breakfast this morning.  Now sit like your character sits, different from yourself. Imagine your character is wearing an article of clothing that you don’t have on. On a count of three adjust that article of clothing.”  
    • Next, ask a student to walk to the front of the class as that character would walk.  
    • Once they get to the front of the classroom, ask them to pick one person to tell their story to. Ask the student to look at this person as they are telling their story.  Have them read their character’s monologue aloud. 
      • If you desire or time permits, you can open the floor up for questions so the other students can interview the character. Let the class know that they can openly discuss the issues at hand and help the character answer questions that they might know the answers to.

  • Now, tell students to find the classmate who has the other character depicted in the photograph on their page. Pass out two index cards to each pair.
    • Have students read their monologues to each other practicing embodying the character they have created. 
    • Students should then discuss the historical context from the photographs and establish each of their character’s points of view. 
    • On each card, students should write a sentence in the first person with the first thing their character wants to say about the event depicted.
    • When you say “action,” students bring the photo to life using improvisation.
    • Beginning with the first line they previously generated on their index card, students should improvise a scene between the two characters discussing the event. 
    • Say “freeze!” and have students return to their seats.


NOTE: Instead of improvising scenes, students can write a script for their scene and present it to the class.


Closing Reflection

  • On the back of their index cards students should reflect on the process and how both embodying their character and listening to another character’s point of view helped them gain a deeper understanding of the historical event.
  • Allow students time to share with the whole class.




Teachers will assess students by observing students’ responses to class discussion around photographs in the opening strategy, consulting with students during the writing process, and observing students’ work with their partners creating improvisational scenes.



  • Students can write a monologue in the first person using photography as inspiration that addresses all parts of the prompt.
  • Students can use historical context and relevant facts to create a realistic first person account of an event related to World War II.
  • Students can work collaboratively to improvise a scene with a partner to investigate a historical context or event.




  • Challenge students by telling them in the middle of the improvised scene, to swap characters with their partner and continue the scene from the new perspective. This tests their adaptability and understanding of character dynamics.
  • Pair two partner teams together to create a new scene with all four characters.



  • Pair English Language Learning students with native English speakers.
  • When writing the questions about the pictures, provide the students with a graphic organizer on which to write answers and to assist with organization of thoughts and ideas.
  • Have students choose fewer items from the list about the character in the picture. 
  • Conference with students who struggle with writing.

*This integrated lesson provides differentiated ideas and activities for educators that are aligned to a sampling of standards. Standards referenced at the time of publishing may differ based on each state’s adoption of new standards.

 Ideas contributed by:  Susie Spear Purcell. Updated by Katy Betts.

Revised and copyright:  June 2024 @ ArtsNOW