Two of my favorite sources for social studies learning, #sschat and @facinghistory, were teaming up to host a chat on a unit that’s always been a big hit, World War II in the Pacific. I thought I’d go ahead and spend some time prepping for the chat by loading up an overview of the unit my team has developed as well as a few resources that might be worth sharing.

The unit is for a seventh grade social studies class at an international school in Hong Kong.

Main Essential Question: Why do wars occur?

Answer: Resources, Ideology, and Power. This article, from World Book, neatly and succinctly lays out the causes of war. It’s at a perfect reading level.

Some teachers kick the unit off with Tora, Tora, Tora, but I’ve always wanted to save my film time for later in the unit. Perhaps it’s not as exciting, but I start the unit off with a Geography Lab of East Asia, getting students familiar with the region.

Then, having examined and discussed the causes of war, I give students a lecture on how and why Japan expanded into Asia. Students have to find the links to resources, ideology, and power in the lecture.

(I’m afraid that with all the different teachers involved we have lost the original source of the lecture, someone found it online. If you know whose it is let me know so I can link to them.)

The first major project of the unit is a chance to teach research and summarizing skills: a Class Museum Project. Students have to research both World War II and the Battle of Hong Kong. (I’ve also had success making every student do a timeline of WWII in the Pacific followed by a class museum of the Battle of Hong Kong.)


The coolest thing about this unit is that we get to focus in on the Battle of Hong Kong, which happened right around us. We’ve found great resources from Canada, as Churchill rather cynically sent a unit of woefully untrained and unprepared troops to the city in the fall of 1940. These soldiers were predictably decimated by the Japanese army, which had already been fighting since 1931 against China.

Great research sources for the students:

Savage Christmas is a at times quite disturbing, but it’s a film that is worth every second of class time if possible. Click here for the full film online.


But of course we have so many field trip opportunities as well. I like to do one of them each year and leave the other two available for extra credit options. All of these below are just a 5-15 minute bus ride from our school.

  1. St Stephens Internment Camp / Stanley Military Cemetery
  2. Wong Nei Chung Gap WWII Hike
  3. Lei Yue Mun Museum of Coastal Defence

Then I like to wrap up the unit with the wonderful film “Empire of the Sun”. While quite long, it shows the war from the perspective of a young adult, the same as my students. And it’s also got enough symbolism that the kids can start to pick up on it, from the obvious motif of airplanes to the minor ones like shoes.

Empire of the Sun also serves as a great springboard for the next project,the Family History Project. “Every family has its story to tell. Consider the events of the 20th Century you have heard about and/or learned about in Social Studies, and consider the impact history has had on your family. Events that happened during the lives of a grandparent or elderly aunt or great uncle, for example, are all parts of your family’s story.”

While we leave the project open for ANY family story, based on our student body’s mostly Asian heritage we always have at least one story set in WWII Hong Kong. (The vast majority of the stories are about family members getting the heck out of China.)

And here’s an interesting article that doesn’t have anything to do with the unit, but does relate to the history big time.