Building Background Knowledge: “War in the Pacific,” Part 1 | EL Education Curriculum

You are here

ELA 2012 G8:M3A:U1:L4

Building Background Knowledge: “War in the Pacific,” Part 1

You are here:

Long Term Learning Targets

  • I can determine the central ideas of an informational text. (RI.8.2)
  • I can determine the meaning of words and phrases in text (figurative, connotative, and technical meanings). (RI.8.4)

Supporting Targets

  • I can determine the central idea of "War in the Pacific."
  • I can determine the meaning of words and phrases in "War in the Pacific." 

Ongoing Assessment

  • Unbroken structured notes, pages 13-18 (from homework)
  • Vocabulary in "War in the Pacific"


AgendaTeaching Notes

1. Opening

A. Engaging the Reader: Structured Notes Focus Question (5 minutes)

2. Work Time

A. First Read: "War in the Pacific" (10 minutes)
B. Give One, Get One (15 minutes)
C. Geography of the Pacific Theater (10 minutes)

3. Closing and Assessment

A. Debrief Learning Targets (3 minutes)
B. Preview Homework (2 minutes)

4. Homework

A. Complete a first read of pages 19-27 in Unbroken and fill in the structured notes.

  • This is the first of two lessons in which students will build background knowledge about the Pacific Theater in World War II. In this lesson, students will read an excerpt from the article "War in the Pacific." Then, they will work with a partner to determine the gist of the text, as well as identify new vocabulary using context clues and dictionaries. In the next lesson, students will read the text more deeply.
  • In this lesson, students will also be oriented to the geography of the Pacific to gain background knowledge about the setting of the majority of Louie's story.
  • Consider brushing up on your World War II history, especially focused on the Pacific Theater. It will be helpful for this lesson, as well as Lessons 5, 7, 8 and 9, as students are reading informational texts on the war between the United States and Japan.
  • In advance: Cut strips of paper for students to use during the Give One, Get One protocol (see Work Time B for more information); review the Give One, Get One protocol (see Appendix 1).
  • Post: Learning targets.


overrunning (Paragraph 4), campaign (Paragraph 6); student-selected vocabulary from "War in the Pacific"


  • War in the Pacific" (one per student)
  • Strips of paper (one per student)
  • Dictionaries (one per pair of students)
  • Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (one per student)
  • Map of the Pacific (one per student and one to display)
  • Document camera
  • Unbroken structured notes, pages 19-27 (one per student)
  • Unbroken supported structured notes, pages 19-27 (optional; for students needing additional support)
  • Unbroken Structured Notes Teacher Guide, pages 19-27 (for teacher reference)
  • Survival anchor chart (begun in Lesson 1)
  • Students' Gathering Textual Evidence graphic organizer, all chapters (completed in Lessons 3-9)
  • Students' Reader's Notes, all chapters (completed in Lessons 2-9)


OpeningMeeting Students' Needs

A. Engaging the Reader: Structured Notes Focus Question (5 minutes)

  • Invite students to take their Unbroken structured notes, pages 13-18  (from homework) and sit with their Marshall Islands Discussion Appointment partner. Ask them to reread the focus question and their response silently. Invite students to discuss their responses with their partner.
  • Cold call one or two pairs to share their responses. Listen for them to say: "Louie changed. He stopped getting into so much trouble and started running."
  • Direct students' attention to the posted learning targets. Read the learning targets aloud to the class.
  • Let students know that they will be reading a text, "War in the Pacific," in order to understand it. Tomorrow they will analyze the text more deeply. 
  • Using learning targets helps students understand the purpose for the reading .

Work Time

Work TimeMeeting Students' Needs

A. First Read: "War in the Pacific" (10 minutes)

  • Explain that students will read about World War II in the next few lessons. Tell them that World War II started in Europe in 1939. Germany invaded neighboring countries and attacked Great Britain. The war was mostly fought in Europe before 1941.
  • Distribute "War in the Pacific." Invite students to read along silently and circle words they don't know while you read it out loud.
  • Ask pairs to reread the text aloud, taking turns reading every other paragraph and then talking about the gist.
  • Cold call one or two pairs to share the gist. Listen for them to say: "The article is about the events that happened before Pearl Harbor was bombed." Clarify, as needed, that in the last paragraph, the article mentions Pearl Harbor, but the reader needs to make an inference that the attack does, in fact, happen.
  • For ELLs and students needing additional supports, consider providing smaller chunks of text, sometimes just a few sentences, for a close read. Teachers can check in on students' thinking as they speak about their text.
  • Asking students to identify challenging vocabulary helps them monitor their understanding of a complex text. When students annotate the text by circling these words, it can also provide a formative assessment for the teacher.
  • Consider posting the instructions for this protocol using a document camera or chart paper.
  • Consider providing partially completed strips of paper for students who struggle.

B. Give One, Get One (15 minutes)

  • Ask students to use context provided in the text to define the words they circled, continuing to work with their partner. They should write the words and their inferred definitions in the right-hand column on the "War in the Pacific" handout.
  • Distribute one strip of paper to every student and one dictionary to every pair of students. Ask students to choose one vocabulary word to write on their strip of paper, then turn the strip over and write their inferred definition on the back. Instruct them to use the dictionaries to check their inferred definition and to revise the definition on their strip of paper if necessary. Let them know that they will participate in an activity called Give One, Get One.
  • Give these directions:
    1. Stand up, find a different partner, and show your partner your word. Give your partner an opportunity to infer what the word means. Share the definition you wrote on the back of the strip.
    2. Ask your partner to show you his/her word, infer what it might mean, and then ask your partner to share his/her definition.
    3. Swap strips with your partner and find a new partner. Repeat the steps.
    4. Return to your seat next to your Marshall Islands partner when you have talked to three people.
  • When students are seated, invite them to review the vocabulary words they wrote on their copies of "War in the Pacific" and revise definitions as needed. 

C. Geography of the Pacific Theater (10 minutes)

  • Request that students take out their Unbroken texts, turn to the map of the Pacific that is printed between the table of contents and the preface, and put their finger on Hawaii. Once students have done this, explain that Hawaii is made of up several different islands, including one also called Hawaii (the biggest island in the state).
  • Ask the class to point to Oahu. Pearl Harbor, where the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941, is a U.S. naval base on the island of Oahu. Let students know that a lot of what they will be reading about in this module will be set in this part of the world. It will help them make sense of Unbroken to have some background knowledge about the geography of the Pacific.
  • Distribute a copy of the map of the Pacific to each student and display a copy using a document camera. With their Marshall Islands partner, ask students to reread "War in the Pacific" and underline the names of any places in the Pacific that are mentioned. For instance, in the first paragraph, Japan is mentioned. Circle Japan on the displayed copy of the map of the Pacific. Point out that Japan is mentioned many more times, but students need to underline it only the first time it appears in the text. Also point out that although Germany and Britain appear in the text, they are not on this map because they are not in the Pacific.
  • Once students have finished underlining, direct them to circle those places on their map.
  • Cold call students to share one place they circled. As they share, circle the places on the displayed map. Encourage students to check their own work.
  • The following places should be circled on the map:

-    Japan

-    China

-    Korea

-    Formosa (Taiwan)

-    Hawaii

-    French Indochina (Vietnam)

-    Philippine Islands

  • Let students know that they will be returning to these maps as they learn more about Louie Zamperini and World War II.  

Closing & Assessments


A. Closing and Assessment

  • Debrief Learning Targets (3 minutes)
  • Reread the first learning target aloud to the class:
  • I can determine the central idea of 'War in the Pacific.'"

*    Ask students to think about how well they mastered this learning target today. If they think they mastered it, prompt them to give you a thumbs-up. If they didn't, prompt them to give a thumbs-down. Notice which students have their thumbs down.

*    Repeat for the second learning target:

*    I can determine the meaning of words and phrases in 'War in the Pacific.'" 

B. Preview Homework (2 minutes)

  • Distribute Unbroken structured notes, pages 19-27. Ask students to raise their hands if they can explain what it means to forgive. Call on a student and listen for: "To forgive means to excuse someone for doing something wrong."
  • Remind students that their homework is to read pages 19-27 in Unbroken and complete the structured notes. 


HomeworkMeeting Students' Needs
  • Complete a first read of pages 19-27 in Unbroken and fill in the structured notes. Answer the focus question: "Hillenbrand writes, 'Once his hometown's resident archvillain, Louie was now a superstar, and Torrance forgave him everything' (20). How did Torrance show Louie he was forgiven? Use the strongest evidence from the book to support your answer."

B. Teaching Note: Make a note of which students had their thumbs down as they debriefed the learning targets. Consider checking in with them during the next lesson to make sure they understand the reading well enough to move forward. Read the Author's Note and complete the Author's Note homework assignment.

Consider providing supported structured notes for students who struggle.

Get updates about our new K-5 curriculum as new materials and tools debut.

Sign Up