Classroom activities and resources for D-Day and World War II

June 6th marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day, providing a valuable occasion to immerse your students in meaningful discussions on World War II topics. And as a free discussion platform designed for classroom use, Kialo Edu has the ideal classroom resources for you!

Our experts have created a collection of curriculum-linked World War II discussion topics that enable your students to build their substantive history knowledge while practicing disciplinary skills, such as critical thinking and source analysis.

Before we dive in, let’s discover some of the benefits of discussing history debate topics with your students.

Why are class discussions good for teaching students about history?

1. Students construct their own knowledge and build independent learning skills

In a Kialo discussion, students take the lead to actively shape conversations within a safe and supportive environment. This ownership motivates them to independently research, analyze, and organize information to build the discussion. In doing so, students construct their own substantive knowledge from their respective starting points, with educators providing additional guidance as needed.

2. Students practice critical thinking through collaboration

In Kialo discussions, students can ask questions, challenge assumptions, and analyze different viewpoints. This process of collaborative inquiry fosters critical thinking skills, as students learn to evaluate evidence, consider alternative interpretations, and develop well-reasoned arguments.

3. Students develop an emotional connection to the topic, prompting deeper comprehension

Discussions on historical events give students the opportunity to more deeply explore the experiences of the people who were directly involved. This fosters both a personal and emotional connection to the topic, motivating students to strengthen their understanding of these events and analyze their ongoing impact on people today.

Now, let’s explore how your students can meet history curriculum standards with our ever-expanding collection of World War II discussions.

Six engaging World War II discussion activities

1. Was the Treaty of Versailles the main cause of World War II?

Learning objectives: 

  • Students will be able to identify, analyze, and evaluate the relationship between multiple causes of World War II.
  • Students will be able to compare and contrast long- and short-term causes of World War II.

Develop students’ understanding of causation by having them examine the Treaty of Versailles in this Kialo discussion, focusing on its relationship to World War I and its subsequent influence on World War II.

As they investigate the terms of the treaty and its impact on Germany, students will deepen their understanding of the era’s political landscape and the multitude of factors that contributed to the outbreak of World War II.

Then, have students add claims to the Kialo discussion, comparing and contrasting the short- and long-term causes of the conflict. Students’ claims are displayed in a tree format, with connective lines showing the relationship between different causes.

This structure supports students in developing lines of reasoning, enabling them to draw informed conclusions on the main cause of World War II.

Was the Treaty of Versailles the main cause of World War II? kialo-edu.com

2. Could the Allied Powers have prevented World War II?

Learning objective:

  • Students will be able to create relevant, structured, and evidentially supported accounts in response to the question.

Students can apply their knowledge of the causes of World War II to discuss whether the Allied Powers could have prevented the conflict. Start by recapping the political context and alliances of the era, clarifying the Allied and Axis Powers.

Next, have students conduct thorough research on whether the Allied Powers could have addressed issues such as Germany’s expansionism or economic instability more effectively to prevent the outbreak of war.

Then, students can use their findings to create a relevant, structured, and evidentially supported account — all within the discussion itself. They build their response by adding pro and con claims, while branching discussion format helps structure their ideas.

Adding supporting evidence is much easier for students than in a traditional history essay: Once they locate a useful source (either online or offline), students simply link it to a claim and add a citation, ensuring their viewpoints are well-supported.

Could the Allied Powers have prevented World War II? kialo-edu.com

3. Should the US have entered World War II earlier?

Learning objective: 

  • Students will be able to make connections between one country’s perspective and international history

Students can explore the connections between US priorities in the 1940s and international history by investigating the evolving position of the US before and during World War II. They will be able to analyze how leaders balanced domestic pressures, such as the public preference for neutrality, against the increasing international threat of Axis aggression.

When students collaborate in this discussion, they will see supporting and opposing arguments appear side by side, meaning they are consistently invited to engage with other perspectives. Often those other perspectives will appear directly under their own arguments, challenging students to analyze their own as well as their peers’ positions, thus building their substantive knowledge on World War II and their critical thinking skills.

3. Should the US have entered World War II earlier? kialo-edu.com

4. Were the Nuremberg Trials effective in delivering justice for war crimes?

Learning objective:

  • Students will be able to use sources to analyze the historical context of the Nuremberg Trials, considering bias, accuracy, and reliability.

For students to build a complete picture of World War II, they should also explore the consequences of the conflict, such as the Nuremberg Trials. 

Students can use primary and secondary sources, including testimonies, recordings, and articles to analyze the historical context of these trials and engage with diverse perspectives on how people at the time perceived the trials. Here, it’s important for students to explore the neutrality of the trials by critically assessing the source material for bias, accuracy, and reliability.

To encourage honest contributions on this sensitive topic, educators can make the discussion anonymous. This means students can add claims and comments via randomized usernames, with their real identities viewable solely by educators — removing students’ fear of judgment and maximizing the range of perspectives in the discussion.

Were the Nuremberg Trials effective in delivering justice for war crimes? kialo-edu.com

5. Should the Allied Powers apologize for war crimes in World War II?

Learning objectives:

  • Students will be able to contrast the consequences of war crimes for the Allied and Axis Powers.
  • Students will be able to distinguish between long-term and immediate causes and effects of a historical event.

Studying the Nuremberg Trials may lead students to believe that the Allied Powers were innocent of war crimes. So, discuss how evolving perspectives have prompted the reassessment of certain Allied actions as potential war crimes.

Have students research controversial Allied actions, such as the bombing of Dresden and the atomic bombings in Japan. Then, students should compare these actions’ immediate and long-term causes and effects with those of Axis war crimes.

Students should then contrast the consequences that the Axis and Allied Powers faced. This research can inform students’ claims on whether the Allied Powers should now apologize for their actions.

To encourage thoughtful and respectful contributions from students, assign them a suggester role in the discussion. This means educators must approve claims before they appear in the discussion, prompting students to reflect carefully on their ideas. Moreover, educators can address any misconceptions by using Grading and Feedback to give students individual feedback on their claims.

Should the Allied Powers apologize for war crimes in World War II? kialo-edu.com

6. Did World War II significantly advance the rights of women in the countries involved?

Learning objective: 

  • Students will be able to use evidence to compare and contrast the long- and short-term effects of World War II on societal and gender roles.

In this discussion, students can explore the connection between military and social history, and gain insight into how past ideas and events can shape future ones.

They should use primary and secondary sources, such as diaries, letters, and historical analyses, to examine how women’s rights experienced short-term advancements during the war and evaluate if these rights were sustained in subsequent years. Sources should reflect the experiences of women from diverse backgrounds, giving students an understanding of women’s experiences across different segments of society.

Whereas a traditional discussion on this issue may be dominated by a few students, in a Kialo discussion, everyone can contribute simultaneously, maximizing engagement. Moreover, because the discussion is automatically saved, your students can continue to add to it over time as their knowledge develops, and you can use it as assessment evidence!

Did World War II significantly advance the rights of women in the countries involved? kialo-edu.com

Kialo’s World War II discussions are an accessible and engaging way to respectfully remember the D-Day anniversary with your students while building their critical thinking skills. What’s more, all Kialo discussions are completely free and work with familiar learning platforms.

Once you’ve seen the impact of these discussions, we’re sure that you’ll want to explore more discussion topics with your students!

Simply head to our Topic Library which offers more than 500 free discussion prompts tailored to different age groups and curriculum subjects. We’d love to hear about your favorites! Contact us at feedback@kialo-edu.com or on any of our social media platforms.

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