Engaging activities for discussing World War II

Engaging students in history debate topics like class discussions on World War II provides a host of valuable learning opportunities that extend far beyond simply recalling key facts and figures. Discussions on the complexities of World War II deepen students’ understanding of the lessons learned in the conflict, thus building their critical thinking and reasoning skills to empower them to make better decisions both in and out of the classroom.

So, using our expertise as a purpose-built discussion platform, we have created five memorable and engaging activities to discuss World War II with your students. What’s more, we’ll take a look at how Kialo Edu’s free online discussions can revolutionize your classroom discussions with our range of innovative features! 

Why are class discussions good for teaching students about World War II?

Class discussion activities offer a powerful dual approach to educating students about World War II:

  1. Deeper understanding of topic knowledge:

Discussions provide students with age-appropriate opportunities to build substantive knowledge of World War II topics, helping them to develop a secure chronological understanding of the period.

  1. Opportunity to practice disciplinary skills:

During discussions, students practice disciplinary skills, such as critical thinking and analysis of diverse perspectives. These skills are indispensable in preventing and resolving conflict, both on a personal level and in wider society.

Five interactive, engaging World War II activity ideas

Our versatile World War II discussion ideas cover different aspects of the conflict, meaning there’s something to suit every classroom. What’s more, each idea includes an engaging activity example to help students meet history curriculum standards. 

1. Discuss the ethics of war

  • Activity: Students participate in a war cabinet debate
  • Learning outcome: Students can critically investigate historical issues through the analysis of primary and secondary sources, discerning perspectives, biases, and constructing evidence-based arguments

Having students examine the complex ethics of war moves them beyond simplistic notions of “good versus bad.” Instead, students employ critical and reflective thinking to explore the challenges leaders faced in making decisions that balanced the pursuit of victory with the preservation of lives.

This immersive activity transports students to the World War II cabinet rooms, where they can experience decision-making processes first-hand.

Assign students roles such as prime minister or president, foreign secretary, and chancellor, and then group them into war cabinets. Take time to discuss the importance of representing different perspectives in each cabinet.

Next, allocate each cabinet group a different World War II scenario to discuss, like the decision to use the atomic bomb or the tactics of the D-Day invasion. Alternatively, have each cabinet represent a different country and discuss the same scenario from their country’s perspective.

Cabinet discussions can then commence. Students must work toward a decision by exchanging perspectives in role and evaluating potential military, diplomatic, domestic, and long-term outcomes. Here, using a Kialo discussion is an ideal way for students to outline the pros and cons of different options and see an overview of all the points made.

Following discussions, students vote on their final decision, comparing this to the actual decisions made during World War II. Asking each group to justify their choice provides further opportunity to develop students’ critical thinking skills.

2. Discuss the timeline of World War II

  • Activity: Students plot key World War II events on a success graph
  • Learning outcome: Students can contrast between the experiences of different countries involved in significant historical events

According to OFSTED history guidance, students should go beyond learning isolated facts about the past. Instead, they should be able to place events within a secure chronological framework, understanding how they relate to a broader narrative.

Timeline activities can support students in achieving these outcomes. The visual representation helps students place events into context and develop a narrative within and between time periods. This graphing activity incorporates a timeline to help students develop a narrative of World War II.

Provide students with labeled graph axes — the X axis represents a World War II timeline, with events tailored to your school curriculum, and the Y axis displays a scale of success from defeat to victory. Then, allocate each group at least two countries from different sides of the conflict.

Next, have groups research the key events from their timeline, plotting the relative outcomes for their allocated countries to create a line graph.

The completed graph provides students with a visual tool to compare the contrasting experiences of different countries during the course of World War II, giving them a more nuanced understanding of key events.

3. Discuss World War II propaganda

  • Activity: Students analyze propaganda in a gallery walk
  • Learning outcome: Students can compare and contrast the treatments of the same topic in several primary sources

Examining World War II propaganda offers an excellent opportunity to engage students in analyzing primary sources. Students can investigate the power of propaganda in history, as well as its continued relevance in today’s society.

Begin by defining the term “propaganda” with students and introducing them to different types, such as appeal to fear or cherry picking.

Next, display World War II propaganda from different countries around the room, and have students explore the gallery in pairs. With their partners, students should identify different propaganda types and discuss the biases, perspectives, and intentions behind them. Then, the pairs should make comparisons between the ways different countries presented the same topic in their propaganda.

To record their comparisons, students can then add their ideas to a group discussion board to compare with other groups. They can also make notes in a collaborative online Kialo discussion while they move around the room to share their views digitally with their peers.

4. Discuss daily life in World War II

  • Activity: Students create rationing recipes in a Masterchef event
  • Learning outcome: Students can understand the causes and consequences of social issues in World War II
An image of a ration book used during World War II, which can be used as a primary source for this discussion activity for World War II.

Younger students can experience the challenges of rationing in this hands-on discussion activity. Working in teams to research rationing during World War II, students will examine the causes of food shortages and the innovative solutions people used during this time. Then, have them plan a meal using only ingredients that were readily available. 

If available, have them work with parents or a home economics classroom to prepare these meals from their recipes and then set up a judging panel to give their verdict on the dishes. 

To conclude the activity, ask students to identify the challenges they faced when planning just one meal using rationed ingredients, and then discuss the consequences for society of many years of restrictions during and after World War II. 

5. Discuss World War II legacies

  • Activity: Students participate in an online Kialo discussion
  • Learning outcome: Students can pursue historically valid inquiries through conducting research and constructing evidence-based arguments

To make discussions on World War II relevant to students, encourage them to examine how the conflict continues to impact our lives today. Students can engage in historical inquiry and learn to make and support valid claims.  Try our discussion activity below to discuss World War II legacies.

First, set up a multi-thesis Kialo discussion using the question “What is the greatest legacy from World War II?” and add your own theses based on your curriculum. For example, you might choose political, economic, social, or technological legacies.

Next, students research the present-day impact of each legacy and add their claims to the discussion in the form of pros and cons. The online, argument-mapping format of the discussion with interactive branches allows all students to do this simultaneously, maximizing participation and exposing students to a range of diverse perspectives. 

To strengthen their claims, students must cite specific textual evidence — a straightforward task in a Kialo discussion. Once students have gathered their supporting sources, they can simply reference these by linking them to a claim. They are collated into a handy sidebar making it easy for students to keep track of their evidence.

Once completed, the discussion lays out all students’ claims, allowing them to understand their lines of reasoning and draw an informed conclusion. And of course, the discussion is automatically saved to allow for easy grading or review.

Our engaging discussion ideas offer a memorable way for students to learn about the serious and emotive issues of World War II. With this approach, we can build students’ citizenship skills, and empower them to become active, thoughtful members of their communities. You can start by trying a free, ready-made World War II debate topic like the one below — simply search for “World War II” in the search bar of our Topic Library!

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

And you can delve even deeper into World War II, or other history topics, with our extensive collection of free discussions. Simply head to our Topic Library today to find your next captivating discussion topic, and use social media, or contact us directly at feedback@kialo-edu.com, to share how you’ve tackled World War II with your students!

Want to try Kialo Edu with your class?

Sign up for free and use Kialo Edu to have thoughtful classroom discussions and train students’ argumentation and critical thinking skills.

Try out Kialo Edu