Re-Thinking the Dropping of the Atomic Bombs: Lesson 1

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
55 minute class period
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
In this lesson students will be introduced to important background information on the dropping of the atomic bombs.

In this lesson students will be introduced to important background information on the dropping of the atomic bombs. They will engage with a variety of primary source documents (primarily from the perspective of the United States) which are specifically connected to President Truman and the dropping of the atomic bombs. They will interpret these documents in stations and participate in a jigsaw activity in preparation for the second part of the lesson the following day.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

Students often have already pre-conceived notions about the dropping of the atomic bomb, and while this is still a morally fraught topic, new scholarship is often times not very well known in many classrooms. My hope is that by introducing some of this new scholarship and sources from a variety of perspectives (e.g. Japanese and American, supporters and opponents, etc.), I can challenge students to re-think this topic and make their own critically thought out conclusions. Due to the breadth of the topic, and the limited time frame, I have made the decision not to focus on the question of whether or not the bomb was used as a political motive against the Soviets, and do not explore Soviet intervention in the war in depth. That certainly could be the topic of another lesson.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Understand the necessary scientific, political, and military background information on the dropping of the atomic bombs
  • Analyze and interpret a couple of primary source documents connected to Truman and the dropping of the atomic bombs in stations
  • Share the main ideas and significance of their selected documents with their classmates in a jigsaw activity
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1:  Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific detail to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WH.6-8.1:  Write arguments focused on . . .  (b) Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
  • USII.16 Explain the reasons for the dropping of atom bombs on Japan and their short and long-term effects.
Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire by Richard Frank (as a resource)
  • Handout with guiding questions for the station activity
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
  • Henry Stimson to Harry S. Truman, April 24, 1945
  • Notes by Harry S. Truman on the Potsdam Conference, July 17-30, 1945 
  • Petition to the President of the United States, July 17, 1945  
  • Leslie. R. Groves to Henry Stimson, July 18, 1945  (excerpt)
  • Henry Stimson to Harry S. Truman, with handwritten Truman reply on reverse, July 30, 1945  
  • Press release by the White House, August 6, 1945
  • Translation of leaflet dropped on the Japanese (AB-11), August 6, 1945 
  • Harry S. Truman to Richard Russell, August 9, 1945 
  • Correspondence between Harry S. Truman and Samuel Cavert, August 11, 1945  
  • Correspondence between Tsukasa Nitoguri and Harry S. Truman , March 12, 1958 
  • Harry S. Truman to Irv Kupcinet , August 5, 1963  
  • Harry S. Truman to Mrs. Haydon Klein, Jr., August 4, 1964 
  • Memorandum of Conference with the President, August 8, 1945 at 10:45 AM
Technology Required


Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • 1. The teacher will begin by first asking the students what they know about the atomic bomb. This will generate a big brainstorming session, and the teacher will write all of their responses on the board.
  • 2. Next the teacher will introduce the objectives of the lesson and the essential question (How do different perspectives and scholarship inform our own conclusions about the dropping of the atomic bombs?), allowing a short initial discussion of the essential question. This question will be revisited again at the end of the lesson on the 2nd day.
  • 3. The teacher will then give a mini interactive lecture providing the necessary background information for the dropping of the atomic bombs. The teacher will begin with more of the empirical scientific, political, and military context of the bombs, without yet bringing in the moral dimension. The mini lecture will also include discussion of the firebombing of Tokyo and the more recent scholarship on the Magic Intercepts and the Japanese surrender. The teacher will try to be as interactive as possible at the students take notes, respond, and ask questions.
  • 4. After checking to make sure there are no more questions, the teacher will then divide the students into six groups. Each group will form a station that has two primary source documents (one group will have three shorter ones) connected to Truman and the dropping of the atomic bombs. The teacher also explains that they will participate in a jigsaw activity, so each group will become “experts” on their particular documents.
  • 5. In these stations, students will analyze and discuss the primary source documents using the essential question as their overarching guide. The teacher will also provide a few analysis questions as additional guides, and will encourage the students to underline the documents, write in the margins, etc. As the students engage in these activity the teacher floats throughout the room, checking in on groups and seeing if they have any questions. The guiding questions will be typed on a separate sheet to be given to the students, but for the purposes of this lesson plan they are:
  • Who is the author of the source? How does this author’s perspective influence the document? What bias can do you detect in the text?
  • In your own words, what is the document’s main idea?
  • What do you think is the main significance of the document?
  • How does the document inform your understanding of the dropping of the atomic bombs?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the ideas contained within the document? Why or why not?
  • 6. After allowing sufficient time to read and analyze the documents, the students will then transition into new groups as part of the jigsaw, whereby one student from each “expert” group will now be working together in new groups. The students will go around the circle and share their summary and analysis of their particular documents. Again, the teacher floats among the different groups during the jigsaw activity.
  • 7. After everyone in the group has shared, the teacher will conduct a de-brief of all of the documents by facilitating a class wide discussion of what stood out to the students, what they learned, what they think are the salient ideas of the various documents, etc. The teacher will then ask the students to keep all of this in mind for tomorrow’s lesson and assign that night’s homework to further reinforce the lesson. See below under “Assessment” for the homework assignment.
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide
  • The teacher will assess the lesson first through formative assessment as he or she walks around the room during the station work and jigsaw activity. The teacher will listen to student conversation to assess their understanding of the documents. The students’ responses during the de-brief will also serve as a form of formative assessment.
  • The teacher will use the homework assignment as another means of assessment. For homework, students will answer, in 1 page, the following questions: How did Truman defend the use of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and what change or continuity could you detect in his thinking from 1945 through the early 1960s? Please point to specific evidence from the documents in your response.