Learning Module - Historically Speaking: The Human Cost of War

"It takes two to speak the truth - one to speak and the other to hear"
- Henry David Thoreau


The 20th century was one of remarkable achievements and human progress. But it was also one of repeated wars. Canada experienced the South African War (1899 to 1902), the First World War (1914 to 1918), the Second World War (1939 to 1945) and the Korean War (1950 to 1953). Throughout the century, the ideas and tools of the modern era were harnessed for destruction.

Historically Speaking, learners will be exposed to the concept of 'Remembrance' through listening to various oral histories of several Canadians involved in the four wars of the 20th Century. Listening to the oral histories will not only enrich the learners understanding of the past, but it will also enrich the classroom experience of learning about war history.


The objectives of this learning module are to:

  • create a personal connection between youth and Canada's Veterans;
  • reinforce with youth why it is important for Canadians to remember and honour those young men and women who have served Canada in times of war and peace;
  • allow youth to understand the recent past and enable them to interact with those who lived the experiences;
  • develop an understanding in youth that historical information comes from the lives of real people just like them;
  • find a connection between the lives studied and the lives of youth in Canada today;
  • develop skills in using non-literary texts such as videos and audio clips (primary source materials); and
  • increase the desire of youth to preserve heritage.

General Learning Outcomes

Through this Heroes Remember, youth will listen to historical events from people who experienced them, and who can make a personal connection for them. This way, they can extend their knowledge of history beyond what is in their textbooks, and learn about "everyday heroes".

It is expected that students will develop an understanding of the past in a first-person way, to gain a sense of the pain, fear, happiness and hope that others experienced throughout the wars of the 20th Century. Further, students will be expected to:

  • speak and listen to explore the experiences of those who lived through the 20th century wars (Language Arts - speaking and listening);
  • communicate information and ideas effectively and clearly (Language Arts - speaking and listening);
  • interpret, select and combine information using a variety of strategies, resources and technologies (Language Arts - reading and viewing);
  • use writing and other forms of representation to clarify their experiences and knowledge gained (Language Arts - writing and other ways of representing);
  • demonstrate an understanding of the past and how it affects the present and the future (Social Studies);
  • access, evaluate and select information using technology (technology); and
  • representing thoughts through art (posters) or dramatic skits. They will use these art forms to express ideas, knowledge and feelings. In addition, they will demonstrate an understanding of the contribution of the arts to daily life and cultural identity (arts).

Specific learning outcomes

Specifically, youth will be expected to:

  • contribute thoughts, ideas and questions to discussion and compare their own ideas with those of others;
  • listen critically to others' points of view;
  • contribute to and respond in small group discussion;
  • demonstrate an understanding of how historical investigations provide insight into our past;
  • demonstrate an understanding of how people and groups of people have contributed to changes in Canada and the world;
  • demonstrate an understanding that many individuals and events have contributed to the development of their Canadian identity throughout history;
  • search the Heroes Remember in order to locate and select resources; and
  • collect information through other technologies (video and audio clips, digital images) supported through the Heroes Remember site.

Activity - Mission Possible!

Class Time

120 minutes (two 60 minute periods)


Mission Possible is a cooperative learning method, similar to what is often called a jig-saw. How the activity is structured is described below. Many of the learning materials are provided but the facilitator is required to orchestrate the activity. The focus is primarily on learners mastering the information that is presented to them through Heroes Remember and on-line fact sheets, and then having the learners teach others in the group about their new knowledge.

The learners' mission, should they choose to accept it, is to become an expert on the human element of one of the major wars of the 20th century, and then educate their peers about what they have learned. Once they have educated their peers, and once the peers have educated them, their final mission is to represent their knowledge in the form of a poster. The posters can then be hung on the walls of the classroom or the school to represent the human side of the wars of the 20th century.


Link to Previous Experience (Brainstorming)

Before you begin this learning module with your class, it is important to link their learning to previous knowledge, and to brainstorm with them what they currently know about oral histories. You may wish to discuss the following with your students:

  1. Introduce the students to the concept of oral histories: Ask if anyone has conducted interviews with a relative or veteran before. Talk about the purpose of oral histories. Students may wish to to visit the Memory Project to see and hear other examples.
  2. Brainstorm about the uniqueness of oral histories: While historians have a range of primary source materials to draw upon when researching the past such as newspapers, diaries, letters, and photographs among others, oral history has unique benefits that no other historical source provides. For example, oral history:
    • allows learners to learn about the perspectives of 'everyday' individuals who may not otherwise appear in historical records;
    • allows the learner to learn different kinds of information that would not necessarily be included in newspaper articles, speeches or government documents such as hopes, feelings, aspirations and fears;
    • allows 'everyday' individuals to enrich our understanding of history by telling their version of events and their interpretations in their own words;
    • has the potential to be a tremendously rewarding "human" experience for the learner.
  3. Put up an oral history 'thought web' in the class and brainstorm what oral histories mean to them. Use some of the above examples.


There are six parts to this Mission Possible activity:

  • Assign Class Groups;
  • Introduce Mission Possible!;
  • Expert Groups Reviewing Fact Sheets;
  • Expert Groups Oral Histories Research;
  • Experts Educating Peers; and
  • Representing Knowledge

Part 1: Assign Class Groups

The facilitator will divide the class into groups of four. Each group will be assigned to study one of the four 20th century wars (there may be two groups covering each topic depending on the number of students in the class):

  • South African War
  • First World War
  • Second World War
  • Korean War

Part 2: Mission Possible! (5 minutes)

The facilitator should read the following or have it on an overhead:

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is for your group to become an expert on the human element of one of the major wars of the 20th century. Once you have become an expert on your topic, your mission is to represent your knowledge in the form of a poster, and then for your group to educate your peers about what you have learned.

Part 3: Expert Groups: Reviewing Fact Sheets (15 minutes)

The facilitator may either distribute the "fact sheets" to each group (you may download them from the following websites), or allow the groups to access a computer to view their own fact sheets. The facts may be found at:

The facilitator will explain that each group will take time to learn the information on their fact sheets, and essentially become an "expert" on that topic.

Ask them to identify:

  • key issues
  • dates
  • reason(s) for the conflict
  • duration of the conflict;
  • leaders, etc.

Part 4: Oral Histories Research (60 minutes)

The following step is to allow each group access to a computer with the Internet to go to Heroes Remember. The groups will each identify four individuals that they would like to research, that represent the war that they are studying.

It is important that they select diverse individuals to reflect the diversity of Canada, so encourage them to select women, men, aboriginals, etc.

They will try to identify the following information about these individuals:

  • What branch of the forces did they serve? (Army, navy or air force?)
  • What did they do?
  • Did they see active fighting? If so, did they describe what this was like?
  • What was it like for them to be in combat, on the ground, in the air or at sea? How did they feel?
  • How old were they when they went to war?
  • How did their family feel?
  • Did they ever meet families or children from other nations?
  • Was it difficult for this person to recall their memories of war?

Part 5 - Experts Educating Peers (20 minutes)

Learners in the "expert groups" will now number themselves from 1 to 4.

Next, they will form new groups. The facilitator will instruct that all of the #1s will go together, and show where they should meet. All the #2s will go together, and show where they will meet, and so on.

The objective is to have new groups where the members of the groups are all "experts" on different topics.

These "experts" will then be told to proceed to teach their peers about their area of expertise (what they gained from learning about their particular topic in their expert group). They will all listen to one another speak about the knowledge they have acquired. In the end, each learner will have learned about several of the issues surrounding each of the wars in the 20th century in a very short period of time.

Part 6 - Representing Knowledge (30 minutes)

Lastly, each of the new groups should either:

  • prepare a poster representing their new knowledge of the human element of the 20th century wars; or
  • prepare a skit representing their new knowledge of the human element of the 20th century wars and then present their poster or skit to the class.

Each of the four wars should be represented on their poster or in their skit, as well as common themes that were obvious amongst the four wars (ie. Everyday heroes, courage, fear, bravery, relationships, humour, friendships, etc). A class contest could be held to determine a winner. The posters could be displayed in the class following the activity, and a video could be taken of the skits.


  • stage a debate or mock hearing on the issues described
  • bring their presentations to a public audience in a culminating celebratory event, a public display in their school, a public performance, or a website.
  • Students can create post cards honouring the individuals they studied
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