By Teachers, For Teachers

Ruth Watanabe: A Lesson in Tone, Courage, and Compassion


Ruth Watanabe: A Lesson in Tone, Courage, and Compassion

In this lesson, students will engage in the close reading of a letter written by a young woman who was incarcerated during World War II. Students will evaluate the tone and cultural values of the letter. Students will consider how tone and cultural values affect their own writing.

Time: 1 hour

Grades: 6th-8th; 9th-12th

Author: Teresa Dickey (Teacher Advisory Panel)

Resources Needed

  • Collections in Context
  • Sourcebook
  • Student Materials

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify how the writer’s cultural values and tone affect their reading of a primary source.
  • Express historical empathy when analyzing a historical document.
  • Make deliberate choices about tone and cultural expression when writing and revising their work for different audiences.

By the end of this lesson, students will know:

  • The United States operated internment camps to detain Japanese Americans during World War II.
  • Many Japanese American experiences during World War II were shaped, in part, by the Japanese concepts of shikata ga nai and of respect.
  • Writers can utilize differences in diction and tone when writing for different contexts.

Supported Standards

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.3 Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

HistorySocial Science Framework

  • “During the war, California breached civil rights in supporting the internment of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066, despite a lack of evidence that any of them had been disloyal.” (p. 295)

HistorySocial Science Standards

  • HSS.11.7.5 Discuss the constitutional issues and impact of events on the U.S. home front, including the internment of Japanese Americans (e.g., Fred Korematsu v. United States of America) and the restrictions on German and Italian resident aliens; the response of the administration to Hitler’s atrocities against Jews and other groups; the roles of women in military production; and the roles and growing political demands of African Americans.

Social Justice Standards

  • Diversity 8. Students will respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and will exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.
  • Diversity 9. Students will respond to diversity by building empathy, respect, understanding, and connection.
  • Diversity 10. Students will examine diversity in social, cultural, political, and historical contexts rather than in ways that are superficial or oversimplified.
  • Justice 12. Students will recognize unfairness on the individual level (e.g., biased speech) and injustice at the institutional or systemic level (e.g., discrimination).
  • Action 16. Students will express empathy when people are excluded or mistreated because of their identities and concern when they themselves experience bias.