Use Flags of Our Fathers & Letters From Iwo Jima in this World War II History Lesson Plan

Hollywood and History

Before beginning any history lesson plan in which movies are viewed, it is important to point out to students that Hollywood does not cling to historic accuracy when filming. Movies about historic events are sensationalized to sell tickets at the box office. However, they can give viewers an idea of what happened. Viewers must be able to weed out what is real from what is “Hollywood.”

Giving students a list of questions before the movie is viewed will help in this regard. Teachers can develop the questions ahead of time to ask specific questions for the students to research. The following is an example of one such lesson plan.

Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima

Objective: Teach students to look critically at the media, as well as understand how the altering of media informed peoples’ beliefs throughout history.

Pre-viewing: Students are given a list of questions to consider before watching Flags of Our Fathers. Questions could include:

  • Who was Ira Hayes and why is he significant to the story?
  • Why is the flag raised twice?
  • What is the outcome of the second raising?
  • When is the truth finally revealed?
  • Where do the flag raisers go after the raising and why is this significant?

Before viewing Letters from Iwo Jima, consider these questions:

  • What do you know about the Japanese during WWII?
  • Why did Japanese military members commit suicide?
  • Who did the Japanese military members believe led them?
  • When did the Battle of Iwo Jima occur in relationship to the end of the war?
  • Where did Japanese soldiers hide during the battle?

Assignment: Watch the movie, Flags of Our Fathers by screenwriters, William Broyles, Jr. and Paul Haggis, which is based on the book (same name) by James Bradley and Ron Powers. Read the book. Answer the question, “Why did James Bradley write this story?”

Picture of first raising of the flag:

472px-First Iwo Jima Flag Raising

Compare and contrast the story and the movie. Does the movie follow the book? Does it take liberties? If so, what are they? Why do you think the screenwriters did so? If the movie follows the book closely, is there any information that was left out that should have been in the movie? Why? How are womenportrayed in this movie? How does their portrayal reflect the thinking of society in the 1940’s?

Statue commemorating the second raising of the flag:

395px-US Navy 081110-N-5549O-080 The U.S. national flag waves graciously from the Iwo Jima memorial during a wreath laying ceremony in honor of the 233rd Marine Corps birthday at the Marine Corps War Memorial

View the movie, Letters from Iwo Jima, based on two books by Japanese authors, Gen. Tadamichi Kuibayashi and Kumiko Kakeshashi about the battle of Iwo Jima. How is this movie different? Why do you think director, Clint Eastwood produced both movies? What do these movies tell us about war?

565px-Tadamichi Kuribayashi

Research the Battle of Iwo Jima using primary sources/evidence. Be able to discuss both sides of the battle. Hold a panel discussion. Randomly pick a group of students be “experts” for each of the films. The “Experts” will first discuss their individual movie and its importance to history. Then, students in the audience will ask questions of the “Experts.”

Assessment: Assess students on their ability to discuss the two films, to back their opinions with facts from their research and on their essays.


Resources that can be utilized for lesson plans using popular movies for World War II US history are –


Photo Credit: Wikipedia

This post is part of the series: Movies Used in Teaching

This series will give ideas on how to incorporate movies into the teaching of history, literature and social studies.
  1. Teach WWII History With Flags Of Our Fathers & Letters From Iwo Jima
  2. Teaching Tips: Teaching U.S. History with Movies