Activities & Lessons

Pearl Harbor Activities for Elementary and Middle School Students

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Pearl harbor activities for elementary and middle school hero

Photo: The Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a U.S. naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii. In his speech to Congress following the attack, President Franklin Roosevelt depicted December 7, 1941, as “a date which will live in infamy.”

The Pearl Harbor attack came as a surprise. Japan had been communicating its hope for peace in the Pacific right until the attack. However, American intelligence officials believed that if an attack were to happen, it would occur in the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, or Indochina—European colonies in the South Pacific—and not so close to home. Japan, though, had been planning the attack for some time. Because the naval facilities at Pearl Harbor were relatively undefended, the Japanese saw Pearl Harbor as an easy target.

On a Sunday morning on December 7, almost 360 Japanese planes attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and before the day was over, more than 2,403 Americans would have died. The battleships Arizona and Oklahoma were destroyed, and numerous other vessels were damaged.

President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan a day after the attack. Before Pearl Harbor, the United States’ involvement in World War II included supplying the Allied Powers with aid (Britain, China, the Soviet Union, and French forces). During the 1930s, isolationists advocated non-involvement in World War II. But the attack on Pearl Harbor officially launched the U.S. into World War II. Three days after the United States declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S.

Pearl harbor activities for elementary and middle school FDR in line image 2

The United States Congress designated December 7 as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on August 23, 1994. Every year on this day, events are held at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawaii. People from all over the world honor the military personnel and civilians who lost their lives. Our Pearl Harbor activities for elementary and middle school students allow you to help your students understand the impact of this moment in history.

Pearl Harbor Lesson Plans

These activities will help students learn about the attack on Pearl Harbor and understand the significance of Pearl Harbor Day.

Watch a Video

The following brief video from HISTORY® provides insight into the impact of the United States entering World War II, such as cars not being made during the war and the drop in the unemployment rate. Watch this video with your Grades 3–8 students and hold a class discussion afterward. You could talk about the various groups of civilians who participated in the war effort because of the need for labor. Additionally, you could lead a discussion about the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during this time.

To extend this activity, have your students dig a little deeper and write a paragraph or research paper focusing on how a particular group of people played a significant role during or was affected by World War II in America. They can choose one of the groups below or any other:

  • Married women
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Japanese Americans

Explore a Timeline

To help students understand Pearl Harbor’s place in World War II, distribute this timeline PDF to Grades 6–8. Have your students explore the timeline and discuss the events leading to and after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor (for more information about World War II, read this blog).

Study a Primary Source

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States felt it could no longer remain neutral. On December 8, President Roosevelt delivered a memorable message to Congress, asking for a declaration of war against Japan. In this primary source enrichment activity, Grades 6–8 students analyze Roosevelt’s message and answer questions about the events that led to the United States’ declaration of war.

We hope you find these activities useful in teaching students about Pearl Harbor. If you have any Pearl Harbor lesson plans for elementary and middle school, share them with us on Twitter (@HMHCo) or Facebook, or email us at


Give your students the chance to act like historians and develop their analytical skills with HMH Into Social Studies. This dynamic program includes engaging digital magazines and hands-on activities that will captivate your class.

HISTORY is a trademark of A&E Television Networks LLC. All rights reserved.

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