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History is Fun!

Book VI: World War II

Unit 2: World War II

Lesson 1: Battle of Midway
Topic Overview:
Aptly named Midway Island stole the show in the Pacific Theater of WW II as the lead combat role for 3 days in June, 1942. The grand navies of 2 world powers fought for control of the miniscule atoll for crucial control in the Pacific. Few sea battles have been so pivotal, and the US emerged victorious and claimed superiority in the Pacific after what had been a year of setbacks. Although both sides lost at least 3 carriers and hundreds of men, it was the Japanese who failed and suffered the loss of hundreds of planes, thousands of men, and offensive momentum. The wind in the sails of Imperial Japan stopped blowing at Midway.
Activity Overview:
In this recreation simulation, students will play the roles of Japanese and American airplanes trying to sink each other’s aircraft carriers. The Americans are trying to find and destroy the Japanese carriers while the Japanese have to attack Midway and then find the American carriers. Students playing the Japanese will be blindfolded until they find the carriers and Midway Island. Then they will be given pitchers of water to fill cups. The Japanese will have to decide how to allocate their airplanes, but in the end the students will see that the Japanese trying to switch their airplanes from bombers to torpedoes will cost them the battle.


  1. Students will be able to describe the events at the Battle of Midway.

  2. Students will be able to explain why the US won the Battle of Midway.

  3. Students will be able to evaluate Japanese strategy at the Battle of Midway.


    1. Draw a line on the inside of the Dixie Cups about half way up.

    2. Draw a line on the inside of the Styrofoam cup about half way up. On the Styrofoam cup on the outside write Midway Island.

    3. Fill 2 pitchers with water

    4. Put desks to the outside of the room to clear out the middle.

    5. Place the Dixie cups according to the diagram.


  1. 2 pitchers filled with water

  2. 10 small cups

  3. 1 Styrofoam cup

  4. 6 blindfolds

  5. 30 plastic spoons

  6. Towels and paper towels

  7. Battle of Midway Worksheet and Key (p. 6,7)

  8. Battle of Midway Diagram (p.8)

Activity in Detail:

  1. Explain to students: “Aircraft carriers were pivotal to success in the Pacific for both the US and Japan. They were and are a way to project military power to an enemy. The Japanese strategy was to control the Pacific by sinking American carriers there. After Japan attempted to destroy them at Pearl Harbor and failed, both sides lost one at the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese also hunted what they thought were 2 American destroyers, the USS Enterprise and the USS Hornet. In reality, these were 2 powerful American carriers. A 3rd, the USS Yorktown, had been heavily damaged during the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the Japanese believed that they sunk it. However, the US Navy repaired the USS Yorktown and sent her off to sea to fight again. The Japanese could not attack Pearl Harbor again because the US had stationed more land-based planes there. As the US was trying to determine where the next Japanese attack would occur, the Japanese sent 4 aircraft carriers to the Island of Midway. The Japanese would 1st attack the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to bait the American carriers into a trap. However, the US broke the Japanese code that said the next attack would be at a place code-named ‘AF.’ A clever intelligence officer at Pearl Harbor found a way determine the meaning of ‘AF:’ US personnel on Midway would radio that they lost their ability to make fresh water. As the Japanese would intercept the message that said an American base was low on water, and if they used the code name ‘AF’ for that place, they would know that Midway was the place. The US deployed 3 carriers to Midway and awaited the attack.

  2. Show the class the location of the small cups, the styrofoam cup, the American fleet and the Japanese fleet.

  3. Divide the class into 2 teams: the US and Japan.

  4. Tell students:

  • The goal of this game is for the US to destroy all the Japanese Carriers and for the Japanese to destroy all the American carriers and Midway.”

  • To destroy a carrier, take 1 of the plastic spoons, put it inside the pitcher, and and use it to fill up to the line inside the cup.”

  • Before you can destroy the carriers, you have to find them.”

  • I need 3 people from each team to be scout planes. As I move both all the carriers around, you will have to find them, but you do not have radar. Therefore you will be blindfolded.”

  • Once the American scout planes find all the Japanese carriers, all the other planes can bomb them until they destroy them. A carrier is destroyed by filling the pitcher with water up to the line.”

  • The Japanese will do 2 things. Your scout planes will try to find the American Carriers. Also, you can send half of your aircraft to bomb Midway, because you already know where it is.”

  • Japanese planes can be equipped with either torpedoes or bombs, but not at the same time.”

  • Half of your planes have to be bombers and the other half have to wait until your scouts find the aircraft carriers.”

  1. Have the scout planes put on the blindfolds.

  2. Move the carriers after they are blindfolded to new locations, but not too far away.

  3. The 3 American planes will be searching for the Japanese carriers. In the meantime, the rest of the American planes must wait. The Japanese will send 3 planes to search for the American carriers, half their planes can be bombing Midway at will, and the other half have to wait. Do not let the Japanese totally destroy Midway. Use a bigger cup if necessary, or just say that they have not fully gone over the line.

  4. Stand by Midway so that both sides’ scout planes don’t accidentally tip it over. Begin the activity.

  5. Once all the Japanese carriers have been found, allow the Americans to begin bombing them. Yell “freeze” and stop everyone where they are.

  6. Tell the Japanese:

  • Admiral Nagumo must make a decision. Do you want to keep bombing Midway, or go after the American carriers?” Make sure they answer “carriers.”

  • All Japanese must wait for all their bombers to return from Midway. Since our map is not to scale, I will count to 10. Then all the Japanese have to turn around 10 times to become torpedo planes to bomb the carriers.”

  1. Choose 1 American to move close to the Japanese. Every 10 seconds he/she can touch 1 Japanese student, who must then dump his/her own water into the carrier cups (this shows that by switching planes, torpedoes and bombs were lying out on the flight decks when the Americans attacked).

  2. Let the Americans go back to bombing and let the Japanese do their circles. When all of them are finished, count them and let them attack the Americans. Once a carrier has been destroyed it cannot be attacked anymore.

  3. The Americans should win. Use the towels to clean up.

  4. Have students complete the Worksheet.


Explain to the students:

  1. In the Battle of Midway, the US was able to sink all 4 the Japanese carriers. We only lost the Yorktown.”

  2. This battle is considered to be the most important naval battle during WW II. The US stopped the Japanese offensive and forced the Japanese to be on the defensive for the remainder of the war.”


  1. Midway Worksheet

  2. Essay Question: How was the US able to win the Battle of Midway, and what was its significance?

Battle of Midway Worksheet

    1. Who fought in the Battle of Midway?

    1. How was the battle fought?

    1. How did the US know that the Japanese were going to attack Midway?

    1. Were the Japanese able to take over Midway?

    1. What kinds of planes did the Japanese use in the Battle of Midway?

    1. How did the different kinds of airplanes and different missions cause the Japanese to lose the Battle of Midway?

    1. How many carriers did each side lose?

    1. What was the significance of the Battle of Midway?

Battle of Midway Worksheet Key

  1. Who fought in the Battle of Midway?

The United States and Japan.

  1. How was the battle fought?

It was fought mainly by aircraft.

  1. How did the US know that the Japanese were going to attack Midway?

We broke a Japanese military code.

  1. Were the Japanese able to take over Midway?

No. The US attacked them before they were successful.

  1. What kinds of planes did the Japanese use in the Battle of Midway?

They used torpedo-bombers and bombers.

  1. How did the different kinds of airplanes and different missions cause the Japanese to lose the Battle of Midway?

The Japanese were trying to invade Midway and attack the American carriers. The Americans were only trying to destroy the Japanese carriers. Having to switch tactics and planes took too long for the Japanese, which allowed the Americans to attack them.

  1. How many carriers did each side lose?

The Americans lost 1 carrier and the Japanese lost 4.

  1. What was the significance of the Battle of Midway?

The Japanese their offensive strength and would be on the defensive for the rest of the war.

Battle of Midway Diagram

Battle of Midway, Page
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