Lesson Plan: The Battle of Iwo Jima

Battle of Iwo Jima

Turning point WWII battle on Iwo Jima; B-29 bombers and the iconic photo explained by Col. Dave Severance; US Marine casualties


The Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II was a turning point in the global conflict. Lasting over a month, the casualties were great: 6,800 Marines and sailors were killed in action. Veterans of the battle were awarded 27 Medals of Honor for courage in the battle, with most awarded posthumously. On February 23, 1945, the American flag was raised at Iwo Jima by six United States Marines from, three of whom were subsequently killed in the battle to gain the island. Joe Rosenthal was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his iconic photograph of the raising of the flag and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the image to boost morale in the US homefront. The U.S. military occupied Iwo Jima until 1968 when it was returned to Japan.



    To begin class, show students iconic photos from throughout history (many are available from the National Archives).

    Engage students in a discussion about World War II battles, the power of imagery, and the courage of veterans. Some questions for students to consider are:

    • What does the term “turning point” mean?
    • In war, who or what chooses the sites for battles?
    • What makes a image or photograph powerful?

    Direct your students to view the vocabulary terms that will appear in the lesson in the list to the right on this webpage. Have your students define and present the terms; we recommend they do so in a jigsaw activity to save time.

    Depending on time and resources, you may consider having your students define and present the terms in a Frayer's Model activity, where each student takes one or two words. Students can then post their models around the room for reference throughout the lesson. Note: this is not an all-encompassing list of terms included in each video. We recommend you previewing the video clips to determine any necessary additions/subtractions to this list for your specific students.


    As a class, view the four video clips below and have students respond to the accompanying questions. Discuss students' responses to ensure understanding of strategic battles, role of media, and iconic photographs.

  • Clip #1: The Battle of Iwo Jima (5:18). Col. Dave Severance, commander of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, explains why the United States had to take the island of Iwo Jima, how long the battle continued, and the origin of the iconic photo on Mount Suribachi. Note: provide your students access to the Battle of Iwo Jima Map (Google Doc) and the Photograph of Flag Raising on Iwo Jima (National Archives).

    • Based on the clip, why was the island of Iwo Jima strategic?
    • Why was the geography of this “pork chop-shaped” island so challenging?
    • What date is important to Col. Dave Severance? Why?
  • Clip #2: Two Flags (8:23). Col. Dave Severance of the United States Marine Corps describes how and why the Marines raised two flags on Iwo Jima. He explains how the photographers arrived for the flag raising and describes a surprise contact with Japanese fighters at the top of the volcano. Note: Rosenthal's photograph won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Photography, the only photograph to win the prize in the same year it was taken.

    • Based on the clip, what was the role of Fox Company?
    • What was the first American flag "tied" to?
    • According to Dave Severance, were the Marines attacked while the flag was being raised on Iwo Jima?
    • Why were there two American flags raised on Iwo Jima, according to Severance?
  • Clip #3: Film of the Battle (8:23). Major Norman Hatch talked about his experience as a combat cinematographer and photographer for the 2nd and 4th Marines. He showed his film from the battle for Iwo Jima.

    • According to Major Hatch, why should war be documented?
    • Based on the clip, what was unusual about the film of the LSTs and landing on the island?
    • What were the Marines forced to do once they landed on Iwo Jima, according to Major Hatch?
  • Clip #4: Battle Documentary (5:43). Filmed by the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, and edited by Warner Brothers studios, this U.S. Office of War Information documentary tells the story of the brutal 36-day battle for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima near the Japanese mainland. The clip also includes actual footage of the turning point battle in the Pacific Ocean.

    • According to the video, how did the Joint Chiefs of Staff view the Pacific Ocean?
    • What was the signal for the landing craft to head toward the beached of Iwo Jima, based on the clip?
    • How many ships (landing craft) landed on the beach?
    • List some differences between this clip and the previous clip (#3) of Film from the Battle of Iwo Jima.

    After your students are finished, direct them to complete the final culminating writing prompt and share their responses, comparing their perspectives with their classmates' perspectives. Remind students to be sure to include evidence from the video clips in the lesson to support their responses.

    • Why was the Battle of Iwo Jima important during World War II?
    • How does a famous image impact history?
    • How can a photograph become iconic?

    • Read the article, Harry George and Iwo Jima (PBS) to your students. Use the Sketch to Stretch Strategy (Facing History) with your students.
    • Have your students consider and respond to the following: If you could talk with Col. Severance or Maj Hatch, what questions would you ask them about the Battle of Iwo Jima? Why?
    • Have students analyze the iconic photograph of the flag raising on Mt. Suribuchi using the National Archives' Photo Analysis Tool.
    • Have your students consider and respond to the following two questions: 1.) How important is it to document through photographs and other media battles and other events during wartime? 2.) What other iconic photographs have had an effect on history?
    • Watch C-SPAN's Documenting History Through Photography (1:47:28) and have students discuss the impact of photography on history.

Additional Resources


  • Adjutant
  • Amphibious
  • Annihilate
  • Bombardment
  • Campaign
  • Cinematographer
  • Civilian
  • Corpsmen
  • Extent
  • Fortified
  • Icon
  • Joint Chiefs Of Staff
  • L S Ts
  • Mortar
  • Objective
  • Platoon
  • Precipitous
  • Rare
  • Samurai
  • Strategic
  • Summit
  • Veterans
  • World War Two


U.S. HistoryWorld History


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