Service and Citizenship Lesson Plan

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  • Students will be able to define citizenship and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.
  • Students will be able to evaluate racial minorities’ historical access to citizenship in the United States.

Essential Questions

  • What is citizenship?
  • How are citizenship and military service linked?
  • How have minority groups been denied citizenship even after completing military service?



  • Citizenship: the status of a person legally recognized by law as a member of a sovereign state or nation

Lesson Overview

  • For centuries, minority groups have used military service as a means to achieve U.S. citizenship. In this lesson students will analyze three major moments in which minority groups have enlisted into military service as a road to citizenship. These moments include: African Americans during WWI, Japanese immigrants during WWII, and Mexican immigrants today. While these groups dedicated themselves toward service, these groups were not always awarded citizenship for their efforts. Due to this, students will analyze the factors that prevented citizenship for Japanese immigrants and African Americans and the way in which these laws operate for Mexican immigrants today.


  • Ask students: What do you think of when you think of the word “citizenship?” What makes you a citizen? Write student answers on the board.
  • Ask students: Are there any rights and responsibilities not yet listed on the worksheet that you would like to add? Write these additional rights and responsibilities on the board under the definition of citizenship
  • Ask students: Should people who are not citizens be allowed to participate in military service? (Make sure students explain their point of view on the worksheet and keep track of the ratio of yes to no answers in the corner of the board)
  • Ask students: Should a non-citizen who fights in the military should be granted citizenship? (Make sure to have students explain their point of view on the worksheet and keep track of the ratio of yes to no answers in the corner of the board)
  • Historically, minority groups within the U.S. have viewed military service as a pathway to citizenship. Today, we will analyze the military service of African Americans during World War I, Japanese immigrants during World War II, and Mexican immigrants today in order to see how each groups involvement within those wars contributed greatly to the U.S. efforts and the events that followed their military service.
  • First, we’ll examine the military service of African Americans during World War I. While watching the video, consider the following questions:
    • What did Black soldiers symbolize?
    • Why was the Civil War era a formative period?
    • How did the experience of black soldiers in World War I contribute to the emergence of Black military culture?
  • Have students compare video answers in partners before discussing as a class. Some key points to highlight:
    • What did Black soldiers symbolize?
      • Black soldiers symbolized the continued struggle for black freedom and equality.
    • Why was the Civil War era a formative period?
      • The Civil War contributed to the eventual end of slavery and it was the first time African Americans were able to start being considered citizens (with the passages of the 13th. 14th, and 15th Amendments) along with being able to have their own combat units.
    • How did the experience of Black soldiers in WWI contribute to the emergence of Black military culture?
      • Soldiers came back from the war with a new consciousness which contributed to their ideas of democracy, equality, freedom, and citizenship and this new consciousness was then translated into activism.
  • Next, we will be reading about Japanese soldiers before, during, and after WWII in partners and answering the questions on the worksheet in partners.
  • Students should read article excerpt and complete questions in pairs or independently. After completing this section, have the class go over the section as a whole. Key points to highlight:
    • What was one way the U.S. Government prevented Japanese immigrants from receiving citizenship upon their arrival to Hawaii in 1885?
      • They were denied naturalization under the U.S. law
    • What factors contributed to Japanese Americans being established as a “model minority?”
      • Japanese Americans were able to benefit from the G.I. Bill in order to receive an education and contribute to society through industry.
    • How were Japanese veterans placed at a greater advantage following the end of WWII than Black veterans? Compare this with your knowledge about WWI veterans.
      • Japanese veterans benefitted from the G.I. Bill while black veterans did not receive benefits and continued to live under Jim Crow upon returning from World War I.
  • Next, we will read about Mexican immigrants serving in the military today. Students should read and answer questions again in pairs or independently and then go over the questions collectively. Key points to highlight:
    • Why is military service no longer a fast track to citizenship for immigrants?
      • Naturalization was removed from the basic training process, so immigrants are not automatically becoming citizens.
    • How are immigrants who serve in the military still subject to deportation?
      • Since immigrants do not go through the citizenship process after service, like other undocumented immigrants, they can be deported at any time, especially after breaking a law.
    • How is military enrollment affected by laws preventing immigrant soldiers from being in the military?
      • Most of the volunteers for the military are immigrants and by not allowing immigrants to contribute to the war effort, enrollment for the military has overall declined.
  • In closing, ask students: After reading these articles, are your opinions about immigrants and citizenship still the same?
  • Have students raise their hands to the following questions and compare the tallies from these questions to the previous answers to these questions. If there was a change in the yes to no ratios for either question ask students why their attitudes have changed. If there was no change, ask students why their attitudes remain the same.
    • Should non-citizens be allowed to participate in military service?
    • Should non-citizens who fight in the military be granted citizenship for their efforts?
      • Side note: one possible point of discussion for students who believe non-citizens should NOT be granted citizenship for their efforts is to ask them: Should military service, then not be considered a citizen responsibility?
      • This question would work as a point of discussion for those who responded YES to the first question as well.

Further Resources

Alignment to Common Core Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.6: Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

Alignment to AP United States History Objectives

  • NAT-2.0 Explain how interpretations of the Constitution and debates over rights, liberties, and definitions of citizenship have affected American values, politics, and society.
  • NAT-4.0 Analyze relationships among different regional, social, ethnic, and racial groups, and explain how these groups’ experiences have related to U.S. national identity.