New DocsTeach Activity: The Night Before D-Day

Tomorrow is June 6th—the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  To commemorate this important historical event, we published a new activity on DocsTeach that focuses on two documents related to D-Day.  The Night Before D-Day challenges students to compare and contrast a public statement and a private note written by General Dwight Eisenhower before the invasion to gain a better understanding of the mindset of Eisenhower.

Photograph of General Dwight D. Eisenhower Giving the Order of the Day

Photograph of General Dwight D. Eisenhower Giving the Order of the Day

The activity focuses on two documents that vary considerably in appearance, tone, and message.  The first is Order of the Day that was shared with 175,000 troops on the eve of the invasion.  Eisenhower worked on the language of this Order for months, carefully choosing his words to inspire the troops.  The second document is noticeably rougher—a misdated message scrawled on a piece of paper taking full blame for a potential failed invasion.

Screenshot of Activity

Teacher “missmorgan810” gave us an on-the-ground report about using these documents in her classroom via Twitter. She told us at @DocsTeach that she “had students argue whether it was right/wrong of Eisenhower to write a failure letter.” The activity went “Surprisingly well! I expected everyone to put the same answers but their explanations even made me rethink my opinion!”

Don’t primary sources generate great discussions? According to missmorgan810, “Primary resources have allowed me to see a whole new side of my students. It’s awesome!” We agree!

We suggest teaching with this activity in units related to World War II. Students in grades 6-12 may work either individually or in small groups. Approximate time needed is 20 minutes. The activity can be found under The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945) or directly at

To begin the activity, ask students to read both documents.  Model careful document analysis with your students by directing their attention to the types of documents, any unique marks apparent, and the five Ws and H.  Then focus their attention on similarities and differences in the style, tone, audience, and message of these documents.  After reading, discuss these similarities and differences.

Specific questions to discuss include:

  • How does Eisenhower describe the invasion?
  • How does Eisenhower describe the troops?
  • How does Eisenhower describe the enemy?
  • How does Eisenhower describe his role in the invasion?

After discussing these details, ask students to imagine the mindset of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the Allied forces in Europe during WWII, felt the night before the attack.

WWII: Europe: France; “Into the Jaws of Death - U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire”

WWII: Europe: France; “Into the Jaws of Death – U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire”

This could be a great activity for exploring Dwight Eisenhower for the 2015 National History Day “Leadership and Legacy in History” theme too!

This activity was adapted from an article formerly published on by David Traill, a teacher at South Fork High School in Stuart, FL.




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One Response to New DocsTeach Activity: The Night Before D-Day

  1. Stephanie says:

    Also check out our new Google Cultural Institute exhibit “1944: D-Day and the Normandy Invasion”! It pulls together striking images and primary sources to tell the story of D-Day.

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