World War 2 Map of Europe Activity

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With a curriculum as expansive as some historical ones are, we often shlep through talking about matters of geography. We might show a map in passing or glance over it when it’s relevant, but we are truly doing our students a disservice by not digging deeper, especially when looking at the World War 2 Map of Europe.

You see, so many today have no idea how to read a map!

Truly…with the invention of the GPS, it is much easier to just have turn-by-turn directions given to you (I’m just as guilty as the next person). However, studying maps in a historical sense is so much more than that. Understanding borders, territories, and changes over generations allows so much to make more sense, understanding why certain groups clash or even why we are having some issues today in the world.

Early on in my history teacher career, I realized something pretty profound.

You can discuss the history of any conflict at length…but if your students don’t have a concrete idea of where you’re talking about, some of the information will be lost in translation.

It’s no secret that World War Two changed the landscape of many parts of the globe. To think that there are boundaries that were forever changed and some places that no longer exist as they did in 1939 is mindblowing for some students.

Why the Changing Landscape of World War II Europe Matters

When looking at a World War 2 Map of Europe, it is important to fully understand the long-term implications of the changing of borders and the correlation with the change of power. The World War 2 Map of Europe is a mosaic of multiple regional wars that were interconnected through alliances, betrayal, and conquest. Understanding how the world was redrawn is key to understanding the power structures that exist today.

The distinct border changes of the World War 2 Map of Europe show not just the changing fortunes of war, but also the shifting alliances that have constantly been re-shuffled. When looking at a map of Europe during World War 2, it’s easy to see how it was incredibly fluid with constantly moving borders based on the temporary ceasefire lines drawn at the end of each conflict.

1939 – 1945: The World War 2 Map of Europe in 1939 and 1945

At the beginning of World War 2, Germany and its allies formed a strong and powerful force that threatened to overwhelm even the combined forces of Russia and France. By 1945, however, it was quite clear who had won and who had lost. While German troops were still entrenched in Russia, Poland, and the Netherlands, Germany had been almost completely decimated and was cut off from its allies.

1946 – 1948: The World War 2 Map of Europe after 1946

The shifting alliances that define the post-war era are well represented on a World War 2 map of Europe. After World War 2, Germany, Japan and Italy were defeated and occupied by the combined forces of the USA, Britain, and France. The weak and surrounded nations had no choice but to succumb to the new world order.

1945 – 1948: The Berlin Blockade & Airlift

In 1949 Germany was officially divided into West Germany and East Germany. The “Iron Curtain” made it impossible for anyone to cross from one side of Europe to the other, and for a time, life was different on each side of the border. In 1948 an Airlift brought supplies to Berliners living in West Berlin who had been cut off from any overland supply routes by their communist rulers in East Berlin.

1948 – 1989: The Post-War World Map of Europe

In 1949, Stalin ordered the blockade of West Berlin by not allowing any overland routes to be used for supplying the 2 million people living in Western fashioned capitalist Berlin. In response to this, a massive Airlift was initiated where food and supplies were carried over the English Channel into West Germany, then flown and airlifted to Berlin and distributed by trucks and trains.

That is a lot of movement of the world war 2 map of Europe in such a short period of time. It is important for our students to visually understand these changes and the implications of how power shifted from one nation to another and the alliances they formed. As we know, this leads to a whole host of problems as the Cold War begins brewing.

World War 2 Map of Europe Activity

Though they may understand this in theory, it is easier to comprehend visually.

Since most of us obviously don’t have the luxury of taking a field trip all over Europe with our students in tow each year, it is important to find a way to do this that will be effective and easily implemented in the classroom.

This World War 2 map of Europe activity does just that.

Multiple Variations of World War 2 Map of Europe Activity

This activity has several variations that will help you either break down the information easier for your students, or can readily differentiate for them.

There are two distinct maps in this World War 2 map of Europe activity. One is from during the war and the other is Post-WWII.

Each map has different versions to pick from.

The “during” World War 2 map (Europe) breaks down the occupation of the continent by Germany, USSR, Italy, and Neutrality.

There is a map version with each country labeled and one that is not, depending on the depth you want to achieve.

There are instruction sheets that go along with each. One breaks down the countries by the occupation categories, one just lists the countries in alphabetical order, and yet another asks for the dates the occupied countries were taken.

There is a key in all of the above to color code for visualization.

world war 2 map of europe

The “post” World War 2 map (Europe) shows the change of borders and also “zooms” in on Berlin to see the change there as well.

This map also has a pre-labeled and a blank version with the color-coding key.

When all is said and done, there is a comprehension question sheet that compares the two and also helps to foreshadow the Cold War via interpretation of geographical challenges that may be faced given the new borders.

This activity is perfect for every level of student who is learning about World War Two. The differentiated levels go from basic to complex and can still be adapted further by the teacher.

When the correct map is picked in regards to student level and achievement, they really enjoy working on this. It combines a challenge in researching the correct answers and also a fun, more laid-back feel as there is a color-coding element.

Why our students need to look at maps

Again, it is important that we are still teaching our students about maps in the classroom. We live in an era of GPS and it is vital that our children still read maps.

As a matter of fact, the Washington Post had an eye-opening article about the use of GPS devices and the decline in hippocampus development. To quote:

In a study published in Nature Communications in 2017, researchers asked subjects to navigate a virtual simulation of London’s Soho neighborhood and monitored their brain activity, specifically the hippocampus, which is integral to spatial navigation. Those who were guided by directions showed less activity in this part of the brain than participants who navigated without the device. “The hippocampus makes an internal map of the environment and this map becomes active only when you are engaged in navigating and not using GPS,” Amir-Homayoun Javadi, one of the study’s authors, told me.

The hippocampus is crucial to many aspects of daily life. It allows us to orient in space and know where we are by creating cognitive maps. It also allows us to recall events from the past, what is known as episodic memory. And, remarkably, it is the part of the brain that neuroscientists believe gives us the ability to imagine ourselves in the future.

O’Connor, M.R. “Ditch the GPS. It’s Ruining Your Brain.” The Washington Post, 5 June 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ditch-the-gps-its-ruining-your-brain/2019/06/05/
29a3170e-87af-11e9-98c1-e945ae5db8fb_story.html.

So in the end, this activity helps our students two-fold. It helps them visually understand the landscape of pre and post-World War II Europe and also helps brain development by understanding a map.

Every little bit counts!

If you’re interested, please check out World War Two Map of Europe During and After the War.

Activities like World War 2 Map of Europe and the 4 Keys

Coming up with activities like the World War 2 Map of Europe one for your students

isn’t difficult, it just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom.

If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.

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