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The Cold War: 1945-1962

Lesson Plans by Richard Cleggett

Find these Common Core aligned lesson plans and more like them in our U.S. History Category!

Cold War Lesson Plans | Cold War Timeline

Student Activities for The Cold War Include:

In the aftermath of World War II, global politics came to be dominated by a struggle between two great powers: The United States and the Soviet Union. These two nations defined the course of history in the second half of the 20th century, and the legacy of their Cold War, continues to the present day.


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The Cold War Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Timeline: Post WWII-Korean War

Timeline - Major Events of the Initial Cold War
Timeline - Major Events of the Initial Cold War

Example

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Have students use a timeline to outline and define events immediately following the end World War II. Students will be able to explain and analyze what events led to the beginning of the Cold War, and how initial hostilities between the Soviet Union and U.S. developed.

Teachers may pre-select events, conferences, or actions for students to use; recommended timeline ideas include:

  • The Yalta Conference
  • The Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • The Potsdam Conference
  • The Truman Doctrine
  • The Berlin Airlift
  • The Warsaw Pact

This will allow students to see initial attempts at Soviet and American negotiations, as well as how the Cold War begins to heat up.


Extended Activity
Have students further analyze how both superpowers became even further alienated from each other by exploring who was involved in the alliance organizations: NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Students should identify how both groups geographically separate communist controlled satellite nations from democratically influenced nations of western Europe.



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5 Ws: The Korean War 1950-1953

5 Ws - Cold War - The Korean War: 1950-1953
5 Ws - Cold War - The Korean War: 1950-1953

Example

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In this activity, students will use a spider map to identify the major components of the Korean War. This will provide perspective on how the Cold War was shaped by the many proxy wars of the 20th century. The Korean War itself was an indirect conflict between the two superpowers, and would evince both countries’ dedicated stance on preserving, and spreading, their ideologies and control. Students will be able to connect and explain how this “hot” war directly correlates with the overall Cold War.



Extended Activity
Have students identify and explain the major components of the Chinese Civil War, between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong. Students should be able to draw connections between the Soviets’ aid to Chinese Communists, and how this also helped influence Soviet aid to the Korean conflict. Students may use a Spider Map to explain the major thematic components behind the war.


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Capitalism vs. Communism Economies

Comparative Grid - Cold War - Communism vs. Capitalism/Democracy
Comparative Grid - Cold War - Communism vs. Capitalism/Democracy

Example

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Students will compare and contrast the ideas and ideologies of both democracy and capitalism with communism and command economies. This will allow students to explain, analyze, and synthesize what defined each superpower’s belief system, in terms of society, economics, and government. Students will be able to connect how such differences in societal theory resulted in the Cold War being an ideological battle, defined by propaganda, espionage, and global control.



Extended Activity

Have students define and outline the major ideas of Adam Smith and Karl Marx. Students can compare and contrast both figures using a grid storyboard. This will allow students to identify the founding pioneers of capitalism and communism. It will provide historical context to where both nations looked in history to guide their development before and during WWII.



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Eisenhower vs. Khrushchev: A New Look

Khrushchev vs. Eisenhower - Emerging Superpower Leaders in the Cold War
Khrushchev vs. Eisenhower - Emerging Superpower Leaders in the Cold War

Example

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Using a T-Chart, have students compare and contrast the backgrounds, policies, relationship, and actions of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev, the elected leader of the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death. By comparing and contrasting the two world leaders, students will be able to connect continuous Cold War policies of both nations, as well as how both nations operated under new leadership. Exiting Truman’s presidency and Stalin’s strict control, tensions deepened between the two countries. Students will be able to explain and analyze how both leaders aimed to gain control in the evolving world.


Eisenhower vs. Khrushchev

Khrushchev Eisenhower
Background Nikita Khrushchev was born on April 15th, 1894. He was a skilled iron worker, and joined the ranks of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution in 1918. He became a protegé of Stalin, and was eventually elected to prime minister of Ukraine. After Stalin died in 1953, Khrushchev quickly rose to rank of premier, and instituted a de-Stalinization of the Soviet Union. Dwight D. Eisenhower was born October 14th, 1890. As a young man, Eisenhower had a keen interest in military affairs and history. He attended West Point, and was soon recognized for his organizational abilities, as well as commanding abilities. He eventually rose to Commander of the Allied forces, and later in 1952 was elected the 34th president of the United States.
Foreign Policy Khrushchev and his policy towards the west was rocky, yet more progressive than his predecessor, Stalin. However, Khrushchev did conflict with the U.S. over the control over East Berlin, which he refused to give up. In addition, Khrushchev oversaw the launch of Sputnik I, greatly inducing fear from the West. He also improved relations with the communist nation Cuba. Eisenhower ran his campaign on combating, and preventing, the influence of communism in the U.S. and across the globe. Under Eisenhower, he attempted to initiate disarmament between the U.S. and the Soviets, but to no avail. In addition, Eisenhower pledged to support the stoppage of communist threats in Southeast Asia. He also contributed to the nuclear and technological build-up to match the Soviets' progress.
Domestic Policy Domestically, Khrushchev remained true to communist principles. He aimed to increase production and manufacturing throughout the Soviet Union. In addition, Khrushchev oversaw improvements in weaponry and space technologies, including the Soviets' successful detonation of a hydrogen bomb, and the launch of space's first satellite, Sputnik I. In terms of domestic policy, Eisenhower's America flourished. Post-war America under him was strong. Eisenhower also initiated the creation of the Interstate Highway System for both traveling and defensive means. In addition to this, Eisenhower remained staunch on strengthening the space program in NASA, as well as support for science and higher education. He also ended segregation in the military.
Actions in the Cold War Throughout the continued Cold War, Khrushchev was instrumental in leading the Soviet Union. While he did aim for peaceful relations with the west, he placed nuclear weapons within Cuba, instigating the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as suppressed anti-communist revolts in Hungary. Furthermore, he also saw the construction of the Berlin Wall, which would come to symbolize the divide in the Cold War. For Eisenhower, his actions centered also around aiming at peaceful relations with the Soviet Union; however, his objectives of stopping the spread of communism did take precedent. He helped support the creation of SEATO, which vowed assistance to prevent communist influence in Vietnam. In addition to this, Eisenhower initiated domestic and foreign initiatives to protect the U.S. from potential Soviet attacks.


Extended Activity

Have students research ahead and compare another American president and Soviet leader, highlighting their policies, backgrounds, and how they functioned as leaders during the Cold War. Remind students that the Cold War stretches from after World War II until the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1991, so there are several choices for comparison.



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The Arms and Space Race of the Cold War

Cold War Terms - The Space Race and the Arms Race
Cold War Terms - The Space Race and the Arms Race

Example

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Using a spider map, have students create a word map to identify and explain the major terminology of the arms races and space race of the Cold War. This will allow students to further understand how close the countries came to nuclear war and reinforce the concept of mutually assured destruction, that is, the catastrophic nuclear bombardment of both countries that would inevitably result if either launched an attack. Students will be able to explain and define the terms of both technological races, and how these competitions furthered tensions between the two superpowers. The activity will also give context to the ever expanding technological developments that continue to shape our world today.



Extended Activity

Have students create a word map for today’s military and space technologies. Students should try to connect the recent advancements to those of the Cold War. Students will connect military and space advancements as they evolved over time. Some ideas include:

  • Mars Rover
  • Hubble Telescope
  • Drone technologies

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The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

Cold War - Major Events of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Cold War - Major Events of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Example

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Have students create a timeline of the events that culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, under President John F. Kennedy. Students will outline and define the events that led to both the U.S. and U.S.S.R. being on the brink of nuclear war. This will highlight major global policies and negotiations that took place to avoid conflict and nuclear destruction. In addition, this will help summarize the growing tensions that existed between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. when Kennedy took office, and elucidate how the Cold War was a continuous ideological conflict.


Extended Activity
Have students create a timeline of events affecting the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, led by Fidel Castro. This will highlight America’s sour relationship with the small, communist nation and how the U.S. responded over the years. Students should try to also connect to current day events, i.e. the Cuban embargo being lifted and improved relations with Cuba in 2015.


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Background to the Cold War


By the end of WWII, the Allied Powers had endured, and won, one of the costliest wars in history. Tens of millions, both combatants and civilians, had perished, large portions of Europe laid in ruins, and the power of atomic weaponry had been unleashed. Many sought peace, and the opportunity to begin reconstructing their homes, nations, and lives. However, the peace to come would be imperfect.

Two countries would ascend to be world superpowers: The United States and the Soviet Union. One founded on principles of democracy and capitalism, the other, a nation birthed from the ideologies of Karl Marx and communist theories. Both would vie for power, position, and control of global affairs. The result was an ideological war: The Cold War.

Former allies against the Axis, the U.S. and U.S.S.R found themselves at odds even before the final shots of the war. Europe was ripe for reshaping, and both countries aimed to dictate this transformation. The result was decades of proxy wars, propaganda, espionage, the space, nuclear and conventional arms races, and general distrust between the East and the West. The events that define the Cold War have left an indelible mark on global affairs from the end of World War II, until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Students will be able to explain, analyze, illustrate, and draw conclusions about how events unfolded post-WWII, and what events, figures, and ideas come to define the Cold War. Specifically, we will cover events from immediately after WWII, until 1962, when conflict arises between the U.S. and Cuba. By isolating and analyzing the history of Cold War in smaller segments, students and teachers alike can better understand how the conflict between the communist East and democratic West came to outline American history for the next half century.


Essential Questions for The Cold War

  1. What major events unfolded, post-WWII, leading to tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R?
  2. How did the serving presidents throughout the Cold War years handle affairs? What measures were taken domestically?
  3. How did technology factor into the Cold War? Specifically, how did the “Space Race” and arms races come to exemplify this rise in hostile technology?
  4. How was the Korean War a tangible result of the Cold War? Why is it a “proxy war”?
  5. What events defined the Cuban missile crisis and its resolution?
  6. What is the major differences between capitalist democracy and communism? How did these ideologies define the major differences between the U.S. and U.S.S.R?

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