Cold War Lesson Plans for High School:

World History Lesson Plans for High School

[See our History of China for Kids page here.]

Author: Inside the Cold War

Unit Title: Cold War

Lesson Title: Impact of the Early Cold War on High School Students

Subject: World History; US History

Level: 10 – 12th Grades

Length of Lesson: Two 45-minute periods or one 90-minute period


These Cold War history lesson plans for high school provide insights on the Cold War by placing today’s high school students in the place of high school students during the Cold War. This history lesson plans also generate discussion on similarities and differences between the Cold War and today regarding potential disasters at home and military service abroad.

Students will analyze the 1951 US government civil defense film “Duck and Cover” and practice some of the techniques shown in the film. They will then prepare a family readiness plan to enhance their family’s readiness for natural disasters or WMD, using guidelines from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

They will also review a film showing combat in the Korean War and discuss the role of drafted teenage soldiers in the conflict.


1. Students will understand the nuclear threat during the Cold War.
2. Students will understand how high school students were trained to respond to the nuclear threat in 1951.

3. Students will be able to compare the 1951 civil defense strategy with today’s strategy for WMD.

4. Students will create a family disaster plan to enhance readiness for a natural disaster or WMD attack.

5. Class will review and understand key elements of their school’s emergency plan.
3. Additional topic: Students will be able to discuss the role of draftees in the Korean War and compare that conflict with the role of teenagers in the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Resources and Activities:

Cold War Lesson Plans for High School

The 1951 film “Duck and Cover:”

Students will watch the film, produced by the US government for students during the Cold War, and try some of the self-protection moves shown in it, such as going under their desks when warned of an atomic attack.

Teachers can note the film was produced shortly after the Soviet Union, America’s main adversary in the Cold War, obtained the atomic bomb. Until then, the US was the only country with this powerful weapon. During the following Cold War years, both sides worried about a potential nuclear attack from the other.

DHS/FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) “Be a Hero” Curriculum for 9-12 Graders:

Students will learn about the most important potential disasters and emergencies. They will compare today’s threats and responses to those covered in the “Duck and Cover” movie. Students will create a family preparedness and communication plan.

School Emergency Plan:

Teacher to use excerpts from his/her school, focusing on responses to natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes.

Additional Topic: Korean War & High School Kids

Students will view the film “US Forces Liberate South Korean Capital” (1950) on the Korean War for Kids page:

[this page is also suitable for its own stand-alone 45-minute lesson]

More than 4,000 teenagers (19 years old and younger) from just the Army were killed in action during the Korean War, the first major “proxy war” between the US and Soviet Union of the Cold War. About 1.5 million Americans were drafted during the Korean War and another 1.3 million volunteered for the military during that period. During this period, a number of people under the age of 18 managed to join the military.

Soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), America’s longest war, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, were almost always required to be 18 or older. Well over 1,000 18-21 year old’s have died for their country out of nearly 7,000 total.

Discussion points:

Why do many teenagers and young people tend to be killed in war?

Compare and contrast the issues of a war in which many soldiers were drafted – required to join the military – and those in which NO Americans were drafted (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). Is it more or less fair to wage a war with an all-volunteer force, such as today’s? Does a war with all volunteers change the level of commitment by the US population? What would life be like for high school students today if they faced being drafted and sent to war?

Why is this American Air Force Plane Dropping Candy
on Germany, a Country in Europe?

And Why Are These Children Separated by a Fence?
It’s All Part of the Cold War — You Can Learn About It Here

The Cold War started soon after the end of World War II, the most destructive conflict in the history of the planet. America and its allies, including Great Britain and the Soviet Union, defeated Japan and Germany. Many millions of people perished in the war and the conflict revealed the depths of human savagery, including the Holocaust in which Germany killed men, women and children because they were Jewish or belonged to some other disliked group.

At the end of World War II, America and the Soviet Union were the strongest countries left standing. There were major differences between them. The Soviet Union was a communist country, where the government controlled the economy, and was ruled by a brutal dictatorship. The United States was a democratic country with a free economy. But at first, they remained friends.

Americans were so happy the war was over.

Most just wanted to get back to normal life

But soon after the end of World War II, the Soviets began imposing communism on other countries. Their country had been devastated by the war and they felt they deserved to have control over enemy countries, as well as territories they had dominated before the conflict.

In 1947, U.S. President Harry Truman announced that America would help the countries of Greece and Turkey fight attempts to turn them into communist countries and allies of the Soviet Union.

This is often viewed as the beginning of the Cold War. It’s called the Cold War because even though the main struggle was between the Soviet Union and America, they never engaged in a direct, all-out “hot war” from the beginning until the end in 1991.

After World War II, Germany and its capital Berlin were divided. The Soviets controlled part of it and America, along with its allies Britain and France, the rest. In June 1948 the Soviets decided to make a move to control Germany, the most important country in Europe. They blocked all the roads and railroads into Berlin, making it impossible for those living in the American and allied parts of the city to get supplies. America responded with the “Berlin Airlift” to fly in everything a city needed to keep going. This totaled 2,325,510 tons of cargo, including coal for heating, food and milk, machinery, soap, medical supplies and newspapers. The U.S. Air Force even sent a baby camel for the children of Berlin. American pilots were known for dropping candy with little parachutes from their planes for the kids of Berlin.