The Cold War




Inside The Cold War


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 olds 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 totalled 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.
 "Vittles" the dog flew 131 missions during the Berlin Airlift with his master, an Air Force officer. Vittles was in the air so much they made a special parachute for him. Luckily he never had to use it (his master did have to bail out once when Vittles was not on board; the parachute worked and he was soon reunited with his dog.)

But the Berlin Airlift was very serious business.


Twelve American planes crashed, killing 30 U.S. servicemen and one civilian.


After about a year, the Soviets gave up and started allowing ground transportation back into Berlin.


Was It Worth the Price?


“Without the help of the Americans [and their Allies], I wouldn’t be here,” recalled a woman who was a 7-year-old girl during the airlift. “I wouldn’t be alive to enjoy the freedom you brought to us Germans.”

Conflicts: Hot and Cold

Soon after the Berlin Blockage ended, North Korea, with the support of the Soviet Union and China, invaded South Korea, an American ally.


The Korean War was one of the "hot conflicts" of the Cold War, in many ways a "proxy war" between the U.S. and Soviet Union in which the Soviets used other countries, or proxies, to do most of their fighting. The Soviets supplied the North Koreans and also huge numbers of Chinese troops fighting America and its allies. While they tried to hide it, the Soviets also participated directly, flying fighter planes and operating anti-aircraft guns that shot down many U.S. planes.  Korea was followed years later by the Vietnam War; almost 100,000 Americans died in these conflicts, along with many more from other countries. Americans also perished or were captured while conducting Cold War spy flights near or over communist countries, or performing intelligence missions or other activities in support of the United States. The stories of some American heroes from the Cold War are still secret.


For Americans who served in the "hot conflicts" and sacrificed, were wounded or gave their lives -- and the families of these service members -- the Cold War was just as terrible as any other war.


Unlike earlier conflicts, the incredibly powerful nuclear weapons held by the Soviets and U.S., and later other countries, threatened a war that could end life on earth as it was known. The "arms race" involved each side increasing the number and power of its nuclear and regular weapons.



These weapons made made any confrontation between the U.S. and Soviet Union very dangerous.




Nuclear missiles and bombs meant that just about everyone in America and the Soviet Union was a risk. Kids at U.S. schools had to practice for an attack. They would hide under their desks or in the hallway.


Back in Berlin, in 1961 the communist East Germans and their Soviet friends suddenly put up a barrier, soon to be called the "Berlin Wall." They wanted to stop people who were running away to the free part of German.
The wall separated Berlin and the rest of German into pro-Soviet and pro-American sides; the communists used dogs, guns and landmines to keep their people from escaping.
The wall got so high that people had to climb ladders to wave to their family and friends on the other side.
If people tried to cross the wall, East German guards shot them.


Even kids were separated by the wall.

While the Berlin Wall stayed up, there were many other Cold War confrontations around the world. In 1962, a super-fast American U2 spy plane spotted Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, a country close to the State of Florida. The U.S. and Soviet Union came frighteningly close to a nuclear war before the crisis was resolved. Other incidents included conflicts in the Middle East, such as the 1973 Yom Kippur attack by Soviet allies against Israel; the crushing of popular uprisings against the Soviets in several countries; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. American intelligence officers even helped fighters loyal to the Dalai Lama battle Chinese occupation of Tibet.


In just about every part of the world, there was some sort of fighting, demonstrating or spying related to the contest between America and its allies and the Soviets and theirs. While the communists committed many atrocities, and sought to install dictatorships, some of America's allies also violated human rights. American politicians debated whether resistance to communism sometimes justified brutal tactics.

America's Economy Grew Much Stronger than the Soviet's

That meant the US could develop and afford the best tanks, airplanes and other military technology in the world, plus deploy that technology and well-trained soldiers around the world. Meantime, the Soviets -- whose communist economic system didn't work -- were falling farther and farther behind.

"Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down this Wall!”

In June 1987, President Ronald Reagan visited Berlin and issued a challenge to the Soviet Union. “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace,” he said, sending a message to the new head of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
President Reagan was also increasing America's military spending and supporting fighters battling Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan. Gorbachev, realized his country could not keep going as before, started to make changes.

By 1989 It Was Clear the Soviet Union Was Close to the End

East Germans began demonstrating and escaping. When the communists tried to keep some control by relaxing restrictions, the demonstrations grew even larger until crowds starting pulling down the wall. In the past, East German authorities would have responded by shooting. But now, they gave up. East and West Germany were soon unified, becoming one country again under a democratic, pro-U.S. government.

After the wall fell, the Soviet Union itself followed soon after. It was officially dissolved in December 1991, creating the Russian Federation and, in effect, freeing most of the various countries forced in the Soviet Union.


America and its allies had won the Cold War.

Legacy of the Cold War

The Cold War left a complicated inheritance to people today. Because of the conflict, the world still has a large supply of nuclear weapons and other terrible armaments. Many countries were left with debts and environmental damage. China remains a dictatorship and Russia and the United States often disagree on important issues. Korea remains separated and the people in the North, the communist side, are treated brutally by their government. Many American families, and those in other countries, lost loved ones. Some American soldiers have never come home (see

On the other hand, America and its allies were able to prevail without another World War. That allowed people across the world to have freedom and the right to help determine their own futures. For many people, the costs of the Cold War were high, but worth it in the end.

Did Your Parents or Grandparents Serve During the Cold War?

If So, They May Be Eligible for the U.S. Cold War Recognition Certificate

The Certificate is provided by the U.S. military at no charge. Have them get details by clicking on the document.

Cold War for Kids: Puzzles and Coloring


Click Here