Cold War Tensions Between the US and the USSR

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
Two 90 minute blocks
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will examine how the end of WWII, and especially the threats of atomic weapons and Communism, changed the political dynamics of the world.

Take notes over primary documents

Work in groups to analyze and summarize primary documents

Collaborate to make decisions based on authentic scenario

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

Students need to understand how the end of WWII, and especially the threats of atomic weapons and Communism, changed the political dynamics of the world

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Analyze primary documents in context of historic events
  • Defend or criticize policy choices using text evidence
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

•     Florida NGSSS: SS.912.A.6.10 Explain the causes, course, and consequences of the early years of the Cold War

•     Florida NGSSS: SS.912.A.6.13 Analyze significant foreign policy events during the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

•     “Advise the President: Harry S. Truman,” Issues Guide from National Archives

•     Deliberation? from

•     Philosophical Chairs instruction video from YouTube

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

•     Truman Doctrine 

•     Marshall Plan  

•     Warsaw Pact

•     NATO

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

•     Activate Prior Knowledge--Show photo of Potsdam and have students write a caption to explain what is happening at the meeting

•     Review how the war in the Pacific ended through US/USSR cooperation and atomic bombs

•     Review differences in Communism/Free Market representative govt

•     Pass out primary source documents or pull up on device--groups summarize passages and write on chart paper

•     Groups present their summaries; students take notes from presentations

•     As class discussion,use SmartNotebook to create mind map graphic organizer to show connections between the documents using terms:


               Economic aid




               Gen. George Marshall

               Pres. Harry Truman

               Truman Doctrine

               Marshall Plan

               Warsaw Pact


               Soviet Union

               Eastern Bloc

               Western Bloc


•     Students should include the graphic organizer in their notes.  Write one question in the margin which could be answered by the graphic organizer.  Turn and share your question.

•     Writing wrap-up--What steps did the Soviet Union and the United States take to protect their interests during the early years of the Cold War?


Second session:

•     Activate prior knowledge: Show the graphic organizer created at the end of the last session and read some a couple of exemplary writing pieces from the wrap-up.

•     Pass out

•     Explain the idea of deliberation using the explanation.  Establish norms for discussion. Display norms during discussion.

•     Students read background whole group on p. 2-4

•     Groups examine p. 5 & 6 for geography, beliefs and desires of USSR and US. Groups highlight the most important factors they agree on for page 6.

•     Randomly assign groups to each option of the Issues Guide. Students should study their options , highlighting the significant points under “What We Could Do” that agree with their values on p. 8-13. Take about 20 minutes to discuss.

•     Students should all turn to the Summary and read the three options, again highlighting major points with which they agree. Take about 7 minutes to read silently and highlight.

•     Students should decide which option they feel strongly about and move to the section of the room that is labeled with their option.  As groups gather, have them compare highlights and notes from their Issues Guides. 

•     Conduct a Philosophical Chairs discussion, allowing students to change their position as they deliberate. Take about 20 minutes.

•     Read p. 18-19 whole group.  Discuss which option President Truman chose.

•     Homework: Use what you have learned to write an essay. First, summarize the beliefs and desires of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. in the early years of the Cold War. Next, summarize the trade-offs and benefits of the option you preferred. Finally, compare your option to the choices President Harry Truman made.

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

Student writing from first session; teacher observation of group discussion and class discussion; evaluate understanding of issues in homework essays.