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Fallout Shelter

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
five classes of 45 minutes
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will study communism as it related to the Cold War. In particular, they will study the Korean War and the war in Vietnam. They will watch clips of speeches on the SmartBoard, read articles, and build a mock fallout shelter in the classroom.
  • Students will study communism as it related to the Cold War.  In particular, they will study the Korean War and the war in Vietnam.  They will watch clips of speeches on the SmartBoard, read articles, and finally build a mock fallout shelter in the classroom.  Finally, they will create a diary from the shelter, explaining what their life would be like, given this scenario.
Rationale (why are you doing this?)

It is difficult for students in 2010 to comprehend the fear that existed following World War II, regarding  Communism and the United States being attacked and/or conquered by Communism.  It was a very real and palpable fear.  Coupled with the fear of Communism was the fear that the world would be destroyed by nuclear weapons.  The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 showed the devastation that could be unleashed.  Two world powers—the United States and the USSR—had the power to unleash these monsters and destroy the world.  In the late 1950’s, the race for space heated up between these two powers and people were even more uncertain about the future.  The idea of survival was nothing new in Europe, for example, where bombing was a part of life during World War II.  In the United States, the idea of finding a place to be safe became popular during the 1950’s, into the 1960’s.   There was a market for building a bomb shelter, later called a “fallout shelter,” because people would have to survive nuclear fallout.  I thought that building a mock fallout shelter in the classroom would help students realize that people were really serious about this fear.  My classroom is in a basement room, with only one window of walls, so I thought it would be reasonable to cordon off a corner of this room.  This exercise will lead into the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam in subsequent lessons.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Research fallout shelters and the threat of Communism in the 1950s-60s
  • Use critical thinking skills to design a mock fallout shelter
  • Use creative writing skills to create a diary from the fallout shelter
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Missouri Show-Me Standards:  In Social Studies, students in Missouri public schools will acquire a solid foundation which includes knowledge of (#7) the use of tools of social science inquiry, such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents.  Students will use the document to learn about the fallout shelter.

NCSS Standard II:  Time, Continuity and Change:   Social Studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ways human beings view themselves in and over time, so that the learner can (d) identify and use various sources for reconstructing the past, such as documents, letters, diaries, maps, textbooks, photos, and others.     Focusing on the building of a bomb shelter gives students the experience of survival using the items that were available 60 years

KANSAS STANDARDS (History-8th Grade)

Benchmark 4: The student engages in historical thinking skills

1. (A) examines a topic in United States history to analyze changes over time and makes logical inferences concerning cause and effect.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • “How You Can Survive Fallout,”  Life magazine.  September 15, 1961.
  • Red/blue map of communism—Giants in the Playground website
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
  • Harry Truman introducing Truman Doctrine.
  • White House Diary, January 1, 1961—Soviet desire to resume nuclear tests
  • John Kennedy (September 25, 1961) following death of Dag Hammarskjöld, speaking about bans on nuclear weapons (also at under “White House Diary”)
  • News conference November 8, 1961:  Kennedy announces that United States will lift nuclear weapon ban
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  • Review terms on “term sheet,” as they pertain to the Cold War. 
  • Show Harry Truman clip on the Truman Doctrine.
  • Also show clips of JFK.  Access JFK Library website.
  • Read articles in the Life magazine from September 15, 1961. 
  • Round table discussion with students “What would people need in a fallout shelter?”
  • Have students list ten necessary items from the 1950’s-60s that would be considered necessary
  • Assigned groups to discuss their choices.
  • By the close of class, class should have a list on the SmartBoard…to be continued next class
  • When choices have been made, students will volunteer to bring certain items to class, or find items in classroom or school (EG: Wooden table and chairs are readily available.)
  • On selected day, classroom will become the bomb shelter.  Docent-led tours will be held for students on our level.
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide
  • Students will be responsible for preparing a guide to the fallout shelter during computer time. They will work in pairs.  They will work as docents for younger students, and hand out their guide to each visitor.  (Fallout Shelter: Docent Pamphlet)
  • Students will be responsible for a 5-day diary within the fallout shelter.

(Fallout Shelter Rubric: Diary)


 Name ________________________________        Date _______________


_____ 15 points      Diary includes a five-day journey through life in a fallout shelter. 

                                This includes a description of the shelter, people in the shelter,

                                and activities that go on day-to-day.   Some activities will be

                                repetitious, but the diary should also include different activities each



_____  10 points     Diary is from first person point of view, written from the perspective

                                of a student your age who is in a fallout shelter during the early

                                1960’s.  However, spelling should be accurate.  Diary writing is

                                different than essay writing, but the reader must be able to understand                               your thinking.  Present-day slang is not acceptable.  Use terminology      

                                of the time:  “Gee, cool, golly, wow, etc.”


______ 15 points    There should be at least three references to what is going on in the

                                outside world.  Include historical events and names that are relevant  

                                to this time period.  (EG:  You might mention that John Kennedy was

                                elected president in 1960, or the Life article we read, or Premier

                                Nikita Khrushchev. 


______    5 points    Diary was turned in on time.


______    5 points    Diary is made by you, written by hand, creatively decorated.





TOTAL POINTS:        /50                    A          B            C               D        



Teacher’s Comments: 


 Fallout Shelter Rubric:  Docent Pamphlet

Name _____________  

Date _____________           



____ 5 points    Docent pamphlet was turned in on time.


____ 10 points    Pamphlet was created by you and another

                           student in computer lab, using visuals.


____ 15 points   Pamphlet shows an understanding of the time

                          period and the reason for the fallout shelters.

                          uses for articles within the shelter are clearly

                          stated.   Pamphlet appropriately accompanies

                          tour to younger students.


____  10            Pamphlet is neat and clean, easily read. 

                          Size 12-14 font, use of the King’s English


____  10           The tour was conducted using the pamphlet. 

                          Ideas were clearly stated, and guests’ questions

                          were answered, or an answer was sought.




TOTAL:           /50           A       B        C         D         F


Teacher’s Comments: