Teaching complex historical issues to adolescent students can be a challenge. With all of the names, dates, and complicated moral and cultural issues, the feat can seem insurmountable. But, through creativity, games, and other artistic and kinesthetic exercises, even events like the Cold War become manageable to any instructor hoping to educate their students. The following Social Studies – History Activities can help you get started!
1. Make a Timeline
Creating an interactive class time line can help students visualize when events took place. By highlighting major events and the sequences of events, students are able to keep track of who, what, where, and when these key moments occurred.
Learn More: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
2. Word Wall
Vocabulary is not just for English class! Creating a vocabulary wall can help students learn cultural terms and other words they may not normally recognize that are specific to this unit with students.
Learn More: Reading Rockets
3. Baseball Cards for History
In small groups or partners, have students create “baseball cards” for important United States and Soviet Leaders, such as Joseph Stalin and Joseph McCarthy. Then, have them share with the class and hang them up to reinforce the information!
Learn More: Study Lib
4. Guided Reading
Understanding historical issues can actually come down to a student’s literacy level. By providing a guided reading worksheet, teachers can enrich students’ understanding of primary sources while simultaneously providing real-time student data about student learning. These questions can be adjusted to reading level accordingly.
Learn More: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
5. Virtual Reality Tour of Berlin Wall
Technology has made what was once out of reach within our grasp, and virtual reality is no exception. In fact, the digital resource exists to allow students to take a virtual reality tour of the Berlin Wall, allowing them to understand the extent of the trauma of living in East Berlin, and consequently the hope of West Berlin, during the Cold War.
Learn More: BBC Click
6. The Fall of the Wall
The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, plenty recent enough to have full video clips of the event all over YouTube. Not only does this interactive resource bring students into the event, but it also shows them it really was not as long ago as they may feel. There are a plethora of video options available to choose from, so choose what best fits your class and time allowance.
Learn More: DW Documentary
7. Cold War Classroom
Divide the school classroom into 2 sides. Then, read off different public policies of both the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as achievements and leaders. Have student walk to the side of the classroom to see what students think each side did/said!
Learn More: Edutopia
8. Cold War Writings
A critical skill when it comes to learning is being able to communicate that learning with others. By allowing students to choose their own writing prompt, then respond with sources and reasoning, you help them develop critical thinking skills as they communicate their knowledge while allowing them to have ownership over their education through choice.
Learn More: Study Corgi
9. Resource Pack
Create a resource packet for students to go back into/use as sources for their projects. This is great because you can make sure to adjust it to students’ various reading levels so every child has an opportunity to understand and succeed, no matter their literacy skills or fluency.
Learn More: School History
10. Questions for Students
Create a list of questions for students to give as a pretest and post-test. This can ensure that you spend more lesson plan time on the issues students know less about rather than wasting time on what they already know. Adjust the questions and answer expectations to your students’ levels!
Learn More: Essential Qs As Origins Cold War Revision Sheet
11. Lesson PowerPoints
Most teachers already use PowerPoint, but if you don’t then you definitely should for these lessons. By providing visuals to students, you allow them to both aurally and visually experience the material. You can even have them create their own PowerPoints for a more interactive experience!
Learn More: Cold War Intro
12. Democratic Countries and Communist Countries
Create (or buy) magnets of the flags of the countries (US and European) involved in the Cold War. Then, have students sort them kinesthetically into Democratic or Communist countries. This can also be done in a digital classroom format for an online activity!
Learn More: Zazzle
13. Lesson on the Truman Doctrine
The Truman Doctrine is vital to students’ understanding of the Cold War and modern American foreign policy. By including a full lesson on the Containment Policy and other aspects of Harry Truman’s proposal, students will gain a better understanding of US History, past, present, and future.
Learn More: EDSITEment
14. Lessons from Joseph Stalin
One of the most infamous politicians of all time, Joseph Stalin’s policies were dark, but effective. By having students directly study his life and rule, they can start to recognize how he gained and maintained such power.
Learn More: Britannica
15. International Alliances
Have students in pairs or small groups represent different countries. Then, without them revealing which country they are, have them try to divide themselves into the different international alliances that made up the sides of the Cold War. Use videos and your resource packet to help students gather information!
Learn More: Neo K12
16. Eastern Europe vs. Western Europe
Spend time creating a chart or color coded map to separate different policies of Eastern Europe and Western Europe accordingly. This can help students visualize which countries believed what ideas.
Learn More: Wikimedia Commons
17. The Space Race
Create a themed scavenger hunt that uses questions, activities, and more themed around the Space Race and have students literally race through it to see who wins! This is a fantastic activity for high energy classes who find the need to move around.
Learn More: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
18. The Berlin Airlift
Before explaining how it actually happened, present students with the issue of getting supply to a blockaded and isolated nation in need. Have them come up with and present ideas using maps, lists, and more. Then proceed to teach them what actually happened with the Berlin Airlift and the importance of the mission in world and American History.
Learn More: Truman Library
19. Cold War Kahoot
A fantastic way to review all of the different things students learn throughout the Cold War unit, Kahoot is a digital interactive activity that allows all students to participate in the review.
Learn More: Kahoot
20. The Cold War Today
This final activity allows students to explore the complexity of the Cold War and how it ended, yet continues to impact our world today. Have students research different areas of the Cold War and create PowerPoints to teach their peers how the Cold War persists even today. Some issues covered could be space exploration, nuclear development, and even social policies.
Learn More: PBS Learning Media