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Teaching Resources: The Cold War

Monday November 23, 2015

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Since the introduction of the Cold War into the history syllabus for many secondary schools around the country, some teachers may be nonplussed as to how to best convey this historical event to their students. Unlike many of the other poignant and chaotic wars on the history curriculum, the Cold War was conflict fought off the battlefield and can therefore seem rather mundane in comparison.

However, this clash between the two great superpowers of the twentieth century was by no means a placid one. In fact, the power struggle behind the scenes led to a nuclear arms race that could have had catastrophic consequences.

Teaching the Cold War

There are numerous teaching resources available which are great for engaging students with the Cold War. With so many significant events throughout the stalemate between the USA and the Soviet Union, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most useful teaching tools out there.

Overviews

Finding a good overview of the Cold War can be tricky. If you haven’t got the patience to decipher Wikipedia’s offering, this quick summary from The History Learning Site could prove particularly useful. Highlighting all the main themes, this outline of the conflict between the Soviet Union and the USA will cement your understanding of the situation.

Another concise synopsis, The Choices Program offers a brief outline of events, as well as a few suggested lesson plans and the benefits of doing a classroom role play. The role play is a particularly effective way of giving students a deeper understanding of the political dilemma and competing values between the two sides, allowing pupils to voice their own views and opinions on the situation.

If your students respond more to visuals, this 13 and half minute video by Crash Course succinctly summarises the Cold War and establishes a basic understanding of the events from 1945 to 1990. As well as explaining why the Cold War materialised, this video highlights how the clash of ideologies fuelled the conflict between the superpowers.  

Cuban Missile Crisis

A pivotal moment during the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis nearly catalysed a nuclear war between the two superpowers. Teaching this significant event from 1962 is easily done using this complete lesson plan by Spy Museum. It not only offers an in-depth teaching plan but also a whole host of resources to use in the classroom.

Clash of ideologies

A fundamental part of understanding the origins of the Cold War is getting to grips with the clash of ideologies between the USA and the Soviet Union. This insightful Cold War lesson plan poses students with the question of who was primarily responsible for the Cold War, requiring them to get to evaluate both powers’ beliefs and the reasons behind them.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

The Arms Race was a key component of the Cold War, with both powers’ nuclear capabilities having a crucial part in determining who would prevail. This secondary school lesson plan is a great way of getting pupils to understand the threat of nuclear weapons during the war, as well as highlighting why the war was in fact ‘cold’.

Another perceptive lesson plan for teachers trying the get their students to appreciate the threat of a nuclear war, Discovery Education’s learning resource poses many questions for pupils to consider. It focuses on getting students to empathise with what it would have been like to live through the Cold War, highlighting its importance as a historical event.

If you know of any other great Cold War teaching resources you think we’ve missed, get in touch to advise us about additional resources.

Finally, if you’d like to bring teaching the Cold War to life by taking your students to one of epicentres of the conflict, get in touch with one of the WST team or take a look at our history and politics school trips to Washington brochures for more information.