Cold War


With our Cold War lesson plan, students learn about the Cold War, including when and where it took place, the key events and people involved in the conflict, and the underlying causes for the conflict. Students also learn related vocabulary and learn about the lasting impact of the Cold War in the United States and elsewhere.

Included with this lesson are some adjustments or additions that you can make if you’d like, found in the “Options for Lesson” section of the Classroom Procedure page. One of the optional additions to this lesson is to invite someone who lived during the Cold War to come speak to your students about their experience during that era.

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What our Cold War lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Cold War introduces students to the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union between 1945 and 1990. The information includes some of the events leading up to the Cold War, events during the era, and the end of the Cold War. At the end of the lesson, students will be able to define and describe the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, list key events, identify important people, and explain reasons behind the Cold War. This lesson is for students in 5th grade and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the orange box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. To prepare for this lesson ahead of time, you can place students into groups of three or four and copy the handouts.

Options for Lesson

Included with this lesson is an “Options for Lesson” section that lists a number of suggestions for activities to add to the lesson or substitutions for the ones already in the lesson. One optional adjustment to the lesson activity is to conduct a class discussion for each question rather than having students discuss in smaller groups. For an additional activity, you could have your students write letters to the Soviet Union and the U.S. from the past that encourage them to settle their differences and end the Cold War. Finally, you could invite someone who lived during the Cold War to come speak to your students about their experience during that era.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page includes a paragraph with additional guidelines and things to think about as you begin to plan your lesson. This page also includes lines that you can use to add your own notes as you’re preparing for this lesson.



The Cold War lesson plan includes six content pages. The United States has been in several major wars over the years, including World War I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the War in Afghanistan. Further in the past, they include the American Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the War of 1812, and other smaller wars. All of these wars have included battles, fighting, deaths, injuries, property destruction, and more.

We usually describe wars as one of three types: Hot Wars, Warm Wars, and Cold Wars. Hot Wars are wars that armies fight in. They happen when talks fail and warfare begins and include both civil wars and wars between countries. Warm Wars are wars with continuing negotiations and talks. Peace is still possible, but they prepare armies and navies and make plans for war. Both sides are ready for fighting to start at any time. Finally, Cold Wars are wars without warfare. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, from 1945 to 1990, falls into this category.

The Cold War began after World War II and dominated international affairs. During this time, several major crises occurred.

The Beginning of the Cold War

In 1945, World War II ended when Germany surrendered to the Allies (the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union). The Allies took over Germany in May 1949. The U.S., Britain, and France controlled West Germany while the Soviet Union controlled East Germany.

East Germany became a Communist country under the Soviet Union’s rule. The Allies from the west, like the United States, didn’t like this. People considered both the U.S. and the Soviet Union superpowers during this time. The rest of the world paid attention to them.

The Cold War began because of the difference and lack of mutual understanding between these two powerful countries. Both countries tried to influence the rest of world. During this time, they also developed weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons which could destroy another country entirely.

Some of the other differences between the U.S. and the Soviet Union included free elections vs. fixed elections, rich world power vs. a poor economic base; democratic government vs. autocratic government/dictatorship; personal freedom vs. secret police society; capitalism vs. communism; freedom of media vs. total censorship; and survival of the fittest vs. everybody helping everybody.

The two countries did not get along even before World War II, but they put their differences aside because of their common enemy, Nazi Germany. They were allies during the war but never trusted each other completely.

Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader at this time, became distrustful of the U.S. after President Harry Truman told him that the U.S. was developing a weapon to use agains the Japanese, the Atomic Bomb. Stalin didn’t know how destructive this weapon was until he heard about how much destruction it caused in Hiroshima.

Their mutual distrust grew as the Soviet Union put a large number of trained soldiers, the Red Army, in the field and the U.S. had the most powerful weapon in the world. The USSR did not know how many of these weapons the U.S. had.

Cold War Events

Many of the events of the Cold War were political and consisted of accusations. The Cold War largely included spying and the gathering of military arms, and they fought it mostly with words.

Both countries also spent large sums of money on defense and nuclear arms. They competed in the production of technological and industrial innovations like space exploration, satellites, and the space race to the moon.

Other countries became involved. Some joined NATO (North American Treaty Organization), established in 1949, including the U.S. along with Britain, Belgium, France, Canada, Italy, Norway, and others, known as the Western Bloc.

The Soviet Union responded to this by establishing the Warsaw Pact. This was a defense treaty between eight Eastern European countries, including Albania, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Hungary, and others, known as the Eastern Bloc. People described their location as being behind the Iron Curtain, an imaginary boundary line that separated the democratic West and the communist East.

Many events during the Cold War were tense. Each event led to more distrust between the two countries and impacted the millions of people living in these countries.

Timeline of Events During the Cold War

On June 8, 1949, the U.S. accuses many celebrities in the U.S. of being communists. On August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union successfully tested their atomic bomb, meaning that, for the first time, two countries in the world had nuclear weapons. Next, on June 25, 1950, the Korean War began when Korea invaded South Korea in an attempt to spread communism. The U.S. became involved to try to stop the expansion of communism. The war ended on July 27, 1953, when North and South Korea agreed to stop fighting. North Korea remains a communist country to this day.

On March 29, 1951, the U.S. executed two people, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who they accused of being Soviet spies and giving the Soviet Union secrets about the atomic bomb. On September 7, 1953, Nikita Khrushchev became the new leader of the Soviet Union following Joseph Stalin’s death on March 5th. The fight to decide who would become the next leader was brutal. They executed Khrushchev’s rival three months later.

In December 1956, North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam. This started the Vietnam War. Again, the U.S. intervened to try to stop the spread of communism south. On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro became president of communist country Cuba after a revolution to overthrow the previous government. They became an ally of the Soviets. On April 17, 1961, the U.S. attempted to invade the Bay of Pigs to stop communism in Cuba, but failed. Castro retained control of the country.

On August 13, 1961, they built the Berlin Wall which separated East and West Berlin. People in East Berlin could not leave and travel to West Berlin. On October 16, 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis began when the U.S. discovered that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles 90 miles from the U.S., in Cuba. President John F. Kennedy demanded that they move the weapons, which Khrushchev agreed to after 13 days of negotiations.

By August 4, 1964, the U.S. was heavily involved in the Vietnam War. U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson told Congress that someone fired on U.S. ships in Vietnam. He may have lied about this. On April 30, 1975, the Vietnam War ended with a victory for North Vietnam, who gained control of Saigon, South Vietnam’s capital. The entire country became a communist nation.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Cold War started to come to an end. The original split between the West and East stopped being so clear cut. China and the Soviet Union became enemies despite both being communist countries. This hurt the unity of the communist bloc Eastern countries.

The Cold War Ends

During the 1970s, the Soviet Union and the U.S. engaged in Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and came to agreements in 1972 and 1979 that limited the production of missiles that could carry nuclear weapons.

During the 1980s, tensions began to rise again due to the massive weapons buildup by both countries. They also both competed for influence in Third World countries in Africa, Asia, and South America.

The Cold War started to break down again in the late 80s, when Mikhail S. Gorbachev, another leader of the Soviet Union, started to dismantle the Soviet communist system. He also began democratizing the Soviet political system.

The establishment of democratic governments in places like East Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia also helped end the Cold War. East and West Germany unified into a single country under NATO and with the approval of the Soviets.

Gorbachev signed treaties and enacted policies that also helped bring the Cold War to an end. Historians often disagree on the official end date of the Cold War. Some think it ended on December 26, 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved. Others think December 3, 1989, when President George W. Bush met with Gorbachev, is the official end of the Cold War.

Other significant events near the end of the Cold War include President Ronald Reagan’s demand that Gorbachev “tear down this wall,” referring to the Berlin Wall, during a speech he gave in Berlin in 1989. A final significant event was President Bill Clinton’s 1994 pledge to continue cooperation with Russia. He promised that the U.S. would not continue to point nuclear missiles at Russia.


The Cold War lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. You can refer to the guide on the classroom procedure page to determine when to hand out each worksheet.


Students will work in groups to complete the lesson activity. Each group will discuss six questions related to the lesson, and then each student in each group will write down their personal response to each question. Students should support their answers with facts when needed.

Students can also work either alone or in pairs to complete the activity if you’d prefer.


For the practice worksheet, students will first place 15 events from the Cold War in chronological order. Next, they will tell the significance or role played by each U.S. President during or after the Cold War.


The homework assignment asks students to match the description to the correct person from the Cold War Era. They will then answer ten questions about the Cold War Era. Finally, they will determine whether each principle or idea listed relates to the United States or the Soviet Union.

Worksheet Answer Keys

This lesson plan includes answer keys for the practice worksheet and the homework assignment. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


5th Grade, 6th Grade


Social Studies

State Educational Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.5.3, CCSS.ELALiteracy.W.5.2, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.3, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.7, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.6.2, CCSS.ELALiteracy.RH.6.4, CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6.10

Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.

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