Totalitarianism Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Help your students better understand the terrors of totalitarianism during the 20th century and today with this lesson plan and accompanying video lesson. An activity allows students to further their understanding through hands-on group work.

Lesson Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Define the concept of totalitarianism
  • Identify a totalitarianism government
  • Analyze what makes a country more totalitarian versus just having absolute control of the government


1 hour

Curriculum Standards


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Key Terms

  • Totalitarianism
  • Purges


  • Start by discussing ways in which a government influences people. How does our government guarantee our freedom to do as we wish? What can we not do? Discuss as a class, possibly writing key ideas on the board.
  • Then watch the video lesson Totalitarianism: Definition, Characteristics, & Examples, pausing the video at the following areas to discuss as a class:
    • 0:53 - What are some of the defining characteristics of a totalitarian state? You may want to have students write these down or write them on the board. How are these different from a dictatorship or a monarchy?
    • 2:32 - In what ways did Nazi Germany prove itself as a totalitarian state?
    • 4:28 - In what ways did the Soviet Union under Stalin prove itself as a totalitarian state?
  • Watch the remainder of the video. Ask students what countries could be considered as totalitarian today? Discuss as a class.

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