Cuban Missile Crisis Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Teach your students about the Cuban missile crisis with our lesson. Guided instruction takes students on a journey through the most pivotal events, and small group work solidifies understanding.

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • understand the nuclear threat that existed in the world in the 1950s and 1960s
  • outline the events leading up to and following the Cuban missile crisis
  • identify with the emotional impact of a nuclear threat
  • analyze the actions of the United States, the Soviet Union and Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis


1 to 1.5 hours


  • Images of common American bomb shelters of the 1950s and 1960s
  • Video clip of the 1951 Civil Defense film Duck and Cover
  • Photocopies of the transcript of John F. Kennedy's November 22, 1962, address to the United States

Curriculum Standards


Analyze in detail a series of events described in a text; determine whether earlier events caused later ones or simply preceded them.


Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.


Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.


  • Begin by showing students images of bomb shelters. Have a discussion about what they are and when they were popular in America.
  • Show the students the video clip of Duck and Cover. Ask the students what they believe the point of the movie is. What would they think if this was shown in their classroom?
  • Pass out the photocopies of JFK's speech regarding the Cuban missile crisis.
    • Have students take turns reading the speech aloud.
    • When the entire speech has been read to the class, have students imagine what it might have been like to watch the president deliver this speech on television. How might they have felt as students at the time? What was he telling the citizens of America?
    • Direct students to gather in small groups. They will stay in these groups for the remainder of the lesson.
    • Have students use the Internet to research reports of the public's reaction to JFK's 1962 speech on the Cuban missile crisis. How do these compare with the student's reactions? Discuss as a class.
  • Instruct students to read the text lesson The Cuban Missile Crisis: Definition, Facts & Timeline, making a list of five key facts from the lesson as they go. This lesson will give students a solid grasp of the events leading up to the crisis as well as its aftermath.
  • When all students have finished reading the lesson, ask them to share and compare the five facts they listed with others in their groups.
  • Next, ask the groups to analyze the annotated timeline of the Cuban missile crisis provided in the text lesson. Have them address the following questions and discuss as a class:
    • Do the students think that the actions of the United States were appropriate?
    • How about those of Cuba and the Soviet Union?
    • What could have been done differently to prevent the crisis from occurring?

Discussion Questions

  • How different would our lives be if we were living with the fear of nuclear attack?
  • How does the Cuban missile crisis compare to the threat of modern day terrorism?


  • Have students interview people who were children during the Cuban missile crisis. What was it like to practice duck and cover drills in the classroom? How did the looming threat of nuclear war affect their childhoods?
  • Ask students to research and report on Cuba from the time of the missile crisis to today.

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