Red Scare Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kevin Newton

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

In this lesson plan, we'll give your students the tools they need to see how America handled the first big question of liberty vs. security of the 20th century - the Red Scare of the 1920s.

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to do the following:

  • understand the apprehension felt by many Americans about Communism in the 1920s
  • trace the development of anti-Communist forces in the United States
  • analyze why conditions were right for Communism to have grown in America during the period


40 minutes


  • Sealed envelopes, each containing one slip of paper that reads, 'You are NOT a Communist' (each student will receive one envelope)
  • One slip of paper that reads, 'You are NOT a Communist'
  • One slip of paper that reads, 'You ARE a Communist'

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.


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.


  • Start by asking students if they are familiar with the meaning of a bandwagon fan - someone who is only a fan of a team when they are doing well. Ask them, 'Why do bandwagon fans act the way they do?' Then ask if there is an opposite of a bandwagon fan, someone who despises something because it is popular to do so, despite not having formed an opinion on it themselves.
  • Watch the video lesson The Red Scare of the 1920s: Definition, Summary, & Causes, pausing for discussion at the following times:
    • 2:35 - Ask students if they can think of another point in history when people were being oppressed for thinking (or being suspected of thinking) a certain way. In what ways were people being oppressed? In what ways were people not getting what they needed from government or others?
    • 4:50 - How did the country respond to the threat poised by the Red Scare? Discuss in context of the Ben Franklin quote ''Those who give up liberty for security deserve neither.'' Also, how did this influence the growth of the intelligence community?


  • Divide the class into groups. Distribute sealed envelopes to each person in the class.
  • Explain to students that you will be playing a modified version of Clue. Show them the slips of paper that state 'You ARE a Communist' and 'You are NOT a Communist.' Explain that each envelope contains one of the two versions of the paper slip. The goal is to figure out which of them is the Communist.
  • Students will take turns asking each other yes-or-no questions. The first group to root out the Communist wins. (Of course, there is no Communist, so no one wins.)
  • After 10 minutes, ask if anyone has been identified. Ask groups to then discuss how they thought they could find the Communist, but then state that there wasn't one in the class. The groups fell victim to the Red Scare.


  • Have students research the growing influence of the KKK during the 1920s. Ask how much of this came about as an extension of the Red Scare.
  • Contrast the idea of Communism with the relative prosperity of the 1920s. How would this have scared many Americans?

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