We the Teachers

U.S. History Lesson Plans on the Cold War

By definition, the Cold War is an abstraction. Without the sights and sounds of combat we usually associate with international tension and conflict, it can be difficult to fully grasp the enormous impact these 45 years of political hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union had on the world. By studying letters, speech transcripts, and other texts from this era, students can interact with the key voices from the Cold War and begin to understand the circumstances that led to popular culture’s images of Olympic boycotts, Hollywood blacklists, and backyard bomb shelters.

Core Documents Collection

The collection of documents on the Cold War explores the deepening tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. after WWII. The documents go on to examine the associated conditions and power struggles in Asia and the Pacific, which would usher in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Finally, they share the voice of Ronald Reagan, who would begin to see some of the walls come down.

The Cold War Core Document volume contains over two dozen texts, including the following:

John Paton Davies 1943

  • Memorandum by the President’s Adviser and Assistant (Hopkins) of a Conversation During Dinner at the Kremlin

June 1, 1945

June 22, 1945

  • Excerpts from the Ambassador in China (Hurley) to the Secretary of State

July 10, 1945

  • Excerpts from Memorandum by Mr. Edwin A. Locke, Jr., Personal Representative of President Truman

August 20, 1945

  • Speech at Berkeley, California

Dean Acheson March 16, 1950

  • NSC-68: United States Objectives and Programs from National Security




April 14, 1950

  • New Policy of Boldness

John Dulles May 1952

  • Statement on Liberation Policy

John Dulles January 15, 1953

  • Observations on Massive Retaliation

Hans J. Moregenthau March 1954

  • Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

House Joint Resolution 1145

Public Law 88-408

August 10, 1964

  • Vietnam: The Third Face of the War

Lyndon B. Johnson May 13, 1965

  • Address to the Nation on Iran Arms and Contra Aid

Ronald Reagan March 4, 1987

  • Remarks at Moscow State University

Ronald Reagan May 31, 1988


You can use some or all of the Core Documents, tailoring them to your curriculum, schedule, and students’ needs. When you plan a lesson around a Core Document rather than a textbook, you will start to see your students making connections that bring the issues surrounding the Cold War to life.

Accessing the Cold War Core Documents is easy. Just click on the link below and find everything you need to bring the Cold War Era into your classroom today!

Access the Cold War Core Documents


SYNOPSIS: The Cold War volume of Core Documents Collections is designed to help teachers bring to life for students the enormous impact of this 45-year period of hostility between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Check out this unique resource, provided by Teaching American History.

When ‘I Have a Dream’ Is Your Textbook: How Teaching Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Actual Speech Changes the Way Your Students Learn

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.” The opening of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech reminds us that these words grew out of a major event, not a textbook. It is August of 1963, and hundreds of thousands of Americans are crowded before the Lincoln Memorial as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Near the end of the day, Dr. King addresses the hot, tired, but invigorated crowd with some of the most resonant words in our nation’s history. Shouldn’t the words themselves receive the greatest attention?

Digging Deeper

While virtually all U.S. history curricula cover Martin Luther King Jr.’s accomplishments, they often give no more than a glance to the speeches themselves. Most students learn that “I Have a Dream” is one of the most famous speeches in history. But what do they learn about the speech itself? What can they recite aside from the title’s refrain, the ending reference to the Negro spiritual, or perhaps “they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”?

As important as these lines are, they represent just a fraction of the orator’s richness of thought. By digging into his words, rather than a textbook summary of his ideas, students can appreciate King’s rhetorical strategies:

  • Different modes of persuasion (ethos, pathos, and logos)
  • Figurative language
  • Historical and religious allusions
  • Sentence structure and punctuation
  • Diction
  • Tone

Practicing What King Preached

Because Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher who believed in the power of the written and spoken word, communicating was not just a means to an end. The words themselves were art and truth, meant to inspire just as much as his actions. As students will learn by studying his speech, King refers to numerous other speeches, songs, religious texts, and political documents, understanding the weight and influence of these original sources.

Without studying the entirety of King’s speech, students miss on his truly indelible mark on America’s Civil Rights movement and intellectual history. Bring Martin Luther King Jr. to life in your classroom this year by living among his very words.

Access “I Have a Dream,” lesson plans, and other core documents today at TAH.org.


Teaching America’s Founding

How do you make a country from scratch? Leaders during the American Founding, the  period from 1776 through 1789, would dedicate themselves to pursuing the answer until bringing their plan to fruition with Washington’s inauguration. Along the way, they would wrestle with defining, expressing, and applying what Jefferson would call “The American Mind” to their goals.

For today’s students, it’s hard to imagine America as a new idea, as a radical experiment in democracy. But for the people fighting a revolution, attempting to govern  a group of disparate states, and finally creating the Constitution, it was uncharted territory. By transporting students to that era with original documents, American history teachers can begin to help them understand the incomparable drama of this exhilarating time.

Transform Your Classroom Experience with the Teaching American History American Founding Toolkit

The Teaching American History American Founding Toolkit, centered on original documents, is designed to bring you and your classroom into lively conversation with the Founding Fathers.

You can use some or all of these Toolkit resources, tailoring them to your curriculum, schedule, and students’ needs. When you plan a lesson around a Core Document or corresponding resource, you will start to see your students making connections that bring the Colonial era to life.

Accessing the American Founding Toolkit is easy. Just click on the link below and find everything you need to bring the Colonial Era into your classroom today!

Access the American Founding Toolkit

SYNOPSIS: Add original documents, speeches, and dynamic lesson plans into your high school American history with this Founding era curriculum.

TAH.org Feature Change: Standards Search Tool

For the last few years, TAH.org has incorporated a search tool into our documents library that has enabled teachers to search for documents based on state academic standards, or identify documents related to their standards. With changes to many states’ standards over the time, and the move away from the Common Core ELA standards in many states, we have decided to take a different route to helping teachers meet their standards-based lesson needs, and in so doing will end support for this website function by the end of December, 2017.

In a few months we will roll out a series of new website features and functions that will make the work of finding documents for your lessons easier and more accurate.

In the meantime, take a look at our American History Toolkits, which combine Essential Documents lists with curated website resources on several must-teach topics in American history and government.

Find Free Resources for Your American History Classroom!

If you’re like most teachers, you can’t help but put your students first. In fact, during lean budgetary times, you may even make sacrifices with your wallet. According to AdoptaClassroom.com’s 2015-2016 survey of 1,800 teachers, the average teacher spent $600 of their own money on supplies. When expenditures extend beyond pens and pencils to cover books and resources, that amount can easily go into the thousands. Many new teachers are told that if they want their students to be fully engaged with the curriculum, they’ll be spending personal money (and countless hours).

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Teachers of American History can cut their resource spending by 100% by accessing free resources that also happen to be the best for their students.

The Power of Primary Documents

TeachingAmericanHistory.org believes in the power of our country’s rich heritage of original documents–declarations, speeches, letters, and other materials that tell the complex story of the United States better than any textbook or worksheet. While these public domain works can always be searched and accessed for free, TAH saves you much more time and money by curating the documents for you, writing associated guiding questions, and providing multimedia resources in American History Toolkits that can be taught as self-contained units:

  • The American Founding
  • Expansion & Sectionalism
  • Civil War & Reconstruction
  • The Progressive Era
  • The Great Depression & World War 2
  • Civil Rights

What’s more, you can align your free curriculum to state and Common Core standards by using a simple Standards Search Tool that allows you to search from standard to document or document to standard, ensuring that your resources are not only engaging, but on target for your instructional requirements and goals.

Professional Development That Won’t Break the Bank

Think you have to spend your own money on classes and professional development, too? TAH.org believes in providing American History teachers with free opportunities to learn, grow, and get inspired. We offer seminars to K-12 teachers in public, independent, parochial, and charter schools. These half and full-day events, offered at no cost to the participant, model sound and engaging teaching by using primary documents as the foundation for learning. At the end of the program, you will receive certificate for the hours you spend with us for the day. You also have the option to earn one graduate credit from attending a seminar and creating your lesson plan based on documents and ideas discussed in the program. Provided in partnership with Ashland University, this option costs just $200.

Good teachers don’t have to empty their personal bank accounts in order to engage their students. With TAH resources, you can work smarter, not harder, and spend nothing in the process.

Bill of Rights Anniversary

The Bill of Rights was adopted on 15 December, 1791, and is made up of the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution. Originally made up of 12 amendments, two of which would be ratified later – one much, much later – the Bill of Rights we think of today was in part a compromise between the earliest political camps in America, as came out of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and refined during the Ratification Debates across the 13 states from 1787 to 1788.

Take a moment and look over Professor Gordon Lloyd’s exhibit on the origins, politics, and ratification of the Bill of Rights, and explore the English and Colonial roots of these most precious rights; the ideas borrowed from existing state constitutions; and examine the lineage of each right within each amendment.

Additionally, TAH.org has the following resources to help you understand, and more effectively teach, about these fundamental rights enjoyed by all Americans.

World War I and the Founding of the Disabled American Veterans

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I. We’re pleased to share with you a new lesson developed for the Ohio History Connection by 2010 Ohio History Teacher of the Year Paul LaRue.

Entitled Captain Robert S. Marx: Decorated World War I Soldier and Founder of the Disabled American Veterans, this lesson plan will introduce your students to veterans’ organizations, the circumstances of their founding, and their role in US historically and in the present.  While focused on the role of Ohioans in the founding of the DAV, the materials are easily adaptable for use elsewhere in the US.


Lesson Plan: Captain Robert S. Marx: Decorated World War I Soldier and Founder of the Disabled American Veterans

September 17th, 2017: the Constitution’s 230th Anniversary

Constitution Day in 2017 marks 230 years since the Founders signed the Constitution and released it to the Congress, states, and people of America for consideration, and eventual ratification. TeachingAmericanHistory.org has assembled a collection of some of our best Constitution-related resources, from exhibits to lessons to archived programs, and has created a new interactive timeline to help you celebrate the day with your students.

Access the 230th Anniversary resources here.

Recreating Teaching American History Colloquium, Teacher Helps Students Learn about African American Experience in World War I

Love of history and an interest in helping young people drew Jotwan Daniels away from a planned business career and into high school teaching. He also hoped to improve on the teaching method his own teachers had used. “They viewed students as baby birds: they digested material and regurgitated it for our consumption.” Consequently, “we retained historical concepts long enough to pass the test, then forgot them. They were brokers of knowledge; I want to facilitate learning,” Daniels says.

Daniels uses the approach Teaching American History (TAH) encourages: guiding students’ conversations about primary documents. He asks students to read several accounts of one event and then draw their own conclusions. “Reading primary documents allows students to ask questions of themselves, ask questions of each other, and ultimately ask questions of history,” Daniels says.

A TAH weekend colloquium on World War I introduced Daniels to primary documents he would later use in his classroom. He enjoyed discussing these texts with the facilitator: Professor Jennifer Keene, a historian at Chapman University and a visiting faculty member in the Masters of Arts in American History and Government (MAHG) program at Ashland University. Instead of lecturing, Keene guided the teachers in discussing readings on the experience of soldiers in the war and of Americans on the home front. Even so, Daniels felt he “really benefited from Keene’s expertise. I also enjoyed bouncing ideas off of other teachers on how we might use the documents to recreate the colloquium for our own students.”

Daniels wrote a lesson plan based on the colloquium, tested it with his students at Summit High School in Frisco, Colorado, and then contacted Teaching American History Program Manager Jeremy Gypton to report that the lesson went very well.

He used documents highlighting the African American soldier’s experience. Students first read President Wilson’s speech announcing America’s entrance into the war, calling it a fight to “make the world safe for democracy.” Then they read an editorial in the NAACP journal Crisis by W. E. B. Dubois, who urged black men to enlist. Finally they read a letter sent to Dubois by one of those who enlisted and fought in France.

African American Sergeant Charles Isum had been quartered in a French family’s home, treated as an honored guest and invited to social events. Accepting these invitations, as Isum told Dubois, brought his arrest by American military police, who had forbidden fraternization between the black soldiers and the French locals. After the French protested, Isum was released and a threatened court martial hearing was dropped.

To provide extra historical background, Daniels showed students a video on the 369th infantry regiment—an African American force sent to fight under the command of the French. Dubbed “hellfighters” by the Germans they fiercely combatted, they captured a key railroad junction during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Upon returning home to New York City, the “Harlem Hellfighters” were honored with speeches and parades.

Nevertheless, their heroic service did not lead, as Dubois had hoped, to better economic opportunities and recognition of civil rights for African Americans. The case of Corporal Henry Johnson, who with another soldier repulsed a surprise German attack on a bridge held by US forces, illustrates the stubborn African American reality after World War I. Johnson was awarded the highest French military honor—the Croix de Guerre—and personally welcomed home by New York Governor Al Smith. Yet he died young, poor and alone, his injuries having left him unable to support himself.

“The students I teach are still innocent,” Daniels said, “so they were shocked by what they read. But our conversations around these documents were amazing.” To prepare for discussion, students worked in pairs on a silent “collaborative annotation” exercise. They pasted copies of the documents to butcher-block paper and then wrote comments around them. “One student’s annotation would prompt a written response from his partner.” Having processed the documents silently, all were ready to join the conversation that followed.

Later, students returned to the butcher-block paper to complete a Venn diagram. Inside one circle they noted African American soldiers’ experience in France; inside the other they wrote about these soldiers’ experience in America. In the overlap between the circles they noted conditions the soldiers experienced in both countries. This exercise helped students articulate the ways that racist attitudes blinded many Americans to what the French recognized as heroic service.

Daniels believes that reading the testimony of the past, even when it shows American failures, does not teach cynicism about the American future. “History can be a little sad,” Daniels says. “But if students understand the historical background of current events, they may be better able to devise solutions to those problems today.”

Troops from the 396th Infantry Regiment, the Harlem Hellfighters.

Jotwan Daniels teaches American history at Summit High School in Frisco, Colorado.

Students stretch out on the floor for the silent annotation exercise.

United States Colored Troops Lesson Plan

Paul LaRue, 4th-usct-weba teacher at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio and the 2010 Ohio History Teacher of the Year, shares with us a lesson plan he contributed to the Civil War Trust’s web exhibit on the United States Color Troops.  Highlighting the unique contributions of African-American soldiers to the Union’s cause, the unit is appropriate for middle grades American history classrooms. It is just one part of the Civil War Trust’s complete series of curricula available for all grade bands.

Veto Message of the Bill on the Bank of the United States

Proclamation Regarding Nullification, Andrew Jackson,December 10, 1832


For suggestions on how to guide students in analyzing the document, see the EDSITEment lesson plan, Lesson 1: An Early Threat of Secession: The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Nullification Crisis in The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America: A House Dividing. The lesson was co-authored with high school teacher Constance Murray by Washington and Lee Professor Lucas Morel, a faculty member in Ashbrook’s Master of Arts in American History and Government program. Excerpts from Jackson’s Proclamation and a student worksheet make the document accessible to students.

New Teaching Resources on the Federalist Papers

Roots of Liberty

Roots of Liberty

The Cornerstone Project has just introduced The Roots of Liberty: Unlocking the Federalist Papers. This is a comprehensive curriculum for teaching about the Federalist Papers, and it includes:

  • a student text featuring ten essays written by scholars unifying key topics and themes throughout the Papers (20 copies included with each classroom set)
  • an accompanying teacher’s discussion guide with multiple tools and activities
  • companion videos corresponding to lessons

Topics Include:

  • the doctrine of enumerated powers
  • separation of powers
  • federalism
  • the independent judiciary
  • how the U.S. Constitution enables public officials to make good decisions
  • political freedom
  • economic freedom
  • religious freedom
  • the Constitution as a defense against foreign aggression

To learn more, or to access a free lesson, click here.

New Resources for Catholic School Teachers

If you teach in a Catholic school you may want to be aware of a new opportunity from Sophia Institute for Teachers. The organization has just launched a website for teachers to upload and download lessons they’ve created. While they are building it out, they’re paying $10 for every resource that is accepted for publication.

The Curriculum Exchange already contains several resources for teachers of American History and government, such as this lesson on the Declaration of Independence and Just War, and this DBQ on Martin Luther King, Jr and non-violence.

You can find more info on the $10 per lesson offer here.

Martin Luther King, Jr, and Nonviolent Resistance

Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” So wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1963 as he served a ten-day jail term for violating a court injunction against any “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing” in Birmingham. He came to Alabama’s largest city to lead an Easter weekend protest and boycott of downtown stores as a way of forcing white city leaders to negotiate a settlement of black citizens’ grievances. King wrote his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in response to a public statement by eight white clergymen appealing to the local black population to use the courts and not the streets to secure civil rights. The clergymen counseled “law and order and common sense,” not demonstrations that “incite to hatred and violence,” as the most prudent means to promote justice. This criticism of King was elaborated the following year by a fellow Baptist minister, Joseph H. Jackson (president of the National Baptist Convention from 1953–1982), who delivered a speech counseling blacks to reject “direct confrontation” and “stick to law and order.”

By examining King’s famous essay in defense of nonviolent protest, along with two significant criticisms of his direct action campaign, this EDSITEment lesson plan will help students assess various alternatives for securing civil rights for black Americans in a self-governing society.

50 Documents That Tell America’s Story

Required reading for students, teachers, and citizens.

Access Now

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