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U.S. Navy Museum Cold War Gallery Lesson Plan
The Hottest Days of the Cold War: The Cuban Missile Crisis
Developed by Danielle Thomas, Chesnee Middle School, Chesnee, SC
2012 Naval Historical Foundation STEM-H Teacher Fellowship
  Instructional Goal:

At the completion of this unit, students should understand the impact of the technology on the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the nuclear threat presented during the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union as part of the Cold War.


The United States Navy played an integral role in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. On the 50th anniversary of this key historical event during the Cold War, students will gain a better understanding of the causes, events, and outcomes of the "hottest days" in Cold War history. Students will view the same photos as President Kennedy and his executive committee, determining their own opinions about whether or not actions were necessary. Similarly, students will listen to Kennedy's address to the US public, followed by reading and evaluating Premier Khrushchev's response to Kennedy's requests. Students will then chart the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Students will then work both individually and in teams representing the three Navy branches, compiling research on specific ships, planes, or submarines of their choice from the crisis. Finally, students will end with a formative assessment of their choice through artistic or written impression.

Teacher Help
Download Teacher Help Guide in PDF format by clicking icon
Download Lesson Plan Resource Kit by clicking icon

President Kennedy's speech to public (text), October 22, 1962:  research.archives.gov/description/193899.

President Kennedy's speech to public (audio), October 22, 1962:  www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/sUVmCh-sB0moLfrBcaHaSg.aspx.

Letter from Khrushchev to President Kennedy, October 24, 1962:  www.loc.gov/exhibits/archives/x2jfk.html.

President Kennedy's speech to public (audio), November 2, 1962:  www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/67jJ6PtRTEmn5JJmhgiFYA.aspx.

Additional links and resources for teacher and students:

play videoThe Cuban Missile Crisis:  This video was commissioned in 2012 by the Naval Historical Foundation on the 50th Anniversary of the Crisis.

Website for research, specifically photos of ships and submarines:  www.navsource.org.

Website for research, specifically photos:  www.archives.gov/research/arc/topics/navy.

Reference information for teachers:  www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2002/fall/cuban-missiles.html.

Additional links and resources from the National Archives:  www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/military/cuban-missile-crisis.html.

Phone conversations on October 22, 1962 between President Kennedy and others, including former President Dwight D. Eisenhower:  www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKPOF-TPH-30-2.aspx.

Navy's overview of Cuban Missile Crisis:  www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq90-5.htm.

Additional overview of Cuban Missile Crisis:  history.state.gov/milestones/1961-1968/CubanMissile.

Overview of ship types:  www.navy.mil/navydata/our_ships.asp.

Navy ship classifications:  www.nvr.navy.mil/class.htm.

Military aircraft classifications:  www.wikihow.com/Understand-US-Military-Aircraft-Designations.

Click icon to download Activity in PDF format
Reconnaissance Photo Analysis


Evaluate photos to determine what if any threat exists to US national security and determine best advice to give to President Kennedy. Also, students will collaborate in groups, practicing listening and speaking skills.


Laminated aerial photos of Sague La Grande, Cuba (dated September 5 and October 17, 1962); Reconnaissance Photo Analysis worksheets; overhead projector or lcd projector to show photos and corresponding surveillance notes (not shown to students in activity, but should be reviewed during class discussion).

Reconnaissance Photos Worksheet
** Answer guide is included in Lesson Plan Resource Kit


Divide students into predetermined groups (depending on your needs and goals). Then, distribute copies of reconnaissance photos taken leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Students will analyze photos, and then evaluate the photos to determine what if any threat is evident. Groups will have to weigh options of possible responses to Cuba and the Soviet Union. Groups will complete sheet to justify their recommendations. Groups will select one representative to advise President Kennedy on appropriate actions. (You may select student representative if desired.) This will represent President Kennedy's EXCOMM (executive committee who advised him on appropriate actions).



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