The Vietnam War Lesson Guide

Explore classroom lesson plans related to Ken Burns’s and Lynn Novick’s 10-part, 18-hour documentary series, The Vietnam War, which tells the story of one of the most consequential, divisive and controversial events in American history. The series explores the human dimensions of the war through the testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides.

  • Resource Type: Audio, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Oral Histories, Photography, Primary Sources, Video
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

A War Over Truth: Reporting Vietnam

Ethics: Journalists have professional standards – often called a code of ethics – to help them decide what is the right and responsible thing to do on the job. Pick one of the two iconic photos from the Vietnam War shown below. List the pros and cons for publishing that image. If you were a newspaper editor at the time, would you have published the photograph? Why or why not?

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Photography
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

New York Times Co. v. U.S. (1971)

Did the government’s efforts to prevent two newspapers from publishing classified information given to them by a government whistle-blower violate the First Amendment protection of freedom of the press? The Washington Post published classified information despite a court injunction. That information changed American perception of the Vietnam War effort.

  • Resource Type: Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

A Conversation on Freedom of Speech

Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Anthony M. Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor and students discuss the First Amendment’s right to free speech, and in particular students’ free speech rights in the Supreme Court cases Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District and Morse v. Frederick. In the Tinker case, students wore black armbands to school in silent protest of the Vietnam War. In the Morse case, a student held up a sign that said “Bong HITS 4 Jesus” at a parade.

  • Resource Type: Closed Captions, Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

The Amendments That Got Away

Students explore the constitutional amendment process, learn about three amendments that were not ratified, and simulate a state-level ratification process. The lesson fits into a variety of courses, including government, law, civics and history.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Freedom of the Press: New York Times v. United States

This documentary examines the First Amendment’s protection of a free press as well as the historic origins of this right and the ramifications of the landmark ruling in New York Times v. United States in which the Supreme Court that prior restraint is unconstitutional. The federal government could not prevent newspapers from publishing the Pentagon Papers. A lesson plan, Defenders of Liberty: The People and the Press, accompanies the video.

  • Resource Type: Closed Captions, Translated Materials
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Congress, the President, and the War Powers (Fundamental Principles of Government)

This lesson will explore the implementation of the war-making power from the first declared war under the Constitution—the War of 1812—to the Iraq War. Using primary sources, students will investigate how the constitutional powers to initiate war have been exercised by the legislative and executive branches at several key moments in American history. They will also evaluate why and how the balance of authority in initiating war has changed over time, and the current balance of power.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 10, 11, 12

Powerful Lessons from James Madison Fellows

Find lesson plans written by James Madison Fellows that cover the Constitution and its amendments, the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers, slavery, the Progressive Movement and more. Lessons contain a wide variety of approaches to content material.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12