Skip Navigation

The Cold War Heats Up: The Cuban Missile Crisis

Produced by Michael Blurton, Portola Magnet School, 1996


Background to the Cuban Missile Crisis will focus on the transition from Stalin to Khrushchev through lecture and video excerpts to help students gain a fuller understanding of the crisis in a broader, Russian perspective. Excerpts from Professor Andrzej Korbonski's lecture will be used to help with this historical background and excepts from Professor Stephen Frank's lecture will be used for the history of reform in Russia. Students will also be reading primary sources on the crisis as well as viewing documentary footage of the crisis. Additionally, students will be asked to interview people who lived during this time period.

Core content will be greatly enhanced given the brief treatment of this event in the student textbook. By giving students multiple sources of information on the topic, critical thinking skills will be enhanced as they must evaluate the options for the various actors during this crisis. It also continues the theme of last year's institute on "intersections." In this case, foreign relations and U.S. diplomacy. It also incorporates use of an autobiography and other primary documents.


  • To develop student appreciation of the importance of using primary resources in their research.
  • To develop an analytical attitude toward written text, visual media, and lecture.
  • To improve writing skills by having students incorporate the writings and views from different people with different perspectives.
  • To list the options faced by President Kennedy and his advisors, noting strengths and weaknesses of each position.
  • To offer alternative solutions to the situation and speculate on possible outcomes.
  • To increase student academic vocabulary.


  • Crisis: Missiles in Cuba. Zenger Media, 1989.
  • Davidson, James West and Mark H. Lytle. The United States: A History of the Republic. Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1990, pp. 732-736.
  • McNamara, Robert. Blundering Into Disaster. Pantheon Books, New York, 1986, pp. 8-16.
  • Talbott, Strobe, trans. and ed. Khrushchev Remembers. Little, Brown and Co., Toronto, 1974, pp. 509-514.


Unlike the crisis itself, this will not last thirteen days.

Day 1: Lecture on the history of transition of power from Stalin to Khrushchev up to 1961.

Day 2:

Issue Handouts Terms and Concepts and Major Participants

Begin video Crisis: Missiles in Cuba (only the first segment; this takes the crisis through the first two days)

Divide class into groups; each chooses a spokesperson; each group must reach a consensus decision on which response the U.S. should take (10 minutes):

  1. Offer to dismantle U.S. missiles in Turkey for the removal of Soviet missiles in Cuba
  2. Order an immediate air strike to destroy the missile bases
  3. Use the U.S. navy to block sea routes to Cuba
  4. Your idea

Reconvene the class and ask the spokespersons for a show of hands on the various options. If there is no consensus, class discussion to see if a consensus can be reached (this step may flow into the next class meeting).

Have students discuss obstacles encountered and efforts made to reach a consensus:

  1. Were you able to reach a consensus?
  2. How difficult was it to reach a consensus?
  3. What obstacles were encountered?
  4. What steps were taken to attempt to reach a consensus?

Day 3:

View part two of Crisis: Missiles in Cuba (this segment presents the options to the U.S. and Soviet)

Students debate the pros and cons of the following scenarios:

  1. Respond to both of Khrushchev's letters asking for clarification
  2. Dismantle missile sites in Turkey in exchange for removal of Cuban missiles, as demanded in the second letter
  3. Order immediate air strike or invasion to remove missile bases
  4. Other options

Complete video

Homework: read pp. 732-736 in Davidson/Lytle (text)

Day 4:

Review homework (can be in usual form of a "pop Quiz")

Read excerpt form Khrushchev ber and McNamara's Blundering intoDisaster

Discuss similarities and differences in the accounts of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Homework: Study for test

Review discussion questions

Day 5: Test

To print this page, select "Print" from the File menu of your browser.