When Texas Saw Red: The Cold War Experience

Social Studies, Grades 9 - 12

Through the analysis of primary source archival footage from TAMI’s online exhibit, “When Texas Saw Red,” students will demonstrate an understanding of the Cold War period that spanned nearly half a century.  Students will explore the politics of the atomic bomb and the policy of containment, propagated paranoia related to the spread of communism, the nuclear arms race and détente, as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall and decline of the USSR.  The Cold War period remains relevant today; its social, economic, and political impact on the United States and, more locally on Texas, requires critical examination and reflection. Students will create presentations using primary source media to demonstrate their understanding of various Cold War events in this lesson.

  • Prior Knowledge Prior Knowledge
  • Hook Hook
  • Lesson Lesson
  • Independent Practice Independent Practice
  • Extended Learning Extended Learning
  • Resources Resources
  • Worksheets Worksheets
  • Lesson Plan Use Lesson Plan Use
  1. The following lesson assumes students are aware of the post-WWII period and the struggle between the new super powers for world domination.
  2. Students should be familiar with the use of the atomic bomb, the countries that used and possessed it, and why it was such a terrifying and devastating weapon.
  3. Students should be familiar with the Cold War era, noting the differences between communism and democracy, the basic political differences between the U.S. and USSR in the mid-to-late twentieth century, and the fear surrounding nuclear arms escalation worldwide. 
  1. The teacher assesses students’ prior knowledge by asking them what they know about end of WWII, the atomic bomb, and the Cold War in general.
  2. Then, the teacher previews TAMI’s “When Texas Saw Red” online exhibit for the class, discussing the main ideas and issues in each of the five sections and selecting a few primary source films to play.
  3. To highlight key Cold War terms, students will use the provided Cold War Vocabulary List (Grades 9 – 12) to define Cold War terms. Have students reference their textbooks or other approved sources to define terms individually or in a group. Use the provided Cold War Teacher’s Guide to assist them.
  1. Before students turn in their vocabulary terms, ask volunteers to define a few terms in class. Check for students’ understanding, clarify definitions, and give examples to enrich their understanding.
  2. Divide the class into five groups based upon their birthday months.
  3. Assign each group an era from the “When Texas Saw Red” exhibit available at  https://texasarchive.org/texassawred/
  1. Direct students to work in groups to research their Cold War era and develop a timeline, listing key events, people, and essential terms for their era. (Students may work in or outside of class on this.)
  2. After groups create timelines describing their eras with the correct chronology of Cold War events and terminologies, have them work on a group PowerPoint presentation that will be approximately 30 minutes in length. Each group will teach their section of the Cold War to the class by a specific deadline. (Suggestion: give students about a week to finish and present.)
  3. Make sure students have correct timelines, understand key events, terms, and people by checking on their progress. Have students select clips and images from the exhibit to use in their class presentations. Their presentations should count as a project or test grade of some significance; ensure that everyone contributes to the group presentation.  Students should be encouraged to make them engaging and creative, handouts are encouraged, and students must ask questions to assess the classes’ comprehension after their presentation. Ensure students have ample time to research, create, and present their PowerPoints and understand their topics thoroughly.
  4. Require each group to provide you with a list of five quiz-like questions that students will understand if they were paying attention to each presentation. Combine these group questions into a Cold War quiz. Give this quiz to each student in class at the end of the last presentation to assess their understanding. 

Instruct students to write a 1-2 page op-ed at home, asking them to think about the comparisons between the Cold War and the current political situation in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Ask students to research and examine how the conflicts are similar or different, giving examples connecting the Cold War to today. Require students to use at least five Cold War vocabulary terms in their pieces.

Ask students to select, research, and address three out of the five questions listed below (Responses should be half-page to 1 page in length for each question.)

  1. Who was responsible for starting the Cold War? Support your answers.
  2. Address the validity of this statement: The Cold War never turned “hot.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
  3. How did the Cold War challenge American values, either at home or abroad? What were some of the consequences of McCarthyism domestically during the mid-to-late twentieth century?
  4. How did the Cold War contribute to the current unrest in the Middle East, particularly in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan?
  5. Is the Cold War still going on today? Explain and think about current events to support your answer, including recent events in Turkey and Ukraine.
  6. What is the significance of the recent push to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and why was the relationship strained for more than fifty years?




  • Brennan, Mary. Wives, Mothers, and the Red Menace: Conservative Women and the Crusade against Communism. University Press of Colorado, 2008.
  • Carleton, Don. Red Scare: Right-Wing Hysteria, Fifties Fanaticism, and Their Legacy in Texas. Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1985.
  • Crile, George. Charlie Wilson’s War. New York: Grove Press, 2003.
  • Gaddis, John Lewis. The Cold War: a New History. New York: Penguin Press, 2005.
  • May, Elaine Tyler. Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era. New York: Basic Books, 2008.
  • Tindall, George Brown and David E. Shi. America: A Narrative History, Ninth Edition, New York: Norton, 2012.
  • https://texasarchive.org/texassawred/: Texas Archive of the Moving Image “When Texas Saw Red”
  • http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/bomb/: PBS American Experience“Race for the Superbomb”
  • http://www.coldwar.org/: The Cold War Museum
  • http://www.trumanlibrary.org: Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

Grade 9, Social Studies

10A - Describe the forces that determine the distribution of goods and services in free enterprise, socialist, and communist economic systems

10B - Classify where specific countries fall along the economic spectrum between free enterprise and communism

14B – Compare how democracy, dictatorship, monarchy, republic, theocracy, and totalitarian systems operate in specific countries

14C – Analyze the human and physical factors that influence the power to control territory and resources, create conflict/war, and impact international political relations of sovereign nations such as China, the United States, Japan, and Russia and organized nation groups such as the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU)

15A – Identify and give examples of different points of view that influence the development of public policies and decision-making processes on local, state, national, and international levels

15B – Explain how citizenship practices, public policies, and decision making may be influenced by cultural beliefs, including nationalism and patriotism

16B – Describe elements of culture, including language, religion, beliefs and customs, institutions, and technologies

18A – Analyze cultural changes in specific regions caused by migration, war, trade, innovations, and diffusion

18B – Assess causes, effects, and perceptions of conflicts between groups of people, including modern genocides and terrorism

22B - Generate summaries, generalizations, and thesis statements supported by evidence

Grade 10, Social Studies

1F - Identify major causes and describe the major effects of the following important turning points in world history from 1914 to the present: the world wars and their impact on political, economic, and social systems; communist revolutions and their impact on the Cold War; independence movements; and globalization

12B - Explain the roles of various world leaders, including Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Hideki Tojo, Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill, prior to and during World War II

12C - Explain the major causes and events of World War II, including the German invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union, the Holocaust, Japanese imperialism, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Normandy landings, and the dropping of the atomic bombs

13A - Summarize how the outcome of World War II contributed to the development of the Cold War

13B - Summarize the factors that contributed to communism in China, including Mao Zedong's role in its rise, and how it differed from Soviet communism

13C - Identify the following major events of the Cold War, including the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the arms race

13D – Explain the roles of modern world leaders, including Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, and Pope John Paul II, in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union

13E – Summarize the rise of independence movements in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia and reasons for ongoing conflicts

14A – Summarize the development and impact of radical Islamic fundamentalism on events in the second half of the 20th century, including Palestinian terrorism and the growth of al Qaeda

14B – Explain the U.S. response to terrorism from September 11, 2001, to the present

18E – Explain why communist command economies collapsed in competition with free market economies at the end of the 20th century

18F – Formulate generalizations on how economic freedom improved the human condition, based on students' knowledge of the benefits of free enterprise in Europe's Commercial Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and 20th-century free market economies, compared to communist command communities

28C – Explain the effects of major new military technologies on World War I, World War II, and the Cold War

29A – Identify methods used by archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, and geographers to analyze evidence

29G – Construct a thesis on a social studies issue or event supported by evidence

30A – Use social studies terminology correctly

30C – Interpret and create written, oral, and visual presentations of social studies information

30D – Transfer information from one medium to another

Grade 11, Social Studies

2A - Identify the major characteristics that define an historical era

2B - Identify the major eras in U.S. history from 1877 to the present and describe their defining characteristics

2C - Apply absolute and relative chronology through the sequencing of significant individuals, events, and time periods; and

2D - Explain the significance of the following years as turning points: 1898 (Spanish-American War), 1914–1918 (World War I), 1929 (the Great Depression begins), 1939–1945 (World War II), 1957 (Sputnik launch ignites U.S.–Soviet space race), 1968–1969 (Martin Luther King Jr. assassination and U.S. lands on the moon), 1991 (Cold War ends), 2001 (terrorist attacks on World Trade Center and the Pentagon), and 2008 (election of first black president, Barack Obama)

7B - Evaluate the domestic and international leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman during World War II, including the U.S. relationship with its allies and domestic industry's rapid mobilization for the war effort

7D - Analyze major issues of World War II, including the Holocaust; the internment of German, Italian, and Japanese Americans and Executive Order 9066; and the development of conventional and atomic weapons

8A - Describe U.S. responses to Soviet aggression after World War II, including the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Berlin airlift, and John F. Kennedy’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis

8B - Describe how Cold War tensions were intensified by the arms race, the space race, McCarthyism, and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the findings of which were confirmed by the Venona Papers

8C – Explain reasons and outcomes for U.S. involvement in the Korean War and its relationship to the containment policy

8D – Explain reasons and outcomes for U.S. involvement in foreign countries and their relationship to the Domino Theory, including the Vietnam War

8E – Analyze the major issues and events of the Vietnam War such as the Tet Offensive, the escalation of forces, Vietnamization, and the fall of Saigon

8F – Describe the responses to the Vietnam War such as the draft, the 26th Amendment, the role of the media, the credibility gap, the silent majority, and the anti-war movement

10D – Describe U.S. involvement in the Middle East such as support for Israel, the Camp David Accords, the Iran-Contra Affair, Marines in Lebanon, and the Iran Hostage Crisis

11A – Describe U.S. involvement in world affairs, including the end of the Cold War, the Persian Gulf War, the Balkans Crisis, 9/11, and the global War on Terror

19B – Explain constitutional issues raised by federal government policy changes during times of significant events, including World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the 1960s, and 9/11

29A - Use a variety of both primary and secondary valid sources to acquire information and to analyze and answer historical questions

29B - Analyze information by sequencing, categorizing, identifying cause-and-effect relationships, comparing and contrasting, finding the main idea, summarizing, making generalizations, making predictions, drawing inferences, and drawing conclusions

29C - Understand how historians interpret the past (historiography) and how their interpretations of history may change over time

29D - Use the process of historical inquiry to research, interpret, and use multiple types of sources of evidence

29G - Identify and support with historical evidence a point of view on a social studies issue or event

29H - Use appropriate skills to analyze and interpret social studies information such as maps, graphs, presentations, speeches, lectures, and political cartoons

30A - Create written, oral, and visual presentations of social studies information

30B - Use correct social studies terminology to explain historical concepts

30C - Use different forms of media to convey information, including written to visual and statistical to written or visual, using available computer software as appropriate

32B - Use a decision-making process to identify a situation that requires a decision, gather information, identify options, predict consequences, and take action to implement a decision

Grade 12, Social Studies

2A – Give examples of the processes used by individuals, political parties, interest groups, or the media to affect public policy

4B - Analyze how U.S. foreign policy affects selected places and regions

5C – Compare the role of government in the U.S. free enterprise system and other economic systems

6A – Examine how the U.S. government uses economic resources in foreign policy

6B – Understand the roles of the executive and legislative branches in setting international trade and fiscal policies

8B – Analyze the structure and functions of the executive branch of government, including the constitutional powers of the president, the growth of presidential power, and the role of the Cabinet and executive departments

8D – Identify the purpose of selected independent executive agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and regulatory commissions, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

8G – Explain the major responsibilities of the federal government for domestic and foreign policy such as national defense

8H – Compare the structures, functions, and processes of national, state, and local governments in the U.S. federal system

20A – Analyze information by sequencing, categorizing, identifying cause-and-effect relationships, comparing, contrasting, finding the main idea, summarizing, making generalizations and predictions, and drawing inferences and conclusions

20C – Analyze and defend a point of view on a current political issue

20D – Analyze and evaluate the validity of information, arguments, and counterarguments from primary and secondary sources for bias, propaganda, point of view, and frame of reference

21A – Use social studies terminology correctly

21C – Transfer information from one medium to another, including written to visual and statistical to written or visual, using computer software as appropriate

21D – Create written, oral, and visual presentations of social studies information

22B – Use a decision-making process to identify a situation that requires a decision, gather information, identify options, predict consequences, and take action to implement a decision

All content in this lesson plan is copyright of the Texas Archive of the Moving Image. Use of this lesson plan is free to educators for classroom use. It may not be reproduced without credit or used for commercial purposes.