Cold War Videos

Get Them Out of Their Seats
Ongoing Activity
Grades 8–12
History, Performing Arts
Small Group, Whole Class, Individual


  • Students will learn the main developments in the Cold War up to Steinbeck’s writing of Travels with Charley.
  • Students will be able to identify the main areas of the book which reference the Cold War.
  • Students will be able to identify the main themes of the Cold War.


Travels with Charley is about a journey across the United States, but more particularly it is about a journey across the United States in 1960. In Part Two of the book Steinbeck makes references to the Cold War, giving the reader a look into Steinbeck’s impression of how the United States was thinking about and affected by the Cold War.

This lesson allows for students to creatively interpret the Cold War and Cold War propaganda by allowing them to script and perform their own “educational video” (or skit).

Materials Needed/Preparation

  • Copies of Travels with Charley
  • It is recommended that the class have already completed The Cold War lesson.
  • The “The Cold War” and the “The Cold War at Home” articles.
  • Access to YouTube (TeacherTube may also have videos available)
  • ~Recommended videos Cold War era educational videos (Also found on the DVD “Target You! Cold War Educational Films from the Golden Age of Homeland Security,” available at some libraries and can be found for sale online as well.):
  • ~~“Duck and Cover” – Featuring Bert the Turtle; an educational video explaining how to survive an atomic bomb.
  • ~~“What is Communism?” – Featuring Herbert A. Philbrick describing Communism as an international criminal conspiracy
  • ~~“Target You!” – A detailed description of how to be prepared for a nuclear attack.
  • ~Recommended dramatizations:
  • ~~"The Shelter” – A 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone dramatizing the fear of a nuclear attack.
  • Video camera (optional)

Estimated Time

  • 1-3 class periods (longer if students are allowed to create a video outside of class time)


  • After having completed the activity The Cold War, and having viewed some or all of the recommended videos listed above, assign students to small groups.

Day 1: Pre-writing

  • Groups brainstorm what themes they will address in their skit or video
  • Decide which perspective the skit/video will be from
  • ~American point of view
  • ~Soviet point of view
  • Suggested themes include: The causes of the Cold War, Mutually Assured Destruction, “The Bomb,” Red Scare, Containment, etc.

Day 2: Script writing (teachers may extend this to more class time or assign groups to work outside of class)

  • Teachers need to determine: are groups creating skits, videos, or do they have the option of creating either?
  • Teachers need to determine: will students be working on this outside of classroom as an extended project?
  • Depending on student experience and how detailed the teacher wishes to be, consider having groups storyboard their skit/video or actually write in a proper screenplay format.
  • ~There are many templates readily available online to help with this.
  • Allow students class time to script their skit or video.
  • Teachers should monitor groups to ensure that they are staying on topic, it is very easy for students to become side-tracked in creating a comedy.
  • Scripts must be submitted to the teacher for approval, editing, and suggestions.
  • Consider allowing students to make references to modern issues such as terrorism.

Day 3: Performance

  • Groups come to the front of the class and perform their skits.
  • For videos, preview the videos prior to displaying them to the class.
  • Consider allowing students to provide constructive feedback on skits and videos.

Post Activity/Takeaways/Follow-up

Post Activity

  • Examine excerpts from “Letters to Alicia,” the collected writings of Steinbeck as a war correspondent in Vietnam (1967).


  • Students should understand that the Cold War was a constant reality in the 1960s.
  • Students should draw correlations between the Cold War and the War on Terrorism.


  • As applicable, tie in the themes and discussions from this activity with current events.


  • This is primarily an activity based on participation. Students should be assessed based on their contributions to discussions and group work.
  • How well did the skits/videos stay on topic? Did they accurately depict the Cold War themes?

Common Core State Standards Met

  • Writing Standards 6-12
  • ~Text Types and Purposes: 2, 3
  • ~Production and Distribution of Writing: 4, 5, 6
  • ~Research to Build and Present Knowledge: 7, 8
  • Speaking and Listening Standards 6-12
  • ~Comprehension and Collaboration: 1, 2
  • ~Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: 4, 5, 6
  • Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12
  • ~Key Ideas and Details: 2
  • ~Craft and Structure: 4, 5, 6
  • ~Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: 7, 8

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