Why was the Cuban Missile Crisis one of the most dangerous moments of the Cold War?
Fifth edition. December 2017.
PREVIEW THIS UNIT. The preview includes the table of contents, a student reading excerpt, and one lesson plan. PREVIEW ALL UNITS. Additional unit descriptions for the U.S. History Series that summarize key events, people, and terms, as well as underrepresented histories and skill development are available, along with a timeline, on this MIRO BOARD.

Like no other region of the globe, the Caribbean Basin has served as a testing ground for U.S. foreign policy. From the Monroe Doctrine to Cold War containment, from the Big Stick and Dollar Diplomacy to the Good Neighbor Policy and the Alliance for Progress, the countries of the Caribbean and Central America have felt the full weight of their colossal neighbor to the north. U.S. expansion overseas can trace its beginnings to the explosion of the Maine and Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill. Over half a century later, our country’s struggle with the Soviet Union reached the boiling point during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cuban Missile Crisis: Considering Its Place in Cold War History examines the crisis that brought the world to the brink of war. The unit analyzes the Cold War dynamics that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis and examines the decision-making process within the Kennedy administration. It prepares students to consider thoughtfully the causes and ramifications of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The unit is divided into two parts. Each part includes:

  • Student readings
  • Accompanying study guides, graphic organizers, and key terms
  • Lessons aligned with the readings that develop analytical skills and can be completed in one or more periods
  • Videos that feature leading experts

This unit also includes an Options Role Play as the key lesson. You do not need to use the entire unit; feel free to select what suits your classroom needs.

“The Cuban Missile Crisis unit provides perspective and insight into the situation while showing students that opposing sides can work together through diplomacy to prevent imminent disaster.” – Amy, MS History and Geography Teacher, VA

Part I: Cold War Tension

Part I introduces students to the Cold War, including the U.S.-Soviet rivalry and the nuclear arms race. It then focuses on the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere, examining key events such as U.S. support for the military coup in Guatemala, the fall of Batista and the rise of Castro in Cuba, and the Bay of Pigs. There is one lesson aligned with Part I: Retracing the Path to October 1962.

Part II: Epilogue

Part II addresses the resolution and aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. There are two lessons aligned with Part II: 1) Examining the Documents of the Missile Crisis, and 2) Castro's Point of View and Lessons for Today.


Retracing the Path to October 1962

Through role-play, students recognize and articulate the differing positions of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis.

Role-Playing the Three Options

The Options Role Play is the key lesson in the unit. Working cooperatively to advocate for one of the three options facing President Kennedy in October 1962, students use primary sources to recreate this critical moment in history.

Examining the Documents of the Missile Crisis

Students analyze and interpret the most important documents of the missile crisis: letters between Kennedy and Khrushchev.

Castro's Point of View and Lessons for Today

In this lesson students explore and analyze Castro's point of view of the events surrounding the missile crisis and interpret the recent historical discoveries.

  • This guide is designed to help students think about complex issues raised by Virtual JFK. The film investigates one of the most debated "what if" scenarios in the history of U.S. foreign policy: What would President John F. Kennedy have done in Vietnam if he had not been assassinated in 1963, and had he been elected in 1964? The story takes place in the midst of the Cold War and tempestuous partisan politics in the United States.

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