The Vietnam War is one of the most significant events in American history. What really happened? Why did things go wrong? We put together this list of our favorite Vietnam War teaching resources, including new materials from THE VIETNAM WAR: A FILM BY KEN BURNS AND LYNN NOVICK, from PBS LearningMedia’s Teaching the Vietnam War Collection. These videos, lesson plans and discussion guides will help you navigate controversial topics and emotionally-charged questions while teaching your students important life lessons through American history.
FROM KEN BURNS AND LYNN NOVICK’S THE VIETNAM WAR
1. Forces that Fueled the Vietnam War (Videos and Activities)
Students first watch video clips, from The Vietnam War: a Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, about French colonialism in Southeast Asia and American support of French colonial rule in Vietnam. Then they participate in class discussions and activities, like a cost/benefit analysis of colonialism for the French and the Vietnamese using the printable graphic organizer provided.
2. Popular Beliefs and Misconceptions (Videos and Activities)
After watching video clips from The Vietnam War: a Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick about the impressions Americans had about Vietnam, the Vietnamese people and their government, students participate in small group activities. They’ll discuss the effect these misconceptions had on the war efforts and brainstorm why it’s important for leaders to fully understand their adversaries and their adversaries’ physical and political environments.
3. Leadership and Decision Making (Videos and Activities)
After watching video clips from The Vietnam War: a Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, students take part in scenario-based activities where they’re asked to help make the same decisions that faced each of the five U.S. presidents who served during the war. After discussing their choices, they’ll learn what the U.S. actually did and have a chance to share their thoughts and opinions on these important decisions.
ADDITIONAL PBS RESOURCES
4. How Is War Initiated? (Printable Discussion Guide and PowerPoint Presentation)
Use this discussion guide and the accompanying PowerPoint presentation to teach students the process for declaring war. Students will also learn the reasons that the U.S. has had for initiating war and why it’s important to understand and evaluate political decisions associated with past conflicts before declaring war.
In this five-minute video, students will see archival photos and watch newsreel footage and interviews that help them understand how and why Lyndon B. Johnson decided to increase U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam.
6. Untold Stories of U.S. Navy SEALS (Video)
Students will learn about the contributions of the U.S. Navy SEALS during the Vietnam War in this 12-minute video. They’ll see how Navy SEAL teams partnered with the CIA to train their South Vietnamese counterparts and collaborated with American military scientists on weapons technology, as well as why SEALS were called “Men With Green Faces.”
7. Evolution of the Draft (Discussion Guide and PowerPoint Presentation)
This discussion guide and PowerPoint presentation includes directions for conducting a mock draft lottery in your classroom. Students will also get to read a 1968 New York Times article about the indictment of Dr. Benjamin Spock, a well-known pediatrician who was a prominent draft resistor, and examine images of college students burning their draft cards. Finally, students discuss whether or not they believe a draft system is still needed and read opposing opinion statements on reinstating the draft.
8. What Are We Fighting For? Contrasting Viewpoints of the War (Lesson Plan)
During this lesson, students will listen to the song “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” from Country Joe and the Fish and analyze the lyrics to answer the question: “What was America was fighting for in Vietnam?” Then they take two-column notes on different sources to answer this question and participate in a jigsaw activity. Finally, students engage in a café conversation on the question, and write a one-page response to the question as a formal assessment.
9. Veteran Describes Being a Prisoner of War (Video)
One of the most compelling ways to understand what it was like to be a POW is to hear a firsthand account. This short video interview with a U.S. Vietnam War veteran describes his experience being captured, held in captivity and eventually being released.
10. Music and War (Printable Discussion Guide and Activities)
In this lesson, students will listen to and analyze music produced during the Vietnam War and examine how the tone of the songs reflects that period of time in American history. They will also learn how the diversity of perspectives during a time of war is often reflected in the music.
A Vietnam veteran talks about his experiences of PTSD both on the battlefield and after he returned home in this 2-minute video. Students will learn how most soldiers who were involved in active combat situations in the war returned home with little assistance to make the transition back to civilian life.
12. The Day the 60s Died (Video)
In this full-length video, students gain a better understanding of the anti-war demonstrations that occurred at college campuses across the country during the time of the Vietnam War. The video includes footage of the Kent State students on May 4, 1970, that left four student protestors fatally wounded by national guardsman and divided the nation even further.
Funding for THE VIETNAM WAR educational materials provided by Lynda & Stewart Resnick through the Better Angels Society.