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Teaching Guide

Teaching Cold War: Cuban Missile Crisis to Detente

Avoid classroom crises with Shmoop.


The Cuban Missile Crisis is packed with inherent drama: missiles, a crisis, and…ping-pong. So while you might want to organize a table tennis match and serve up hot Cuban sandwiches (um, invite us to class that day, please), you'll first want to dig a little deeper into the events that thawed out the Cold War.

In this guide you will find

  • questions to prompt discussion about Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Mutually Assured Destruction.
  • reading quizzes to make sure students know that while detention = bad, détente = good.
  • assignments analyzing the world-changing speeches from political figures of the time.

This teaching guide is a powerful missile of learning: the kind that solves crises and doesn't cause them.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

The discovery of missiles in Cuba provided President Kennedy with an unprecedented challenge and opportunity—to present his case for a war-threatening naval blockade directly to the American people. In this exercise your students will look at his speech and decide whether he met this challenge successfully.

Show your students this video clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmA9CZqAWO4). You might also want to provide them with the text of the speech available here (http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/kencuba.htm). As they watch, they should think about the questions that will frame your subsequent discussion.

  • What is the most unsettling information Kennedy reveals about the missiles?
    • Why did Kennedy provide details regarding the missiles?
      • Was this detail necessary?
  • What is the most damaging information he provides about the Soviets?
    • Why did Kennedy spend so much time detailing his conversations with the Soviet ambassador?
  • How, according to Kennedy, does the placement of missiles on Cuba change the nuclear status quo?
    • How does American treatment of its nuclear weapons differ?
  • On what legal basis was Kennedy's quarantine established?
  • Why does the president underscore the fact that the blockade is just an "initial step?"
    • What does he hint might follow the quarantine?
  • What is the most provocative thing said by Kennedy?
  • Is Kennedy trying to increase or ease American anxieties?
  • After hearing the speech, do you think that the imposition of a blockade is appropriate?
    • Is it necessary?
    • Is it too provocative?
    • Is it a strong enough response?

Instructions for Your Students

The Cuban Missile Crisis was an unprecedented television event. No previous president, at such a critical moment in history, had ever had access to the television to prepare his nation for the events unfolding before them.

You will be watching President Kennedy's televised address to the nation on 22 October 1963. During the address he will announce his decision to impose a naval blockade—a decision that may lead the country to war with the Soviet Union. Try to put yourself in the place of an American viewer at the time. Does he make the case for his course of action? Remember, the result may be nuclear war?


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