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Teaching Guide

Teaching Cold War: McCarthyism & Red Scare

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Teaching this topic, you might feel a little…paranoid. But we're not coming to get you, we swear. Instead, we're coming to help you with all the info you need about Joseph McCarthy, his blacklist, the red scare, and propaganda. We've got your back.

In this guide you will find

  • activities exploring the connections between McCarthyism and Hollywood.
  • essay questions to put your students into the mindset of a spy.
  • reading quizzes to be sure students know that people weren't scared of the color red.

The Cold War may have caused tons of anxiety across the globe, but this topic doesn't have to.

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  • 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.

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Instructions for You

Some Basic Facts about Harry Truman

Harry Truman served only 82 days as U.S. Vice President before Franklin Delano Roosevelt's unexpected death elevated him to the presidency.

Harry Truman was the last American president to have no education beyond high school.

Rank of Harry Truman among most unpopular U.S. presidents since World War II, as measured by contemporary public approval ratings: 1

Rank of Harry Truman among presidential historians asked to rate America’s best presidents: 5

An Atypical President

Harry Truman does not match many of our established notions about American presidents. He had no college education and he was a haberdasher, not a lawyer. He entered the Oval Office after serving fewer than three months as Vice President. And during those 82 days, President Franklin Roosevelt kept him at arms' length. As your students read in the Politics Lens, Roosevelt excluded Truman from the most critical negotiations surrounding the war, and he did not tell him of America's nuclear program. Truman was tremendously unpopular in office.

Yet historians rank him as one of our greatest presidents -- just behind Lincoln, Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Truman's story opens up several areas of inquiry. For example, you might want to explore why is there such a discrepancy between the public's and historians' assessments. A more concrete exercise might be to explore the U.S. Constitution’s brevity on the vice-president's role.Should the Vice Presidential office be more fully defined? 

Share with your students this portion of the Constitution pertaining to the Vice Presidency:

Article 1, Section 3
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.

Amendment XXV
Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

  • Should the Constitution do more to clarify the Vice President's role?
  • Should the Vice President have other official duties?
  • Should the president be obligated to fully incorporate the Vice President within the responsibilities and decision-making processes of the presidential office?

(Lesson aligned with CA History-Social Sciences 9th-12th grade historical research, evidence, and point of view standard 3; historical interpretation standard 4; 11th grade American History standard 11.8.3)

Instructions for Your Students


As you read in Shmoop's Politics Lens, Harry Truman was not a well-liked politician in his own time.  But he is now considered by many to be one of the best Presidents of all time. Why has that view changed?

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