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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

% Vietnam Online and offer insights into topics in American history including foreign policy in Southeast Asia, the threat of Communism, the Cold War, the Sixties, the Constitutional balance of powers, the media's role in wartime, portrayals of war in popular culture, and more. Use the film or this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: civics, history, geography, and culture. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities


History | Civics | Geography | Culture

  1. Tracing U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia.
    Divide the class into five groups and assign each group one of the following time periods: 1954-1963, 1964-1967, 1968, 1969-1973, and 1974-present. Have each group examine the portion of the timeline that corresponds to its assigned time period and read the links it contains.

    Each group should then construct its own timeline of its assigned time period containing the four or five events that it believes were most important with respect to U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. For each of these events, the group should write two to three sentences summarizing the event and explaining why it was important. Members of each group should also discuss among themselves whether any of the five events represent a "missed opportunity" for the United States to change its policies in ways that would have produced better results over the long term. Each group should be prepared to identify its "missed opportunity" events and explain its findings to the class.

    When all groups have finished their timelines, combine them and post the completed timeline around the room. Then have each group outline its "missed opportunity" to the class: Do other groups agree that the United States should have acted differently? The other groups should comment on whether they agree with the presenters' conclusions and explain why or why not.

  2. A "time of confusion" at home.
    The Vietnam War was one of many sources of instability in the United States during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The nation was also buffeted by urban riots, assassinations, changing attitudes toward sexuality and drug use, an increasingly vocal younger generation, and efforts by African Americans, women, and others to secure equal treatment.

    As a class, assemble a booklet entitled "Voices of the Vietnam Era," consisting of statements by people who lived that time. Each student should choose one such person -- either a prominent person (such as Muhammad Ali, Cesar Chavez, Eldridge Cleaver, Abbie Hoffman, Robert Kennedy, Gloria Steinem, or Andy Warhol) or a member of the student's family -- and obtain a quotation from this person about an issue of the time or what it was like to live through this period.

    Students should read their selection to the class and reproduce it (accompanied by an appropriate illustration) on a sheet of paper. Combine the sheets into a booklet.

  3. What kind of war?
    Was the Vietnam War a civil war, or was it the conquest of one independent nation by another?

    First, discuss as a class the reasons why this issue is important. Does the answer to this question help determine whether the United States should have become involved in the war, and if so, why?

    Next, review the material on the Web site and find at least three pieces of information that support each of the two sides in this debate. Share your findings with the class and list the information on the board. Which side do you find more persuasive?


History | Civics | Geography | Culture

  1. War powers and the Constitution.
    Working with a partner, complete one of the following activities:

    a. Research and write a brief (750-word) essay that addresses the following questions: Under the Constitution, which part of the federal government has the authority to declare war? Which part of the federal government is in charge of the armed forces? (For both of these questions, cite the relevant part of the Constitution and the wording it uses.) What are the potential advantages of separating the power to declare war from the command of the armed forces? What are the potential disadvantages?

    b. Find six examples of military conflicts in which the United States participated: three in which it formally declared war, and three in which it did not. Write a brief description of each conflict, explaining how the United States became involved and the conflict's outcome. Then explain whether you think the policy of declaring or not declaring war was appropriate in each of the six conflicts.

    c. Compare the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which Congress passed in 1964 to authorize the use of military force against North Vietnam, with the resolution Congress passed in 2002 to authorize the use of military force against Iraq. On the basis of these documents, write a brief essay comparing and contrasting the United States' goals in Vietnam and in Iraq. Do you agree with the statement by Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, an opponent of the 2002 Iraq resolution, that "This is the Tonkin Gulf resolution all over again"? Explain your answer.

    For example, why do you think one resolution provides much more detail than the other regarding the reasons why it was written? How do the two resolutions differ in the President's authorized use of force? How do they differ in their overall goals?

  2. The media's role in wartime.
    During the Vietnam War, the media played a highly visible -- and controversial -- role in bringing information to the American public and helping shape public attitudes toward the war. (Access a chronology of the media and American wars.) The war raised important questions about how best to balance the public's right to information against other priorities, such as protecting government secrets and maintaining a strong war effort.

    These questions have emerged again in the context of the war against terrorism and the conflict in Iraq. As a class, briefly discuss each of the five hypothetical situations described below and then take a class vote on how you would respond. Provide reasons for your answers.

    a. A terrorist group that is holding an American hostage sends your news organization a videotape of the hostage denouncing American foreign policy. The accompanying note states that the hostage will be released if you air the videotape on the evening news. Do you air it, refuse to air it, or agree to follow whichever course the U.S. government advises?

    b. One of your reporters has been given secret government documents that show the government has tortured foreigners arrested for involvement in terrorist plots against Americans. Do you provide this information to the public?

    c. A wanted terrorist grants one of your reporters an exclusive, face-to-face interview, but on the condition that you do not reveal his hiding place -- or any other sensitive information you learn in the course of holding the interview -- to the government. Do you refuse these terms and reject the interview, agree to the terms and abide by them, or agree to the terms but then violate them after the interview?

    d. One of your reporters has written a story, based entirely on unclassified information, that describes some aspect of the government's anti-terrorism policies. A government official asks you not to publish the story because it might help terrorists avoid capture and plan future attacks. Do you run the story as is, kill the story, or run the story but only after deleting any sections the government objects to?

    e. One of your photographers takes a powerful, graphic picture of a child accidentally killed by U.S. forces during a major anti-terrorist operation. Do you print the photograph on the front page, on a less prominent page, or not at all? (Would you give a different answer if the child had been killed by a terrorist attack, or if the child had been killed during a newsworthy event that was unrelated to terrorism, such as a major flood or tornado? If so, why?)

    When you are done, work as a class to craft these responses and reasons into a series of principles that should govern media coverage during wartime. These principles could cover such topics as how to deal with terrorists and their demands, what to do with secret documents, how to respond to government requests not to publish certain information, and the use of graphic pictures of violence.


History | Civics | Geography | Culture

  1. Mapping the war.
    Examine the maps of the different phases of the Vietnam War. Using the information from these maps, prepare a single map that shows what you think are the most important events and locations in the war -- in other words, the things that someone who has never heard of the war would most need to know. (You can show events from different years on a single map by creating a numbered series of call-out boxes, each describing a different event and with its own date.) When the maps have been completed, post them around the room and have the class vote on which ones are most effective.

  2. Vietnam and the global Cold War.
    Imagine that it is 1963 and you have been given an opportunity to brief the President on U.S. policy toward South Vietnam. Working with a partner, prepare an oral presentation, illustrated by at least three maps, arguing that preserving South Vietnam's independence is a critical part of winning the Cold War against Soviet communism. Possible topics for your maps include the large increase since 1945 in the area of the world under communist rule, the large number of Asian and African countries that have become independent due to the breakup of Western European empires, the parts of the world in which communists have attempted to gain power, and the possible spread of communism throughout Southeast Asia. Make your presentation to the class.


History | Civics | Geography | Culture

  1. The war in pop songs.
    Find the lyrics to a pop song from the Vietnam era that refers to the war. Distribute the lyrics to the class and, if you have access to a recording, play the song as well. Then discuss the song: What is its message? Does it simply express an opinion about the war, or does it also call on listeners to take some action? What sorts of reactions might different people (such as a young person eligible to be drafted, a soldier serving in Vietnam, or the parent of such a soldier) have to the song?

  2. Hollywood goes to war.
    Working with a partner, select a film about the Vietnam War -- either the war itself or its effects on those who fought in it -- and present your choice to your teacher for approval. Once your selection has been approved, watch the film with your partner.

    As you view the film, consider how it portrays the war and the soldiers who fought in it. Does it appear to support U.S. involvement in the war, or not? Are American soldiers presented as heroes, as victims, or in some other way? Also note any particular scenes that dramatically symbolize the film's message.

    Each group should present its findings briefly to the class. As the presentations are made, construct a timeline that lists each film and the year in which it was released. When all of the presentations are finished, look at the timeline as a class: Do you see any trends in how Hollywood has portrayed the war or the soldiers who fought in it?

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