Procedures for Teachers

Time Allotment: one to two class periods

1. Many students may not know the history of the Cold War or understand the communist system of government. To create a stronger understanding of both, ask the students to close their eyes and imagine as you read the A Day in the Life handout aloud.

2. After you have read the handout, distribute a copy of it to each student and facilitate a classroom discussion using questions such as:

  • Do you think you would like to live in a country like this? Why?
  • What advantages and disadvantages would there be to living in a country with this type of government? Explain.
  • Do you think people living in such a country are happy? Why?

3. Continue the discussion by explaining to the students that in Russia people lived under a communist form of government from the 1930s until the early 1990s. Explain that under communism, people did not have a similar lifestyle to the one enjoyed in the United States, which is based on a democratic form of government and embraces the idea of capitalism.

4. To help the students better understand the differences between communism and democracy, share the following definitions (from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary at

communism: a totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production.

totalitarian: of or relating to a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures (as censorship and terrorism).

Example: Communist Russia

capitalism: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

democracy: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

Example: United States

the Cold War: a conflict over ideological differences carried on by methods short of sustained overt military action and usually without breaking off diplomatic relations; … : the ideological conflict between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the second half of the 20th century.

5. Explain to the students that following World War II, because of the conflicting ideas each country had about government, there was great distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union, resulting in what came to be called the Cold War.

Using what the students have learned from the definitions above and the A Day in the Life activity, work as a class to create a list or graphic organizer (Venn diagram, etc.) that compares the rights of U.S. citizens to the rights of people living in the Soviet Union when it was governed by the communists.

Close this discussion by asking the following questions:

  • What does it mean to defect from one’s country? [To forsake one cause, party, or nation for another often because of a change in ideology.]
  • What is asylum? [Protection from arrest and extradition given especially to political refugees by a nation or by an embassy or other agency enjoying diplomatic immunity.]
  • If you were living in a communist country and had the opportunity to leave, would you do so? Why? What risks might you or your family face as a result of this action?
  • What risks do other countries take by giving people asylum?

Time Allotment: two to three class periods

1. Introduce NUREYEV: THE RUSSIAN YEARS by explaining to the students that they will be viewing a program about one of the world’s greatest dancers who was dissatisfied with his life in the former Soviet Union and defected to the West. Explain that they will learn why Nureyev defected, how others reacted, and how the event changed his life in both positive and negative ways.

2. Distribute the Viewing Guide and have the students read the questions before they watch the film. Watch NUREYEV: THE RUSSIAN YEARS as a class. Pay special attention to the interviews clips with Nureyev and his friends that appear throughout the film. Take time to focus the students’ attention on the specifics of Nureyev’s defection beginning at approximately (insert time cue) and the results of his leaving Russia. Pause the film as needed for students to complete the guide.

3. After the students have watched the program and completed the Viewing Guide, have them work in groups to discuss questions 1 through 8. They should fill in additional information learned from this discussion on their Viewing Guide. Provide 15 to 20 minutes for this activity.

4. Gather the students into a large group to discuss questions 9 and 10. Encourage volunteers to provide specific information and quotes from the film when discussing their answers. They should provide reasons and examples to support their opinions for question 10.

5. Close the discussion about the film by using questions such as:

  • Do you think that it takes courage to defect from one’s country? Why?
  • Would you have made the same decision as Nureyev if you had been in his situation and had the opportunity to defect? Why?
  • What did it cost Nureyev? What did he have to give up in order to be “free”? Was it worth it?
  • At the end of the film, we learn that Nureyev was reunited with his mother 25 years after he defected. Why do you think this was allowed by the Russian government at that time?
  • Nureyev eventually returned to the stage at the Kirov Ballet shortly before his death. Why do you think this was permitted? How do you think he might have felt about this?
  • Based on what you saw in the film, how do you think Nureyev is viewed and remembered in his home country?
  • In what ways was Nureyev a pioneer for other artists, athletes, intellectuals, and average citizens seeking to escape the oppression of communism? In what ways might he have deterred others from defecting?

Time Allotment: two class periods

1. Distribute the Project Guidelines to the students. Explain that the goal of the project is to help them learn more about life during the Cold War. Review the specific requirements for the project and provide students with at least one class period to begin their work.

2. When all the students have completed their projects, provide them with an opportunity to share what they have learned. Have the students work in pairs or small groups and give them time to present their work to one another. Encourage them to provide feedback on the projects by completing the three sentences below on a sheet of paper.

  • Three things I learned from your project were …
  • The thing I liked best about your project was …
  • A suggestion I have for a way to improve your project is …

3. Projects should then be posted in a common area of the school or on a classroom/school Web site so others can view them.


1. While communist Russia is a thing of the past, there are many countries around the world where communism is alive and well. Select a country such as Cuba, North Korea, or China and study it. Compare it to communist Russia. What similarities and differences can you note? Record these on a graphic organizer such as a Venn diagram. Discuss the current U.S. political relationship with this country and how it is similar to and different from the relationship we had with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

2. Using a world map, create a key that shows all of the countries around the world that are currently communist and those that are considered democracies. Label each accordingly, then discuss the relative success of each form of government worldwide in terms of economics, political relationships, human rights, and social conditions. Label “hot spots” and cut out magazine or newspaper articles related to those countries and post them near the map.