The Cuban Missile Crisis: Roleplay Unit!

A roleplay-based history teaching unit from ActiveHistory.

Background: Origins of the Cold War, c.1945-61

If the Origins of the Cold War have not already been studied using the detailed unit at ActiveHistory, the following provides an efficient, effective overview.

Teacher Lecture - Interactive Multimedia Presentation | Student activity sheet to accompany the presentation
Complete with video clips, the comprehensive presentation guides through the origins and development of the Cold War. This presentation is broken up with short video clips and 6 key decision points in the student worksheet which the class has to discuss and reach judgements on (e.g. "Discussion Point [4/6] The Iron Curtain Speech / Stalin's Salami Tactics: Which of the following two statements do you agree with? A. "Churchill's Iron Curtain speech accelerated the Cold War. The wartime alliance was clearly breaking down, but this speech finished it off" or B. "Churchill's Iron Curtain speech merely acknowledged that the Cold War had already begun; its only significance is that it was the first public declaration that this was the case").

The Cuban Missile Crisis

One of the most dramatic moments of the 20th Century and a particularly exciting topic to teach and to study! This unit is based around extended roleplay activities firstly from the Soviet, then from the American, perspectives. Students gain a thorough understanding not just of the events but also about the role of particular individuals and develop an appreciation of how close the world came to nuclear holocaust in 1962 - and who (if anybody) deserves credit for their handling of this terrifying crisis.


Background to the crisis

Background - Tension between the USA and the USSR
Students review the tension between the USA and the USSR on the global stage.

Background - Tension between the USA and Cuba
This worksheet focuses more narrowly on the tension between the USA and Cuba following Castro's seizure of power.

Background - Conclusions on the Bay of Pigs
Students assess the significance of the Bay of Pigs crisis.

Soviet Roleplay
Students Worksheet | Roleplay Cards
This two-part Soviet roleplay involves thinking through the arguments for and against placing missiles in Cuba from the Soviet perspective in a general sense based on essential historical context. Then, each member of the class takes on the role of a named Soviet advisor with a clear agenda. After they have formed their proposal, the teacher takes on the role of Khrushchev to talk through the arguments. The final outcome is a detailed set of notes outlining the position of various Politburo members which will be invaluable for the essay writing / sourcework analysis examination.

US Roleplay Part 1 (one hour): The Initial Response
Student Worksheet | Roleplay Cards | Concluding Write-Up
In this roleplay, attention shifts back to the USA. Each student takes the role of a member of EX-COMM, and prepares a statement arguing for a course of action in response to Khrushchev's policy regarding Cuba. The teacher notes outline how the debate should be managed by the teacher (in role as Kennedy). The rolecards have been carefully written so that the students do not simply learn about the policy of each key character (invaluable for a source-based examination), but also learn about the relationship between the individuals concerned. After watching two short video clips about Kennedy's final decision (links provided within the worksheets), students produce a concluding write-up reflecting on how effectively he dealt with the initial stage of the crisis.

Slideshow of ExComm
This slideshow rotates a gallery of images of the key characters involved in EX-COMM (with names) and can be left running on the whiteboard during the reflection/roleplay phase of the activity.

US Roleplay Part 2 (one hour): The Crisis Escalates
Student Worksheet | Teacher-led Multimedia Presentation

In this second roleplay, designed to last about an hour, students witness the crisis unfold step-by-step. At each stage, they have to discuss what they think Kennedy should do, then make comments about his actions after being told what he actually decided. The Teacher-led Multimedia Presentation provides all the materials a teacher needs to help students complete the Student Worksheet.

Consequences of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Student Worksheet
This activity allows students to comment on the impact of the crisis on different key individuals and countries. There are links to relevant video clips as extension material (complete with suggested questions / discussion points).

Revision Quiz: The Cuban Missile Crisis
A Fling the Teacher Quiz containing 45 possible questions.

End of unit factual test
Worksheet and Teacher Answers
A 25-question factual test, in the format of a detailed analysis / conclusion with gaps to fill.


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