Cold War Assessments

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Not everyone is good at expressing what they know through a timed test.  Everybody knows that, but most classes still rely on tests.  I designed these assessments for my 11th grade US History II classes, both honors and standard level.  The results were mostly quite good, especially the oral history assignments.  I did have students complete an open-notes pop quiz (they were warned in advance, but did not know the exact date) to hold them accountable for their notes and classwork.

Positives: Students had a choice, and some students absolutely threw themselves into their work.  One student in my honors class brought in a diary twice as long as the minimum requirement with detailed descriptions of her character’s family and personal life, in addition to the required historical elements.  Another very shy boy in the standard-level class brought in an excellent oral history paper based on an interview with a Korean War veteran he worked with.  A few students interviewed their grandparents, several watched “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” although by far the diary was the most popular option.

Negatives: As I began teaching halfway through the year with these students, this was the first non-traditional assessment I did with them.  A handful of students did not complete the assignment and had various excuses, many of which did not hold water.  I had cautioned students that the film paper was not actually the “easiest” assignment but many students chose that, thinking it would be easy.  Two students said they could not find any of the films or any other suitable ones, and another said that the film was too boring to watch all the way through.  One student copied a synopsis of the film from Wikipedia.  These were exceptions, but I wish I had done more to support them so they could have completed the assignment as planned.

The Assignment: I am including the text of the assignment sheet I gave to students.  Feel free to modify this and use it for your own classes.  I am also including the text of a “tips” sheet that gives extra guidance and suggestions, as well as a template of the film paper.

Cold War Project (60 points)

There will be no test for chapter 26.  There will be an open-notes pop quiz, and the other portion of your assessment grade will be this project.  You will choose from one of these options:

Option 1: Oral History Project

Find an older person to interview, in person or over the phone, about one of these topics:

  • The Korean War (a veteran of the war)
  • Early Cold War at home (the Korean War on the Home Front, McCarthyism & blacklisting, fear of the atomic bomb, Sputnik & the Space Race, American attitudes toward Communism)
  • Another topic of your choice with my permission

After your interview, you will write a 2-3 page paper summarizing their experiences during the Cold War and comparing it to what we have learned in class.  You may need to do some outside research about specific events they talk about if they are not mentioned in the book or our class notes.  Cite any outside research in MLA format.

You may interview a family member, neighbor, family friend, or older teacher.  Make sure they’re old enough to remember the events of the early Cold War—someone who was a small child during the Cold War might not have much to tell you.  If you want to do this project but don’t know anyone, I can help you find someone.

For this project, you will need to show me the questions you are going to ask before you have the interview.  I will offer suggestions that will make your interview as successful as possible.

Option 2: Cold War Film Paper

Watch one of these early Cold War films and write a 2-3 page paper explaining how this film represents Cold War themes.

  • On the Beach (1959)
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
  • Or a early Cold War film of your choice with my approval

If you do any outside research, such as looking up information about the film on the internet, you must cite your sources in MLA format.  Any other use of such information without being cited will be viewed as plagiarism and you will receive a zero.

For both films, make sure you are watching the film from the correct year and not a later remake.  If you write about a later remake of the film, you will receive no credit.

Option 3: Cold War Diary

You will write 6 – 8 diary entries from the point of view of a person living during the Cold War.  You may write from the perspective of a real person (Dwight Eisenhower, Joe McCarthy, Ethel Rosenberg, etc) or from a fictitious person.  Each entry should be between ½ and 1 page long. Your diary entries must include the following topics:

  • The “Iron Curtain”
  • Containment
  • The Berlin Airlift
  • HUAC & the Hollywood Ten
  • Mao Zedong & Communism in China
  • The Korean War
  • Joseph McCarthy & McCarthyism
  • The Hydrogen bomb
  • Sputnik

Your diaries must explain the events/people and your reaction to them.  Each diary entry must also include a date that is appropriate to the events you’re writing about.  (For example, you should not be writing about the Sputnik launch in a 1950 entry.)  Your 6-8 diary entries should span several years.  You may talk about more than one topic in a single entry, if they are chronologically appropriate.

Whichever topic you choose, your paper must be typed (size 12 font, double-spaced, with normal 1 inch margins).  Please proof-read your paper to catch typos and other errors.

Your project is due: _____________________


Tips for the Oral History Project:

  • You may need to schedule more than one interview with your subject, either in person or over the phone.
  • Leave yourself enough time to write the paper after these interview(s).
  • Have your questions written down ahead of time, but keep in mind that as you start interviewing, these questions may change a little.  If your interviewee starts talking about something interesting, you might go off your list for a few minutes to talk about that, and then return to your question list later.

For your interview, you need to get some background information about your subject.  Start your interview with questions like:

  • When were you born?
  • Where were you born?
  • Where were you living during the 1950s? 
  • What was your occupation during the 1950s?  (they may say they were in school or a soldier—those are occupations too)

The first paragraph or so of your paper will explain this information.  For example: “Wilma Jones was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1930.  In 1951 she moved to New York City….”   

Tips for the Film Paper: Use these questions to focus your paper.  Keep in mind, not all of these questions will apply to every film.  They should provide you with guidance to interpret the film you choose.

  • Does the film directly mention Communism, the USSR, atomic weapons, or other Cold War topics?
  • Is there any symbolism in the film?  Do any characters represent Communists, Soviets, or patriotic Americans?
  • How is the government represented in the film?  Positive or negative?
  • How are foreign or unknown things represented in the film?
  • What is valued in the film: conformity or individuality?

Tips for the Cold War Diary:

  • Think about how the character you choose (a real or fictitious person) would be affected by the events you’re writing about.
  • Make it personal: don’t just write descriptions like a textbook would.
  • You may include more Cold War events or topics than are included on the list.

Cold War Film Paper Template

Likely Cold War film themes (not every film will have all themes):

  • Technology: helpful or dangerous?
  • Individuality vs. conformity? (be yourself, or fit in with the group?)
  • Is the government good or bad?
  • Are Soviets and Americans more alike, or more different?
  • What are major threats to America and American values?
  • What values define America and the American way of life?
Intro Paragraph:

1)      Introduce the film (title of film, year it was released, major actors)

2)      Short summary of the plot in your own words.  (no more than three or four sentences)

3)      Your final sentence should mention the themes you will discuss.  For example, “The film, ____, shows three main Cold War themes: ______, ______, and _____.”  This is your thesis.

Second Paragraph:

1)      Explain the first theme in your film

2)      Choose 1-2 scenes in the film, describe them (this may take a few sentences), and explain how they demonstrate that theme.

Example: “In Star Wars when Han, Luke, Leia and the rebels battled helmeted storm troopers, this illustrates the conflict between individuality and conformity.  Ultimately the individuals—the rebel forces—win, showing that individuality is a source of strength and that it is superior.”

3)      Concluding sentence should state how the film represents that theme

Third Paragraph:

1)      Explain the second theme in your film

2)      Choose 1-2 scenes in the film, describe them (this may take a few sentences), and explain how they demonstrate that theme.

3)      Concluding sentence should state how the film represents that theme

Fourth Paragraph:

1)      Explain the third theme in your film

2)      Choose 1-2 scenes in the film, describe them (this may take a few sentences), and explain how they demonstrate that theme.

3)      Concluding sentence should state how the film represents that theme

(A fifth or sixth paragraph may be necessary, if you have more to say.)

Conclusion: How did your film represent major ideas of the Cold War?  Sum up your main ideas in a few sentences.
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2 Responses to “Cold War Assessments”

  1. Becky Says:

    I appreciate that you included an outline for how to write an effective paper, this is something I felt I was always lacking in high school and could never quite understand what I did wrong until I had an English teacher who cared and explained it to me in Junior year.

    I like the diary idea! I always enjoyed doing things like that, I think it’s great that there are several options for the students to pick because I feel like that would really encourage them to do their best.

    If only you were my high school history teacher, I would have had a really fun time with this assignment.

  2. Domingo Resendez Says:

    Hey, I found your blog while searching on Google your post looks very interesting for me. I will bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

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