Lesson Plan: The Iran Hostage Crisis

Events Preceding the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis

Former Carter White House adviser Stuart Eizenstat discussed the events occurring before the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis. He explained the 1953 U.S. backed coup and the relationship between the Shah of Iran and the United States.


On November 4, 1979, Iranian students in Tehran seized the U.S. Embassy in Iran and took 52 Americans hostage. The Iran Hostage Crisis lasted for 444 days and ended minutes after President Jimmy Carter left office in 1981. This lesson looks at the causes of the crisis, the events during those 444 days and the impacts of this event. Students will view archival video and hear from experts and eyewitnesses to learn about this event.


  • WARM-UP:

    Begin class by having the students define the following vocabulary terms in their own words. Students should have a working understanding of these concepts before viewing the video clips in the lesson.

    • Ayatollah

    • Coup d'état

    • Diplomacy

    • Embassy

    • Hostage

    • Shah

    After reviewing the vocabulary terms and addressing any misconceptions, introduce the events preceding the hostage crisis in Iran with the video clips below. Student can use the handout to answer the questions for each question or use the note-taking chart as they view the video clips.

  • Video Clip 1: Events Preceding the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis (3:14)

    • What happened in Iran in 1953? How did this contribute to the Iran Hostage Crisis?

    • Describe the relationship between the Shah of Iran and the United States.

    • What events in Iran preceded the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis?
  • Video Clip 2: Iranian Revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini (2:12)

    • Describe the factions in the early Iranian Revolution.

    • Who was the Ayatollah Khomeini? What role did he play in the Iranian Revolution?

    • According to Mr. Farber, how did the United States serve as a unifying factor for the Iranian people?

    Review the events occurring before the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Iran. Use the following question to discuss the events leading to the taking of the U.S. Embassy.

    What was the most important factor that led to the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Iran?

    After discussing this with the class, have the students explore the events and various perspectives of the hostage crisis. Students can take notes using the note-taking chart or answer questions using the video questions handout.

  • Video Clip 3: The Seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Iran (3:02)

    • Describe the events that led to the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

    • How did the Iranian government respond to these protests at the U.S. Embassy? What was the consequence of this?

    • Describe the number of people at the U.S. Embassy at the time. Why was this?
  • Video Clip 4: Former Iranian Hostage John Limbert on his Experiences (3:42)

    • How does Mr. Limbert's description of his experience contrast to the Iranian narrative?

    • According to Mr. Limbert, how does his treatment compare to the cultural values of his captors?
  • Video Clip 5: Media Coverage of the Iran Hostage Crisis (4:06)

    • Describe the media coverage of the hostage crisis.

    • How did the captors and hostages both use the media for their own purposes?

    • How connected were the hostages with their families at home?

    • What is meant by a "news blackout" for the hostages? What was the reasoning behind this?
  • Video Clip 6: The 1980 Rescue Attempt During the Iran Hostage Crisis (4:19)

    • Describe the planning that went into the rescue attempt.

    • Why did President Carter try the rescue when he did?

    • What occurred during the rescue attempt?

    • According to Mr. Eizenstat, why did it fail? How did this event impact the Carter administration?
  • Video Clip 7: The 1980 Election and the Iran Hostage Crisis (4:06)

    • Summarize President Carter's remarks about the Iran hostage rescue attempt.

    • What impact did the failed rescue attempt on President Carter's failed reelection in 1980?
  • Video Clip 8: The End of the Iran Hostage Crisis (4:36)

    • Describe the negotiations that led to the release of the hostages.

    • When were the hostages released? Why was this significant?

    • How does Mr. Limbert describe the events leading to the release of the hostages?

    To conclude the lesson, have the students use the information from the video clips to respond to the following prompt either with a written response or a class discussion.

    • What were the biggest mistakes that the U.S. Government made before and during the Iran Hostage Crisis? What were the impacts of these mistakes?

    Timeline- Using the San Diego Union Tribune article create a visual timeline of the 10 most important event. For each event, explain what happened and why it is significant.

    Important Figures in the Crisis- Choose one of the following people involved in the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Research their actions and impact during this time and summarize what role they played.

    • President Jimmy Carter
    • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
    • National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • Ayatollah Khomeini
    • Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, The Shah of Iran

    • Did the Iran Hostage Crisis cause President Carter to lose the election?
    • How did the Iran Hostage Crisis impact the current relationship between the United States and Iran?
    • Why is the Iran Hostage Crisis important to understand today?
    • How did the 1953 coup d'état impact the Iranian Hostage Crisis?

Additional Resources


  • Autocrat
  • Ayatollah Khomeini
  • Coup D'état
  • Embassy
  • Hostage
  • Incommunicado
  • Iran
  • Iran Hostage Crisis
  • Media
  • Mock Execution
  • Mohammad Mosaddegh
  • Mohammad Reza Pahlavi
  • News Blackout
  • Propaganda
  • Soviet Union
  • The Shah Of Iran


Foreign PolicyU.S. HistoryWorld History


Middle SchoolHigh SchoolUniversity