Lesson Plan: The Vietnam War

Lead Up to the Vietnam War

Marc J. Selverstone, Director, Miller Center of Public Affairs, Presidential Studies, discusses the situation in Vietnam when President Kennedy is in office.


The Vietnam War was a conflict between communist North Vietnam and South Vietnam that began in 1955. However, the war took on a greater worldwide significance within the backdrop of the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. The United States involvement began as only sending military advisors, but continued to increase until they sent combat troops in 1965, and did not end until the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. However, the war did not officially end until the fall of Saigon in 1975. The involvement of the United States was very controversial within the country, and led to a large anti-war movement. In this lesson, students will learn about the causes, events, and impact of the Vietnam War within the United States and around the world.



    As a class, view the following video clip and then discuss the questions below.

    Video Clip: The Lead Up to the Vietnam War (7:45)

    • Explain the situation in Vietnam when President Kennedy came in to office.

    • According to Mr. Selverstone, why was President Kennedy more focused on Laos during the early days of his administration? What did President Eisenhower mean by “if Laos goes, then all of South East Asia goes?"

    • As the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam ramped up during 1962, what role did the task forces established by President Kennedy play?

    • Explain the Strategic Hamlet Program.

    • What occurred at the Battle of Ap Bac in January 1963, and what were the effects?

    Break students into groups and have each group view the following video clips. Students should take notes using the handout provided, and then share their findings with the rest of the class.

    HANDOUT: Vietnam War Handout (Google Doc)

  • Video Clip: Vietnam War - American Troops Enter the War (3:37)

    Temple University History Professor David Farberon discussed the lead up to the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War.

    Video Clip: Gulf of Tonkin Incident (5:54)

    This Universal Newsreel segment highlighted the U.S. response to an incident between the North Vietnamese Navy and the U.S. Navy in the Gulf of Tonkin, located off the coast of northern Vietnam and southern China.

    Video Clip: The Battle of Ia Drang Valley (14:44)

    This 1965 CBS News special report anchored by Morley Safer looks at a battle in Vietnam that began on October 19, 1965, and lasted for five weeks.

    Video Clip: Vietnam War Escalation and the Anti-War Movement (7:14)

    Professor Margaret O'Mara talked about the events that led to the escalation of the United States involvement in the Vietnam War and the causes of anti-war movement within the U.S.

    Video Clip: President Nixon and the Vietnam War (2:44)

    Documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick discussed their latest film for PBS called "The Vietnam War". Ms. Novick evaluated Nixon's April 1967 speech about Vietnam and his ability to modulate their message to the American people.

    Video Clip: Vietnam War and the Draft (4:49)

    History Professor Beth Bailey and Military History Professor Richard Faulkner discuss the evolution of the Selective Service Act after World War II, including disillusionment of the implied fairness and shared burden of conscripted service for those drafted in the Vietnam War.

    Video Clip: The Pentagon Papers (3:42)

    Daniel Ellsberg discussed his leak of the "Pentagon Papers", a secret government study of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, to newspapers across the country.

    Video Clip: President Nixon on the End of the Vietnam War (8:55)

    This is a portion of a televised address from March 29th, 1973, in which President Nixon spoke to the nation about the end of the Vietnam War.


    As a class, view the following video clip and discuss the questions below.

    Video Clip: Lessons Learned from the Vietnam War (1:37)

    Ken Burns and Lynn Novick discussed their documentary "The Vietnam War," its relevance today, and what can be learned from the conflict.

    • Explain the lessons that can be learned from the Vietnam War in today's world.

    After viewing the video clips and reporting out to the entire class, have students write an essay (or similar culminating activity) that includes the following information. Students should cite specific examples from the videos and class discussion.

    • The causes of the Vietnam War

    • The reasons for increased United States involvement as the war continued

    • The impact of the anti-war movement within the United States

    • The significance of the Vietnam War then, as well as the lessons that can be learned from it today.

Additional Resources


  • Cold War
  • Domino Theory
  • Gulf Of Tonkin
  • North Vietnam
  • Paris Peace Accords
  • South Vietnam
  • Tet Offensive
  • Viet Cong
  • Vietnam War


Foreign PolicyU.S. History


Middle SchoolHigh School