Lesson Plan: Prohibition in the United States

Prohibition - The Beginning

Ken Burns explains the setting in America in which Prohibition takes place


The 18th Amendment was passed in 1919 to ban the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors,” establishing Prohibition across the United States. Eight months after its ratification, Congress passed the Volstead Act to enforce Prohibition. However, federal agents and police had difficulty implementing these enforcements with the rise of organized crime, speakeasies and bootleggers. For those and additional reasons, support faltered in the early 1930's and Prohibition became the only Constitutional amendment to be repealed in United States history by the 21st amendment on December 5, 1933. In this lesson, students will learn about the reasons for Prohibition, the impact it had across the country, the reasons for its repeal, as well as its legacy in the United States.



    As a class watch the following video and have the students answer the questions below:

    VIDEO CLIP: The 18th Amendment and Prohibition - The Beginnning (Clip 1) (1:55)

    • Describe the role of alcohol in American society pre-Prohibition.

    • Why was the Temperance movement born/created?

    • What kind of America did people envision without the influence of alcohol?

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

    HANDOUT: Prohibition Handout (Google Doc)

  • Video Clip: The 18th Amendment and Prohibition - Why Prohibition Began (1:37)

    Ken Burns explains why Prohibition begins in America, including the different groups that supported it.

    Video Clip: The 18th Amendment and Prohibition - Prohibition Overview (1:24)

    Ken Burns gives an overview of prohibtion, including the positive and negative impacts.

    Video Clip: The Enforcement of Prohibition (3:04)

    Professor Lisa Andersen discussed the difficulty that the United States and law enforcement had in enforcing prohibition.

    Video Clip: Prohibition and the Rise of Organized Crime (3:41)

    Author and history professor Marc Mappen talked about the rise of organized crime that occured during the Prohibition era.

    Video Clip: Speakeasies and Prohibition (1:18)

    Dan Okrent talked about the role and impact of speakeasies during Prohibition.

    Video Clip: Loopholes in the 18th Amendment (2:45)

    Ken Burns discusses loopholes found in the 18th amendment and how different interpretations impacted Prohibition.


    After watching the videos and reporting out to the class, have the entire class watch the following video clip and answer the questions below:

    Video Clip: The End of Prohibition (2:05)

    Author Dan Okrent explained the events and causes that led to the end of prohibition in the United States.

    • Describe how the Great Depression helped lead to the end of Prohibition.

    • How did prohibition affect drinking levels in the United States?

    • According to Dan Okrent, why does he believe it was more difficult to get a drink after prohibition than during it?

    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 Prohibition in the United States

    • The positive and negative consequences of Prohibition

    • The causes of Prohibition ending in the United States

    • Whether the student thinks that Prohibition, although it failed, was a good idea and had a positive long term impact in the United States

    Have students research the controversy over the legalization of marijuana in the United States. Then, have them compare and contrast the issue with the issue of alcohol and prohibition in the 1920s in list or essay form. Then, as a class discuss what lessons the country and government should learn from Prohibition as it relates to the legalization of marijuana.

Additional Resources


  • 18th Amendment
  • 21st Amendment
  • Bootlegger
  • Organized Crime
  • Prohibition
  • Speakeasy
  • Volstead Act


U.S. History


Middle SchoolHigh School