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The Beginning of the Vietnam War Lesson Plan

Nicholas R. Baker

Virginia Tech Blacksburg, VA


Grade Level(s): High School Junior and Senior

Class: U.S. History primarily but could also be used in other classes as well.

Prior Knowledge about Vietnam and the time period for this lesson plan: I would have already taught about the overall backdrop of the political and social makeup of Vietnam prior to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. This lesson plan takes place shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of President Kennedy. This probably would take place over one class period maybe a little longer.

Lesson Plan for the United States Entrance in the Vietnam War

List of Contents:

Materials used within the lesson on the Vietnam War:

Attachment A: We Were Soldiers and Platoon work sheet/ reflection paragraph exercise

Attachment B: Group Activity Guiding Questions

Attachment C: Concluding Discussion Questions

Attachment D: Parent permission slip to watch historical films and alternate assignment if not signed by student or parent

Attachment E: The readings for the class period that will be read aloud in class.

Attachment F: Question/Work sheet for the read-write-pair-share exercise

Attachment G: Description of scenes used in the films We Were Soldiers and Platoon

Attachment H: Grading Rubric

Attachment I: Works Cited

Instructional Activities:

-Use the read, write, pair share method to discuss the Hal Moore article and the two articles on how the Vietnam War was both necessary and unnecessary.

-Class Discussion: This discussion will be based on the film discussion questions that will be asked of students to think about and later discuss within their groups in relation to the previous activity regarding the in-class readings.

-Group Activity: Students will either take up the position of someone who supports the Vietnam War or someone who is against it.

-Film Work Sheet/Reflection

-Final Class Discussion: How did technological inventions hinder or help in the Vietnam War and why? Was the Vietnam War inevitable? Have students make connections to the Cold War, Korean War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. What were the major impacts that the Vietnam War had on the United States during the war? What impacts did the war have on soldiers, families of the soldiers, citizens, and the government?

The Beginning of The Vietnam War Lesson Plan

Objective: The primary focus for this lesson is to illustrate and connect the students to the soldier’s perspective on the Vietnam War and the United States overall strategies for combating the war. The other major objective is to compare and contrast the Vietnam War with other wars that have taken place throughout the history of the United States and its impact on soldiers, families of the soldiers, citizens, and the government as a whole. Another objective will be to illustrate how individuals both supported and were against the conflict.

Key Knowledge and Skills: The students will reflect on the soldier’s perspective during the Vietnam War. The students will also evaluate how and why the Vietnam War was both necessary and unnecessary as a conflict. Students will make connections between the Vietnam War and other major conflicts that the United States has been involved in. The students will also evaluate and analyze primary and secondary historical documents that analyze the overall perspectives of historians and politicians who have reflected on both how the Vietnam War was a necessary and an unnecessary conflict. The students will also evaluate and analyze the historical films We Were Soldiers and Platoon in order to reflect on the perspectives of the soldiers who fought within the conflict.

Key Questions: The questions that I will bring up relate to: What type of war was the Vietnam War? Was the Gulf of Tonkin incident the sole reason that the United States entered into the war? What were the perspectives of the soldiers who fought, their families, and the overall general public of the United States during the conflict? Was the Vietnam War inevitable or was it avoidable? How did the United States initially fight the war in Vietnam and did this change over time? Do you think that the depictions in Hollywood movies like Platoon and We Were Soldiers are accurate recreations of the soldier’s perspective during the conflict? How did the invention of new technologies affect the war in Vietnam? Why do you think the trend in conflicts since the Korean War is to engage in prolonged conflicts or limited war instead of open wars? Did Cold War rhetoric and policy impact the conflict in Vietnam? Why did many people support the conflict and why were many people against it? Why did the Vietnam War and the Korean War have such a detrimental impact on soldiers compared to past wars?

Focus Warm Up Activity: The first activity that I will give students is to have students break up into small groups and use the Read, Write, Pair Share Strategy Share to discuss the Col. Hal Moore article excerpt and the two articles that support and not support the conflict. See Attachment: F

Activity Hook: Within the class I will show segments of the films We Were Soldiers and Platoon in order to show a realistic mock version of the soldier’s perspective during the Vietnam War. The films will be interspersed throughout the lesson after the students separate into groups in order to reflect on the film clips and the in class readings. (This will provide a lot of interactivity with the material and should help struggling readers) The film’s scenes will only be played after each group discusses their views on the questions asked. The films will be accompanied by a work sheet that has questions that will guide each student through the films and the necessary information that they will need to retain for the end of class discussion. See Attachment A and G.

Primary Activity: The primary activity for the class is to separate into two groups. Each side will either represent supporters of the Vietnam War or protestors. (This will help students who were struggling with the readings during the class period and will help English language learners to interpret the material in a different way.) See Attachment: B

Guided Practice: During this activity students will be engaging the material that they will learn from the films We Were Soldiers and Platoon presented in class. Students will then read passages from the real life autobiography of Col. Hal Moore and compare and contrast these passages to the film version of Col. Hal Moore played by Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers. The film Platoon will be shown to further illustrate the hardships of soldiers who fought in Vietnam. The students will discuss the two films in small groups and then as a class. I will provide each student with a discussion work sheet to analyze while watching the film clips that will deal with questions related to the film that are important in understanding the conflict. See Attachments A and G. (As a teacher I will use scaffolding in order to organize and help facilitate an open and critical discussion on the Vietnam War. This will help guide and model students for their group activity and their final class discussion. The films will also help guide students through the use of their responses to the film clips in conjunction with the readings.)

Independent Practice: Reading the primary and secondary texts from various primary and secondary sources will be key to the student’s individual understanding of the many varied perspectives on the Vietnam War. See Attachment E and F.

Manipulatives Needed: The primary manipulatives will be the final class discussion, the group discussion, the class activity, and the work sheet for the films Platoon and We Were Soldiers.

Use of Technology: For homework the previous night, students were required to look up information regarding key terms that related to the Vietnam War on the internet and bring in a list of terms (Ex. Guerilla Warfare, Limited War, Open War, Domino Theory, Containment, Brinkmanship, and many other terms that would be provided for the students to look up) and questions to discuss and ask within class. Students during class will also be familiar with the use of film to illustrate the historical zeitgeist of the soldiers who fought during the war and individuals who both supported and did not support the war.

Wrap Up/ Conclusion Questions: The conclusion will wrap up the overall group activity by having an open discussion about their reactions to the activity and how the movie and the actual event compared and contrasted to the connections that they made during their group activity. See: Attachment C.

Lesson plan rationale for struggling readers: For the struggling readers module I decided to organize the classroom on a scaffold and modeling approach in the class on the Vietnam War. I wanted to use this approach because it provides structure and assistance during the class discussion on the readings. The main strategy that I wanted to use to help struggling readers was the read-write-pair-share strategy. I thought that this strategy would be beneficial for both struggling English readers and non-English readers because each pair could compare and contrast what each other understands from the material covered in the readings. This strategy also helps struggling readers to participate more in class discussions regarding the material. My rationale for using the films was to help non-speaking English students and students that are struggling with the material to better conceptualize and understand what soldiers went through during the war and what was covered in the readings especially on the article by Lt. General Hal Moore “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young.” I really wanted to provide several different forms of the material for students to interact with in a way that they understand what they are reading and watching. When assessing the struggling reader I will have the reader elaborate on tough questions being asked and I will ask them to ask the class questions as well.

Attachment A:

We Were Soldiers and Platoon Discussion Questions

Directions: Reflect on the following questions while watching the film clips to the best of your ability. As you reflect think about the overall conflict and think about how and to what extent different types of individuals were involved on each side of the conflict. At the end of each clip we will discuss each question. I want you also to write a paragraph that gives a summary of the things that soldiers experienced in Vietnam and use specific examples like terrain, weather, and so forth.

We Were Soldiers Questions

  1. Think about how the North Vietnamese fought the war and compare it to how the South Vietnamese and Americans fought the engagement.

  2. How do you think the invention of the helicopter as seen in We Were Soldiers impacted the war and how it was fought? What were some of the dangers for both soldiers and pilots onboard these helicopters?

  3. During the Battle of Ia Drang where were the North Vietnamese forces located? Did the North Vietnamese have better communications with their forces compared to the United States and their soldiers? Why or why not?

  4. Do you think that the United States was being over confidant in not giving Col. Moore more men when he requested it or do you think it was a communication issue?

  5. What strategies did the North Vietnamese use to combat American soldiers? What strategies did the United States use to combat the North Vietnamese?

  6. What impact did the conflict have on Col. Moore’s family and other families of soldiers within the conflict?

Platoon Questions

  1. How did the environment impact the soldiers in Platoon?

  2. What types of booby traps did the North Vietnamese use? What were your reactions to the scene where several soldiers go down into an underground bunker and find many NVA soldiers? Think about why the North Vietnamese used these bunkers and what advantages and disadvantages this had.

  3. What were you reactions to the scenes in the village where average everyday Vietnamese civilians would not give up information and so the platoon opens fire and pillages the village? How do you think the soldiers were feeling at the time? Do you think that this was due to lack of communication abilities between the U.S. troops and the Vietnamese? How did the environment also play a factor in this scene?

  1. When Chris Taylor talks about how and why people became soldiers what did you think of this statement when he states, “Well, here I am, anonymous, all right…But most of 'em got nothing. They're poor. They're the unwanted. Yet they're fighting for our society and our freedom. It's weird, isn't it? They're the bottom of the barrel, and they know it. Maybe that's why they call themselves grunts, 'cause a grunt can take it, can take anything. They're the best I've ever seen, Grandma. The heart and soul.” (Stone, O. 1986)

  2. What did Chris Taylor mean when he states at the end of the film, “I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days… But, be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach to others what we know, and to try with what's left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life.” (Stone, O. 1986)

General questions about both movies:

How did the two movies reflect the articles that we read in class?

Do you guys think that these two movies accurately portray the Vietnam War? Why or Why not?

What things did you learn that you did not already know? Do you think what Chris Taylor goes through and talks about in the film Platoon is accurate within the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars?

Why do you guys think it is an important lesson to learn about the soldiers in this conflict?

Attachment B: Group Activity

Directions: Separate into two groups. On the right side of the room discuss support for the war. On the left side of the room discuss the protestor’s perspective on the war. In each group reflect on both the class readings and reflect on the film clips. List 5-10 things that either support the war or are against the war on the protestor side. After 5-10 minutes we will discuss as a class the 5-10 things you came up with as a group.

Attachment C: Wrap Up Questions/ Connections

  1. Was the Gulf of Tonkin Incident worth going to war over in Vietnam? Do you believe that after the Korean War that the U.S. should have been involved in another prolonged war?

  2. What are the similarities and differences between the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Iraq/ Afghanistan wars? Do you guys think that today’s wars are solely based on guerilla warfare tactics or do you think wars will evolve beyond this? Explain why or why not?

  3. What were the overall pro’s and con’s for entering the Vietnam War?

  4. Do you think that the introduction of the helicopter was pivotal in the initial success within the Vietnam War? Why or why not?

  5. How did the films compare and contrast to the readings that we read in class and out of class? How did the readings compare and contrast to one another?

  6. How did the Vietnam War impact the Cold War? Does the conflict in Vietnam still reflect the notion that the Cold War was only a war of words? Why or Why not? Explain.

Attachment D: Parent Permission slip to watch historical films

Hello my name is Nicholas Baker and I am your child’s United States history teacher. As a history teacher I will use material at my disposal that reflects historical people, places, and events in order for the student to enter into the historical zeitgeist of the time period that we are studying. This material includes watching R-Rated films such Platoon, We Were Soldiers, Saving Private Ryan, The Alamo, and many other films that deal with historical issues. I believe as a history teacher that the best way to relate the material to the student is an alternate medium other then written texts. Non-written texts include films, internet research, discussions, and many other non-textual mediums. Many of these films such as the ones listed above helps connect the student to the event and the material learned in class through an historical lens that reflects the historical time period. If you do not agree to sign this permission form I will have an alternate assignment available for the student that pertains to the events being shown in the films. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.

Parents Signature:__________________________________ Date:___________

Students Signature:_________________________________ Date:____________

If you are over eighteen you can sign the form for yourself.


Nicholas Baker

Attachment E: In Class Readings. These readings we will discuss after students pair up with a partner. In each group students will fill out a questionnaire.

Note: If you need a better copy of the readings please let me know.

Attachment F: Class Readings Discussion/ Work Sheet using Read- Write-Pair-Share Strategy

Directions: Read the passages to yourself. Then answer this work sheet. Then with a partner discuss the passages and discuss any questions that you have regarding the passages. As a class we will go over each passage with the work sheet and discuss any questions that you have about the readings. At the end of class turn in your worksheet.

“We Were Soldiers Once…and Young” by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway

  1. In “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young” by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway what were the wars that they compared Vietnam to? Why does Lt. Gen. Moore think it’s a love story and not a war story? Explain.

  2. According to Lt. Gen. Moore why did the North Vietnamese Brigadier General Chu Hu Man pick the Central Highlands of Vietnam to engage American soldiers? (Hint: pg. 231)

  3. What was your reaction to the article?

“In Retrospect” by Robert McNamara

  1. What was Robert McNamara’s role during the Vietnam War?

  2. What was his position on the war initially? Did his position change and why?

  3. When did he believe that the U.S. should have withdrawn? Two answers. (hint pg. 262)

  4. Robert McNamara lists 11 main causes for the failure in Vietnam summarize each of these failures. Do you agree or disagree with any of these? Explain.

“The Genuine Lessons of the Vietnam War” by Michael Lind

  1. Why does Michael Lind believe that the war was inevitable? How does the Cold War relate to his argument? Explain.

  2. Where did he say the majority of fighting took place? (Hint pg. 268)

  3. Why does he state that fighting was within peripheral countries? Explain.

  4. What were the differences between his international perspective and domestic perspective regarding positions taken in support and against the war? Explain.

  5. Summarize his verdict on Vietnam. What does Michael Lind in the end conclude that the Vietnam War was for the United States? (Hint pg. 271)

Questions/Clarification that you might have regarding the readings:

Attachment G: Description of scenes used in We Were Soldiers and Platoon

We Were Soldiers

Scene 1 (1-6min): This scene starts with the French Indochina war in the same area that the Battle of Ia Drang takes place. This scene also introduces Col. Moore and his family and how he is going to be part of the new Air Calvary unit.

Scene 2 (19-21min): This scene shows the lives of women who are wives of men who are in the military.

Scene 3 (24-29min): Col Moore says goodbye to his family and his daughter discusses the nature of war and why it exists. This is really a great scene that shows the impact that the Vietnam War had on people’s families.

Scene 4 (40- 1 hr. 5mins): Col Moore and his men arrive in Vietnam and are given their orders. Col Moore talks about the enemy’s environmental strategic advantage over them. This scene also starts to show the advantages and disadvantages for using helicopters in the conflict. This scene also shows the headquarters of the enemy and how they are using underground tunnels to carry out guerilla warfare against their enemies.

Scene 5 (1 hr. 9mins-1 hr. 13mins): The helicopter pilots of the Air Calvary discuss how it is impossible to go back in to the battle due to heavy enemy fire. This again shows some of the disadvantages of using a helicopter.

Scene 6 (1hr.17mins – 1 hr.23 min): This scene shows Col Moore’s wife giving condolence letters to the wives of soldiers who were lost in Vietnam. This shows the domestic side to the conflict.

Scene 7 (2 hrs.7 mins- 2hrs.10min): This scene shows the North Vietnamese outlook on the battle and how they feared that Americans would claim it to be their war and not their own. This scene also concludes the film by showing the Vietnam Memorial of all those that died in the Ia Drang Valley and LZ X Ray.


Scene 1 (1-8min) This scene introduces the character Chris Taylor. Chris Taylor narrates the opening and mentions that Vietnam is essentially hell. This is a great scene because it illustrates Vietnam environmentally and how it was immediately affecting the character both physically and mentally.

Scene 2 (10-15) Taylor talks about the routine that soldiers go through in Vietnam. Taylor then makes the comment about what types of personalities that makes up the soldiers who fought in Vietnam.

Scene 3 (28-30) Taylor states that he volunteered and dropped out of college.

Scene 4 (36-43) The platoon finds an underground NVA bunker. This scenes is really interesting because it shows the elaborate nature of the bunkers and how U.S. soldiers had to dismantle any types of explosives or booby traps that were set.

Scene 5 (45-57) This is a really intense scene that involves the platoon entering a village and believing that it is an NVA stronghold. This shows the platoon essentially pillaging the village due to fear that the NVA was still there.

Scene 6 (1:50-1:55) This is the monologue at the end where Taylor is being air lifted back to the base where he talks about who the real enemy was during the war. This scene has him saying his monologue as the helicopter flies over the carnage that they had just fought through and it again emphasizes the harsh environment and situation.

Attachment H: Grading Criteria/Rubric

Grading Rubric/ Assessment for Students Responses


-Completed every assignment and gave well thought out responses to the questionnaire, group activity, and the final class discussion. Responses were varied and well thought out in general.


-Completed the questionnaire and responded minimally in the group activity and the final discussion.


-Completed questionnaire but did not participate at all in class or in the final discussion or participated and did not complete the questionnaire fully.


-No response in class discussion and group activity but did fill out the questionnaire partially.


-No responses whatsoever on the film questionnaire and no participation in the in-class group activity and final discussion.

My assessment for this will primarily be how much they contributed to the discussion and the amount of answers the y got right on film questionnaire.

Note: I will always give an option for students who are shy or who do not like to participate in class discussions a choice of a writing assignment instead.

Attachment I:

Works Cited

Bandy, E., & Davey, B., & Hoy W., & Lemley, J., & McEveety, S., & Schmidt, A., & Wallace, R., & Zapotoczny, D. L., & Zapotoczny, S. (Producers). Wallace, R. (Director). 2002. We Were Soldiers (Motion Picture), United States: Icon Entertainment.

Daley, J., & Gibson, D., & Ho, A. K., & Kopelson, A. (Producers). Stone, O. (Director). 1986. Platoon (Motion Picture). United States: MGM.

Lind, Michael. “The Genuine Lessons of the Vietnam War.” In Chafe, W.H, & Sitkoff, H., & Baily, B. (Ed.), A History of Our Time Readings on Postwar America (7th Ed). (pp. 267-271). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

McNamara, R. “In Retrospect”. In Chafe, W.H, & Sitkoff, H., & Baily, B. (Ed.), A History of Our Time Readings on Postwar America (7th Ed). (pp. 261-266). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Moore, H.G., & Galloway, J.L. (1992) “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young.” In Chafe, W.H, & Sitkoff, H., & Baily, B. (Ed.), A History of Our Time Readings on Postwar America (7th Ed). (pp. 226-235). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

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