The Vietnam War Lesson Guide


Explore classroom lesson plans related to Ken Burns's and Lynn Novick’s ten-part, 18-hour documentary series, THE VIETNAM WAR, which tells the story of one of the most consequential, divisive, and controversial events in American history. The series explores the human dimensions of the war through  testimony of nearly 80 witnesses from all sides—Americans who fought in the war and others who opposed it, as well as combatants and civilians from North and South Vietnam. In between was a maelstrom of colliding issues and events—Cold War proxy fights, overconfidence in a military solution, zealous patriotism, colossal miscalculations, and a tectonic shift in how American citizens relate to their government. Spanning over five American presidents, of both political parties, America’s involvement in the war continued for nearly 30 years. In the end all that was left was to end it. The Americans went home, quickly trying to forget the experience. The Vietnamese were left to pick up the pieces and move on.

A team of experienced history and social studies teachers and curriculum writers developed nearly 50 lessons and activities* covering all angles of the series. They are organized by the themes that cover the war's key events and initiatives.  Many of these important topics in American history—the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, as well as the Vietnamese experience—are seen through fresh and expanded perspectives. Iconic music from the Vietnam era, audio recordings from inside the Johnson and Nixon administrations, and interviews from those who lived the war serve to further draw students further into the conflict and its related controversies.

Most of the activities and lessons can be completed in a classroom period or two. Their coverage is both broad and specific, allowing teachers to select materials that fits into their existing Vietnam War units. The activities and lessons incorporate active learning to further develop students’ questioning strategies, stimulate their discussions, and engage them in problem-solving situations. The lessons are developed for grades 9-12 and can easily be adapted for other grade levels. All activities are closely aligned to content-based and common core standards that will be usable for many years to come.

Teacher's Guide to these lesson plans:

A comprehensive outline of this series of lessons is provided in PDF format to help guide the teacher through the material.


*29 lessons and activities are available at present. New lessons will be added as they become available.


Production Credits:

THE VIETNAM WAR is a production of Florentine Films and WETA, Washington D.C. Directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. Written by Geoffrey C. Ward. Produced by Sarah Botstein, Lynn Novick and Ken Burns.

Funding Credits:

Funding for THE VIETNAM WAR was provided by Bank of America; Corporation for Public Broadcasting; PBS; David H. Koch; The Blavatnik Family Foundation; Park Foundation; The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations; The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; National Endowment for the Humanities; The Pew Charitable Trusts; Ford Foundation Just Films; Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and Members of The Better Angels Society: Jonathan & Jeannie Lavine, Diane & Hal Brierley, Amy & David Abrams, John & Catherine Debs, Fullerton Family Charitable Fund, The Montrone Family, Lynda & Stewart Resnick, The Golkin Family Foundation, The Lynch Foundation, The Roger & Rosemary Enrico Foundation, Richard S. & Donna L. Strong Foundation, Bonnie & Tom McCloskey, Barbara K. & Cyrus B. Sweet III, The Lavender Butterfly Fund.

Funding for THE VIETNAM WAR educational materials was provided by Lynda & Stewart Resnick