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Views Of JFKViews-Of-JFK

  • Subject: U.S. History
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: One class period

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Print sources show that Americans had strong reactions to many events involving John F. Kennedy as president.
2. Personal interviews, conducted now, with people who lived through Kennedy's administration can add insights into how Americans view JFK.


For this lesson, you will need:
Print sources that discuss Americans' reactions to the Kennedy administration
Index cards for taking notes from print sources
Optional: tape recorder for students to use during their personal interviews


1. Tell students that they can learn a lot about Americans' views of John F. Kennedy's presidency by reading articles and books written during the Kennedy administration and in the years since Kennedy was assassinated. Explain to students that they also have another resource for assessing Kennedy's popularity: their older friends and relatives who remember the years 1960 to 1963. Tell students that they will carry out research projects that involve not only print sources but interviews as well.
2. Review with students the highlights of Kennedy's campaign and presidency, creating a list such as the following:
  • Debates with the rival candidate for president, Richard M. Nixon
  • Cuban missile crisis
  • Bay of Pigs initiative
  • Launching of the Peace Corps
  • Civil rights advocacy: sending federal troops to oversee court-ordered integration in Mississippi and Alabama
  • Investment in the U.S. space program
  • Response to Russia's blocking the Allied route through East Germany to Berlin
  • Ordering troops into combat in South Vietnam
  • Signing the limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the United Kingdom and the USSR
3. Ask students to pick at least three of the items on the preceding list to research through both print and interviews. (Decide if you want students to interview only one person or two.) Stress that the print research is necessary for three reasons:
  • To learn about Americans' views of the events at the time they occurred so that the student can explain the views to classmates
  • To learn enough to ask intelligent questions of interviewees
  • To avoid taking up interviewees' time with questions of fact that the interviewer should learn from print
4. Review the print sources that students can use to learn about the three Kennedy events that they picked. Suggest they use not only sources that were published at the time the events occurred but also sources that were published soon or long after the events.
5. Encourage the class to think about how they can use the five W and How? questions to guide their reading of the print sources. For example, about each of the three incidents they research, they might ask:
  • Who were the main players?
  • What actually happened?
  • What did Americans think of the event as it happened or just after?
  • When did the event happen?
  • Where did it happen?
  • How did the incident play out?
  • Why did Americans react they way they did?
Students may, of course, brainstorm other questions to keep in mind as they read their print sources.
6. If necessary, review with students the basics of reading sources and taking notes:
  • Keeping track of what information comes from which written source (Tell students what kind, if any, of documentation style you want them to use in their reports.)
  • Knowing the difference between quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing on note cards
  • Avoiding plagiarism
7. After students have had time to plumb print resources for their three incidents, tell them it's time, using their notes, to generate questions to ask their chosen interviewees. Let the class share ideas. Students may want to ask their interviewees
  • what their feelings and responses were to Kennedy during each of the three events at the time each took place;
  • why they felt and responded the way they did;
  • whether their feelings and responses were the same as their friends';
  • what, if any, action they took at the time to show their feelings and responses; and
  • whether their feelings and responses to each event have changed over time—why or why not.
8. Discuss with students the basics of preparing for and carrying out an interview:
  • By phone, mail, e-mail, or in person request an interview, and set it up at a time that is convenient for the interviewee.
  • Based on your research into print sources, make up a list of questions to ask (see the list discussed earlier). Make a point of asking questions that require more than a yes or no response: the interviewer should get the interviewee to comment in detail.
  • Arrive on time for the interview.
  • Throughout, act patiently and politely. Do not argue with anything your interviewee says.
  • Ask the other person if you can take notes or record the interview.
  • Follow your prepared questions, but be willing to go off in other directions if something the interviewee says intrigues you. That is, listen carefully, and ask follow-up questions that occur to you on the spot.
  • As soon as the interview is over, review your notes to see if they make sense. Then summarize them in writing. If you have further questions about what someone said, get back in touch quickly and politely.
  • Make a phone call or send a note thanking the interviewee for his or her time and insights. Offer a copy of your finished report to the interviewee.
9. After students have conducted their interviews and written summaries of them, lead a class discussion on how students can organize their reports. Do they want to, first, report what the print sources say about all three events and, second, tell what they learned from their interviews? Or do they want to discuss both what the print sources say and what their interviewees mention about one event before going on to the next event?
10. Direct your students to give their reports titles. Then decide if you want students to peer edit one another's reports or if you will be the sole reader.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Instead of helping students identify the most important events in Kennedy's campaign and presidency, assign each of them the responsibility of identifying three such events for himself or herself. Each student should then get your approval of the events as the basis for a research project involving print sources and personal interviews.

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Discussion Questions

1. Why was the Kennedy administration referred to as "Camelot"? Was this an accurate title? Why or why not?
2. As you watch President Kennedy on the film, discuss the aspects of his style and personality that made him popular. If a candidate like Kennedy was running for president now, would that person appeal to you? Why or why not?
3. Why were the accusations of Senator Joseph McCarthy given so much attention at that time? Could anything like that happen today? Why or why not?
4. What are the changes that have taken place involving civil rights in the U.S. since the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas? What would the country be like today if the Court had ruled against Brown?
5. How did JFK's Alliance for Progress change the relationship between the United States and Latin American countries? Why is there a special relationship between the U.S. and those countries? How well has the relationship established by President Kennedy with Latin America continued to today?
6. President Kennedy's challenge to America to send a man to the moon was eagerly accepted by the American people and was successful. Why do people today not feel as excited about space exploration as they did then? Are there any issues today that the president could use to excite and challenge the American people? What, if anything, has happened to change people's attitudes since the 1960s? Is this positive or not?
7. How did President Kennedy get into the Bay of Pigs fiasco? Immediately after his election, what advice would you have given him about how to handle the communist government in Cuba? What did President Kennedy learn from his experience? Should we expect new presidents to make mistakes while engaged in "on the job training"?

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You can evaluate your students on their reports using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: very clear explanation of what each of the three Kennedy events involved and how Americans reacted to the event at the time (answering the five W and How? questions about each event); well-integrated material from interviews about the three events; error-free writing in terms of grammar, usage, and mechanics

  • Two points: clear explanation of what each of the three Kennedy events involved and how Americans reacted to the event at the time (answering most of the five W and How? questions about each event); adequately integrated material from interviews about the three events; only a few errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

  • One point: inadequate explanation of what each of the three Kennedy events involved and how Americans reacted to the event at the time (answering only a few of the five W and How? questions about each event); inadequate material from interviews about the three events; many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

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Debate the Debate
Ask students to research data about and contemporary accounts of the 1960 presidential election. Tell them to examine the campaign styles, use of media, and campaign personalities of the two candidates. (If possible, have students view clips of the televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon. Let half the class only listen, while the other half watches and listens. Have the two groups compare their impressions of which candidate won the debate.) Regarding the election itself, ask students to comment on the closeness of the results and the reports of voter fraud. They should address the question, How did each of the candidates react to the allegations of voter fraud?

The ABCs of JFK and LBJ
Did Lyndon Johnson carry on the legacy of the Kennedy administration? Organize the class into groups that will debate this topic. Each group will need to do research on the relationship between Johnson and Kennedy and the reasons for Kennedy's selection of Johnson as his vice-presidential candidate. Each group should also compare and contrast the Kennedy record and the Johnson record on issues such as poverty, civil rights, and the war in Vietnam. Direct each team to split into affirmative and negative sides in response to the debate question and to use the information each side has gathered to prove its point. Later the class can discuss which group did the best job and which answer to the debate question is more accurate.

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Suggested Readings

A Twilight Struggle: The Life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Barbara Harrison and Daniel Terris, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1992
The large, Irish-Catholic Kennedy family of Boston produced several statesman who have had important leadership roles in our country. Read about this unusual family and about the life of its most prominent member, John Fitzgerald, told especially for young adults, with extensive photographic illustrations.

"At the Brink of Disaster"
Tom Morganthau, Newsweek, October 26, 1992
Newly released CIA documents that show just how close the U.S. came to nuclear war during the Cuban Missle crisis are discussed. Throughout the crisis, JFK conducted himself with distinction, making it a textbook case of presidential leadership.

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Quick Facts: John F. Kennedy
A brief and factual summary of Kennedy's life. It also lists all the cabinet members who served during his administration.

The Presidents: John F. Kennedy
This is the official White House biography of Reagan, with links to information about the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library
One of nine presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. The White House materials of President and Mrs. Kennedy and their staffs form the core of the library's resources.

Peace Corps: The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    thesis
Definition: A position or proposition that a person (as a candidate for scholastic honors) advances and offers to maintain by argument.
Context: That winter he concentrated on writing an honors thesis entitled "Appeasement at Munich."

speaker    rearmament
Definition: To arm (as a nation or a military force) again with new or better weapons.
Context: America was in the first stages of her own hasty and delayed rearmament program.

speaker    perjury
Definition: The voluntary violation of an oath or vow either by swearing to what is untrue or by omission to do what has been promised under oath: false swearing.
Context: An aura of espionage surrounding the perjury trial of Alger Hiss, a respected former State Department official, seemed to lend substance to people's fears.

speaker    constituent
Definition: One who authorizes another to act as agent.
Context: He was less concerned with what he saw as abstract questions of individual liberty than he was with more tangible matters that affected the daily lives of his constituents.

speaker    guerrilla
Definition: A person who engages in irregular warfare, especially as a member of an independent unit carrying out harassment and sabotage.
Context: The CIA had organized the training of the guerrillas and had forcefully advocated the invasion.

speaker    idealism
Definition: A theory that the essential nature of reality lies in consciousness or reason.
Context: The Peace Corps, which began recruiting and training volunteers early in 1961, was the symbol of a change in mood, the result of President Kennedy's effort to awaken popular idealism, especially in the young, and harness it to the service of the nation.

speaker    rhetoric
Definition: The study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion; also: insincere or grandiloquent language.
Context: He voiced the disquietude of the post-war generation, the mistrust of rhetoric, the disdain for pomposity, the impatience with the impostures and pieties of other days, the resignation to disappointment.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: United States history
Understands the legacy of the New Deal in the post-World War II period.
Understands the major issues of the 1960 presidential campaign and Kennedy's stance on each (e.g., the central domestic and foreign issues that divided Kennedy and Nixon, the extent to which religion was an issue in the campaign, how Kennedy responded to the Cold War issues).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: United States history
Understands the legacy of the New Deal in the post-World War II period.
Understands the legacy of the New Frontier and Great Society domestic programs (e.g., how they differed, the impact of the Kennedy assassination on the passage of reform legislation during the Johnson administration, how Kennedy's and Johnson's leadership styles differed, factors that contributed to greater public support for Great Society legislation, the lasting impact of both programs).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: United States history
Understands the Cold War and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts in domestic and international politics.
Understands the differences between the foreign policies of Kennedy and Johnson (e.g., the Kennedy administration's policy toward Cuba, how the Kennedy and Johnson administrations differed in Latin American policy, changes in U.S. foreign policy toward the Soviet Union during the Kennedy and Johnson years and the reasons for these changes).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: civics
Understands what is meant by "the public agenda," how it is set, and how it is influenced by public opinion and the media.
Knows how Congress, the president, the Supreme Court, and state and local public officials use the media to communicate with the citizenry.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: United States history
Understands the legacy of the New Deal in the post-World War II period.
Understands characteristics of the Kennedy presidency (e.g., Kennedy's commitment to liberalism and reasons for his election in 1960; Kennedy's ideas about citizenship, rights, and responsibilities; the impact of the New Frontier).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: United States history
Understands the Cold War and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts in domestic and international politics.
Understands U.S. foreign policy from the Truman administration to the Johnson administration (e.g., U.S. policy regarding the British mandate over Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel, the major arguments supporting and opposing the "containment" policy, Kennedy's response to the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile crises, the Kennedy-Johnson response to anti-colonial movements in Africa, U.S. responses to "wars of liberation" in Africa and Asia in the 1960s, how the Korean War affected the premises of U.S. foreign policy).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: civics
Understands how the world is organized politically into nation-states, how nation-states interact with one another, and issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy.
Knows how the powers over foreign affairs that the Constitution gives to the president, Congress, and the federal judiciary have been used over time; and understands the tension between constitutional provisions and the requirements of foreign policy (e.g., the power of Congress to declare war and the need of the president to make expeditious decisions in times of international emergency, the power of the president to make treaties and the need for the Senate to approve them).

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Sandy and Jay Lamb, history and social studies teachers at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.

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