Lesson plan, The Cuban Missile Crisis and Its Relevance Today

This lesson plan is from The New York Times by Jeremy Engle.

Sixty years ago this week, the United States and the Soviet Union narrowly averted catastrophe over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, just 90 miles from U.S. shores. During the standoff, President John F. Kennedy believed that the chances the crisis would escalate to war, he later confided, were “between 1 in 3 and even.”

How did the crisis begin? How did it end? And what lessons can it provide today, as another nuclear threat looms over the war in Ukraine?

In this lesson, students will learn how and why the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war in 1962 by closely examining a curated selection of primary and secondary sources — photographs and original news reporting, letters and telegrams, newsreels and newspaper headlines — from the archives of The New York Times and beyond. Then, you will consider the lessons from that tense showdown and what they can provide today.

What do you know about the Cuban missile crisis?

How did it begin? How did it end? Which nations and leaders were involved? And why are the events of 60 years ago still studied today by students and world leaders alike?

Look closely at the collection of headlines above from New York Times reporting on the crisis from 1962. Then, in writing or through discussion with a partner, respond to the following prompts:

  • What do you notice about the headlines — the language, style, tone and point of view?
  • What can you learn about the Cuban missile crisis from the collection? What story do these headlines tell?
  • How do you think you would have reacted to the Times headlines had you been alive at the time?
  • What questions do you have about Times headlines or the Cuban missile crisis in general?
  • Write a catchy headline to capture the story of the entire collection of Times front pages.

Documents Collection C: Letters between Fidel Castro, Nikita Khrushchev and President Kennedy

Much of the Cuban missile crisis unfolded away from the public view. Examine communications between the leaders of the United States, Soviet Union and Cuba from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Skim the four letters below and choose ONE to read in-depth. What did you learn about the intentions and psychology of the leaders? What was most surprising or illuminating?

I would love to hear from you