Vietnam War History Essay Rubric

Ohio Content Standards: Grade 10, History 8; Grade 12, History 2; Grade 12, Government 1; Grade 12, People in Societies 5

Duration of Lesson: Two or three classes / 100 to 150 minutes; up to 60 minutes of research / homework

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will collaboratively analyze and compare editorial cartoons focusing on the roles of successive American Presidents during the Vietnam conflict.
  • Students will compare the positions of various cartoonists with the historical record to determine the validity of their interpretations.
  • Students will determine the extent to which a President's Vietnam policy was perceived as successful, unsuccessful, or ambiguous.
  • Students will determine whether one President experienced a greater degree of success or failure than other Presidents and why.
  • Students will determine the impact of Presidents' foreign policy on domestic policy.
  • Students will determine the impact of Presidents' foreign policy on public perception of the institution of the Presidency.


  • Students will be divided into groups and asked to analyze a set of political cartoons relating to Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Students are expected to judge the validity of the editorial perspectives of the artists in comparison with the historical record. Students are expected to compare and contrast the experiences of the Vietnam-era Presidencies to identify similarities and differences of experience. They are expected to evaluate the impact of the Vietnam conflict on the institution of the Presidency.
  • Students will initially work together in small groups that focus on a single President and his Vietnam experience. During the second phase of the lesson, students will brief their discoveries to the whole class. During a final phase, a whole class discussion will lead to conclusions of comparison, contrast, and lessons learned.


  • Three or four editorial cartoons for each Vietnam-era President (include publication information), printed for student use and stored to presentation media format for teacher
  • "Vietnam-era Presidency" worksheet
  • Textbook and various references on the Vietnam conflict and the related Presidents
  • Pencils, pens and paper for taking notes
  • Butcher paper or similar for graphing team and class main points of discovery (Or other mass presentation resource such as White Board, PowerPoint, etc.)
  • Post-assessment essay guide / rubric

Pre-Assessment: Teachers should use these questions to facilitate a pre-lesson discussion:

  • What is the Constitutional role of the President in making foreign policy?
  • What is the Constitutional role of the President in war-making and national defense?
  • Who were the Vietnam-era Presidents? (May extend as far back as Truman, through G. R. Ford).
  • What are some of the things that might influence a President's foreign policy decisions?
  • What problems might a President face in dealing with foreign policy problems?

Instructional Steps:

  • Introduce the assignment
  • Complete pre-assessment discussion questions
  • Divide class into four groups and distribute Presidential cartoon packets (Groups should not be larger than five students: add more cartoons as needed)
  • Distribute the "Vietnam-Era Presidents" worksheet
  • Guide groups to successful analysis and worksheet completion
  • Review team effort and suggest follow-up research assignments for the next session
  • Distribute butcher paper and markers
  • Direct team leaders to discuss, finalize and record main points
  • Direct teams to brief their main points
  • Critique teams after each briefing
  • Lead whole-class discussion of findings: compare and contrast
  • Solicit questions
  • Brief post-assessment requirements
  • Pass out Essay guide / rubric


  • In an individual essay of about 300 words, summarize the lessons learned from the exercise.
    • Identify and explain at least one similarity between the experiences in Vietnam of each President
    • Identify and explain at least one difference between the experiences in Vietnam of each President.
    • Briefly summarize the foreign policy impact of the Vietnam conflict on the institution of the Presidency
    • Briefly summarize the domestic policy impact of the Vietnam conflict on the institution of the Presidency

Extension Activities:

  • Task students to search for editorial cartoons related to other Vietnam-era Presidents.
  • Compare the experiences of the Vietnam-era Presidents with those of Presidents G.W. and G.H.W. Bush in Iraq


  • Vietnam-era Presidents worksheet

Post-assessment guide/rubric (generate locally)

Students will identify a life-changing event in their own lives and share the experience with others in written and, possibly, spoken discussions. They will then be introduced to the term, “legacy” and the essential question, “What are the legacies of the Vietnam War?” Once familiarized with the focus of the lesson, students will analyze video testimonies from people involved in the Vietnam War. They will locate key quotes and draw conclusions about the legacies of the war. After a teacher-led discussion about the key quotes and conclusions, the students will compose a 2-4 page essay that addresses a prompt about the legacies of the Vietnam War.

Time Allotment

50-75 minutes

Learning Objectives

  1. Students will be able to identify a moment in their life that was life changing and convey the meaning of that experience in written and (optional) spoken form.
  2. Students will be able to integrate information from a variety of oral histories into a coherent understanding of the legacies of the Vietnam War.
  3. Students will be able to analyze primary sources (oral histories) to identify specific quotes about the legacies of the Vietnam War.
  4. Students will be able to compose an argumentative essay that introduces a precise claim and supports that claim with evidence from a variety of sources.

Prep for Teachers

Teachers should prepare the following items:

Common Core and College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards:

Common Core State Standards:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6. Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework Standards:

  • D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
  • D2.Civ.2.9-12. Analyze the role of citizens in the U.S. political system, with attention to various theories of democracy, changes in Americans’ participation over time, and alternative models from other countries, past and present.

Introductory Activity

Begin by asking students to journal or think-pair-share about an event that has changed their life. It may be helpful for the teacher to model this by retelling a story or describing a moment when his or her’s life was changed by an event.

  • Give students time to think and write.
  • If using the think-pair-share technique, then give students time to share with a partner.
  • Facilitate a teacher-led discussion of events in student’s lives that have changed them.

Learning Activities

Transition to the lesson by pointing out that Americans who participated in the Vietnam War always consider it to be a life-changing event. However, the war’s legacy is different for many people.

Introduce the essential question: What are the legacies of the Vietnam War?

  • If necessary, write or project the word legacy on the board and define the term for the class before proceeding.

Give each student a copy of the Legacies of Vietnam | Two Column Notes worksheet and access to the video testimonies.

  • As students work through the testimonies, they should begin to form an opinion about the essential question.

Give students ample time to work through all of the video testimonies. They will need to identify four of the interview subjects to write about in their worksheet, but they should take the time to listen to all of the testimonies.

Once students have completed the testimonies, bring the class together and have a large-group processing discussion about the essential question.

  • It may be helpful to categorize the testimonies by asking students to identify the testimonies that had expressed either positive or negative experiences from being in the war.
  • It is essential during this discussion for students to identify quotes from the testimonies. The teacher could consider asking the following questions:
  • “What are some of the ways the Vietnam War impacted the people in these videos?” When teacher receives a response, follow up with, “Great - tell me the quote from the interview that supports that point.”

Students should continue to update their notes as this discussion takes place.

Culminating Activity

Now transition to the final assessment. Students will write an argumentative essay about the following prompt:

  • “I thought the Vietnam war was an utter, unmitigated disaster, so it was very hard for me to say anything good about it.” George McGovern. Many historians would agree with Mr. McGovern’s assessment of the Vietnam War. Do you agree with McGovern? Using what you have learned about the war, support, modify or refute this assessment using specific evidence.

This essay could be written in class, in the computer lab, or at home.

Hand out the Legacies of Vietnam | Essay Rubric and go over the key points with the students.

Give students ample time to compose their essays. Then grade them using the rubric. Allow an option for revision, if possible.

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