CBC Digital Archives

Lesson Plan: For Teachers - The Cold War: Planning for Survival

History, Social Studies
2 to 3 lessons
To investigate government and personal measures taken to ensure survival in the event of a nuclear war
Students will prepare a documentary-style dramatization or narrative about governmental and personal measures taken to ensure survival in the event of a nuclear war

Lesson Plan

Before Exploring

Ask the students if they have ever considered the possibility of a nuclear war involving Canada occurring in their lifetimes. If so, ask them how likely they think such an event would be to happen. If not, ask them why they think the idea has never occurred to them before. Then have students imagine the consequences of nuclear war, and how it would impact on them and their families. Consider having students role-play brief conversations among friends detailing these consequences and impacts.

Write the term "civil defence" on the board and ask students what it signifies to them. Explain to students that they are going to investigate the measures taken by Canadian governments and individuals during the Cold War era to prepare for the possibility of nuclear war.

Outline the Opportunity

Direct students to the Cold War Culture topic on the CBC Digital Archives website. Have them browse the site for 15 to 20 minutes, gathering information about the civil defence measures enacted by Canadian governments during the Cold War era. They should also note the initiatives Canadian families took to ensure their own personal protection.


Next, have students form groups. Each group will research governmental and individual measures and prepare a documentary-style dramatization or narrative to present the information in an interesting and personal manner. The presentation might be a television or radio program, an interview, or a play. One student in the group should serve as the narrator while the others assume roles based on the individuals whose views are included in the site.


Revisit and Reflect


Have each group present to the class. The students in the audience should comment, considering some of the following questions:


How did this exercise help them to understand the issues involved in civil defence and planning for survival in the nuclear age in Canada?


Did they feel more or less confident about them and their families surviving an atomic attack than before they took part in this exercise?

Why do they think Canadian governments were eager to promote the idea of civil defence among the general public during the Cold War era?

Why do they think some Canadians built backyard "fallout shelters?"

Do they think that the government and/or individual measures taken would have made any real difference in a nuclear war? Why or why not?


Students can write an opinion paper to follow up on one of the issues raised in the class discussions following the group presentations. They should support their opinions with details from the information gathered or presented.

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