Duck and Cover

Online Lesson Plan
Duck and Cover

lrGuyLesson Plan by , Assistant Professor in Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education at UNL and a Co-Director of the Great Plains Institute for Reading and Writing. He is affiliated with the elementary education program as well as the UNL literacy group. He received his PhD in 2002 in Education from the University of California Riverside.



Subject Area:
Reading & Social Studies
Suggested Grade Level:
Grades 9-12
Learning Modality:
Kinesthetic Learners
Multiple Intelligence:
Intrapersonal Intelligence
Bloom’s Taxonomy:
What are these educational concepts? What are these educational concepts?



life0301The objective of this lesson is to allow the students to gain a real appreciation for the experiences and history of their grandparents generation. By living through an actual “duck-and-cover” drill, and by discussing and analyzing that experience the students will gain insight into living through a “cold” war.

The student will:

  1. Experience a mock “duck-and-cover” drill
  2. View 1950s civil defense propaganda relating to nuclear attack
  3. Discuss the realities of life with the bomb
  4. Create flash fiction or poetry that reflects their emotional reaction to the experiment.



Gaining perspective on history is probably one of the most difficult tasks that we face. In order to truly understand the realities that were faced by a previous generation, we must be able to place ourselves somehow within that timeframe. The America of the 1950s and 60s is very different from today primarily because of the sense of imminent threat of nuclear warfare that then existed. It is this experience that this lesson is intended to clarify. By experiencing a “duck and cover” drill, the students will be given the opportunity to understand the sense of danger, frustration, and futility that plagued their grandparent’s generation. The students’ ability to empathize in this way with the Cold War generation will act as the gateway to obtaining meaningful historical insight.

By being asked to relate that understanding within the constraints of poetry or flash fiction, the students will learn to express their emotional intelligence with clarity, brevity, and impact.


The Resources

Links from within the Wessels Living History Farm site. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you’ll be back to this page.] Direct the students read the stories on each of these pages.

Links to Websites Other than Wessels Living History Farm. Outside guides. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you’ll be back to this page.]

The Process

As the teacher, cover the windows of your classroom with black-out paper (large dark construction paper or brown paper-bag paper). Instruct the students to enter the room quitely and take their seats. Explain that there has been a report of an imminent nuclear attack and that, in the event an alarm sounds, they are to drop to the floor under their desks curling into a ball while covering their heads with their hands (you may have a volunteer demonstrate, if necessary).

Have the students read the Living History Farm webpages listed. In the section under “Living at Ground Zero” have them watch the oral history interview movies with “Alex Martin” and “Ted Sorensen.”

As a class, discuss the topics of “cold” war, nuclear threat, civil defense, “duck and cover,” and bomb shelters.

At some point during the discussion, ring an alarm (a pre-set, loud old-fashioned alarm-clock sound is best) and remind the students to follow the instructions they were given at the start of class. Remind them to remain quiet.

Close the main classroom light while leaving a small table lamp on. Tell the students they must remain quiet with their heads down and covered by their arms (like in the original “duck and cover” drills) for 2 minutes.

During that interval, drop a large book (or other noisy object) on the floor and close the remaining light. Wait approximately 15-30 seconds before turning the lights back on and asking the students to regain their seats.

Have the students watch AT LEAST the first 3-4 minutes (the whole film is approx. 10 minutes long) of the film “Duck and Cover” from 1951 (link provided above).

Discuss with the students how they felt during the classroom experiment. How did they feel coming into the darkened classroom? When they were told of the “imminent” attack? When the alarm went off? When the lights went out? While they were on the floor? Did being under the desk with their heads covered by their arms make them feel safe? What about when the book was dropped? When the lights went back on and the experiment was over?

Discuss with them the “Duck and Cover” film clip: the message and the delivery.


Learning Advice

This lesson, in order to work, must be timed carefully. As the teacher, it is critical that you set the appropriate tone – they won’t take it seriously if you don’t.

During the prewriting process, guide the students to focus on the emotions they see as appropriate to the year 1951 – this is an exercise in EMPATHY.

The students should write AT LEAST one draft of their creative work.


Conclusion of the Lesson

As a culminating activity, students will share their work with the class. Discuss how all of the input helped to shape the output – text, film, and physical reenactment.


Assessment Activity

Have the students write a piece of flash-fiction (short, creative story of under 500 words) about the experience. Those that wish, may illustrate their work.

Assessment should be based on the six-traits rubric focusing on the traits “ideas” and “word-choice”. If illustrations are used, they should be assessed based on how they enhance the written work.


General Notes

I recommend that, prior to this lesson, the teacher conduct a workshop in flash fiction. A description of flash (or micro) fiction, as well as links to samples, can be found via this link:

These two links can serve as the foundation for a flash fiction workshop, as well:


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