Teaching Activities (Free)

Teaching the Vietnam War: Beyond the Headlines

Teaching Activity. By the Zinn Education Project. 100 pages.
Eight lessons about the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, and whistleblowing.

Time Periods: 20th Century, Cold War: 1945 - 1960, People’s Movement: 1961 - 1974
Themes: Media, US Foreign Policy, Wars & Related Anti-War Movements, World History/Global Studies

Teaching the Vietnam War: Beyond the Headlines (Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

This 100-page teaching guide, prepared by the Zinn Education Project for middle school, high school, and college classrooms, enhances student understanding of the issues raised in the award winning film, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.

The film and teaching guide are ideal resources for students trying to understand the news about WikiLeaks today. Through the story of Daniel Ellsberg, students can explore the type of information revealed by whistleblowers, the risks and motivations of whistleblowers, and the tactics used to silence whisteblowers. As Daniel Ellsberg said: “EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time.”

Not only does Teaching the Vietnam War: Beyond the Headlines offer a “people’s history” approach to learning about whistleblowing and the U.S. war in Vietnam, it also engages students in thinking deeply about their own responsibility as truth-tellers and peacemakers. In the spirit of Howard Zinn, this teaching guide explodes historical myths and focuses on the efforts of people — like Daniel Ellsberg — who worked to end war.

The Most Dangerous Man in America (Film) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryThe teaching guide offers an introduction, resource guide, and eight lessons for U.S. history, government, and language arts classrooms. The guide uses a variety of teaching strategies, including role play, critical reading, discussion, mock trial, small group imaginative writing, and personal narrative.


  • Lesson One: “What Do We Know About the Vietnam War? Forming Essential Questions” helps the teacher assess what students already know or think they know and surfaces essential questions that can be referenced while viewing the film.
  • Lesson Two: “Rethinking the Teaching of the Vietnam War” and Lesson Three: “Questioning the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” introduce the history of the Vietnam War that Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo sought to make public with the Pentagon Papers and is still missing from most textbooks.
  • Lesson Four: “The Most Dangerous Man in America Reception” prepares students for the people, themes, events, and issues that are in The Most Dangerous Man in America through film through a simulated reception with close to 30 characters.
  • Lesson Five: “Film Writing and Discussion Questions” provides a wealth of discussion questions and writing prompts.
  • Lesson Six: “The Trial of Daniel Ellsberg” is a mock trial that invites students to determine what precedent might have been set with the trial of Ellsberg and Russo if the case had not been dismissed.
  • Lesson Seven: “Blowing the Whistle: Personal Writing” provides students with an opportunity to explore the ways they themselves regularly make important choices about whether or not to resist injustice or remain silent.
  • Lesson Eight: “Choices, Actions and Alternatives” helps students explore how human agency shapes history. Using the choice points of the Vietnam War, students can recognize the important consequences of decisions and actions by people in history and how they can be agents who can co-shape their world today.

While it would be ideal to use all the lessons, each lesson is a stand-alone activity.


The guide was developed by the Zinn Education Project in collaboration with The Most Dangerous Man in America filmmakers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. Written and edited by Bill Bigelow, Sylvia McGauley, Tom McKenna, Hyung Nam, and Julie Treick O’Neill. Funding for the guide provided by the Open Society Foundations.

How to Order the Film

More information about the film, including how to order for home viewing, high schools, and universities.

Related Resources

More resources are listed in the free downloadable teaching guide.