Download this lesson plan, including handouts, as a pdf.
This lesson is drawn from a more extensive lesson entitled Race to the Moon!
Topic: The “Space Race”
Grade Level: 2-5
Subject Area: Social Studies, ELA, Science
Time Required: 60 minutes
Students use an informational text and a time line to examine how Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union turned early space exploration into the “Space Race.”
How can a time line develop historical understanding?
Students will be able to:
- Place historical events in temporal order.
- Identify the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story.
- Identify key information about the “Space Race.”
Connections to Curriculum (Standards)
National History Standards
Historical Thinking Skills Standard 1 Chronological Thinking
B. Identify the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story.
E. Interpret data presented in time lines.
F. Create time lines.
Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Frameworks
Guiding Principle 4: An effective history and social science education teaches students to think historically.
Guiding Principle 9: An effective history and social science education teaches students about using data analysis and digital tools as research and presentation techniques in the social sciences.
Standards for History and Social Science Practice (PS) 3. Organize information and data from multiple primary and secondary sources.
Reading Standards for Informational Text [RI]
Prior Knowledge and Skills
This is a stand-alone lesson and does not require any specialized knowledge or skills. However, it is helpful to introduce the concepts of the Cold War and space exploration by showing students a map of the United States and the former Soviet Union and images of the Moon and the first moonwalk.
Early space exploration was fueled, in part, by the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Space was another place for the two nations to demonstrate technological superiority and leadership.
Americans were shocked when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957, intensifying fears that the United States was falling behind the Soviet Union in technology and arms. Although the United States matched the feat with its own satellite a few months later, tensions grew when the Soviets reached another first by launching Yuri Gagarin into orbit on April 12, 1961. Although publicly congratulating the Soviet Union on achieving such a milestone, President Kennedy quickly sought ways to demonstrate American superiority. The solution: send a man to the Moon. The President escalated the space program and set the goal to send an astronaut to the Moon by the decade’s end.
- “The “Space Race” in the 1960s” historical narrative for students
- Race to the Moon Time Line
- Race to the Moon Chronology Game
In this lesson, students will read an informational text, examine a time line, and play a chronology game. The activities are drawn from a more extensive lesson entitled Race to the Moon!
Part I: Reading an Informational Text and Analyzing a Time Line
- Have students read the historical narrative The “Space Race” in the 1960s. This could be done individually, in groups, or as a whole-class read-aloud.
- After reading the narrative, have students answer a few reading comprehension questions such as:
- What was the “Space Race”?
- What two nations were involved in the “Space Race”?
- Which nation had early success in the “Space Race”?
- Which nation sent the first man to the Moon?
- Have students analyze the time line to identify events referenced in the article.
Part II: Race to the Moon Chronology Game
- The goal of the Race to the Moon Game is to place the events of the “Space Race” in the correct order. This game can be played with two or more players, as long as each player has a set of cards. It can be modified for a single player.
- To prepare the game, students can cut out the squares and follow the directions to test their knowledge on the chronology of the “Space Race.” Students should use the time line to check their answers.
- Directions for game:
- Students combine and shuffle the cards from each player together in one deck and place the deck face down in the center. Taking turns, each player chooses a card from the deck and places the card face up in front of them.
- On the next round, each player picks a new card and places the new card face up in front of them either before or after the first card so that the cards are in the correct chronological order.
- Play continues until one player has correctly ordered all 11 events. If a player places an event in the wrong order, other players must call the player out and that card goes back into the main deck. The player remains in the game. If a player chooses a card they already have, place the card back in the deck and play continues to next player. There are four “Milestones” and “Roadblocks” cards; follow the directions on each card.
- The first player to place all of the events in correct chronological order wins.
Space Quest: Become A Kennedy Era Space Expert: Students can view archival footage of the first American space flight, visit a space media gallery, learn an excerpt from one of President Kennedy’s most historic speeches, and access an online version of the Museum’s space exhibit. For an extra challenge, they can answer a bonus question about each resource.
NASA: NASA’s website provides a wide range of resources for educators on space exploration, the race to the Moon, and current NASA projects.
JFK Challenge: Free iPad App: The free JFK Challenge app for iPad brings American history to life for kids by turning them into astronauts and Peace Corps volunteers. Fly to the oon or help people around the world with this exciting offering from the JFK Library.
Americans in Space: Speeches, documents, photographs and an activity guide your exploration of the space program in the Kennedy administration.