The Peace Corps: Traveling the World to Live, Work, and Learn

In this lesson, students learn about the purpose of the Peace Corps, gather information about the early projects, and reflect on the impact of the program.

About this Resource

Grade Level
Time Required
1-2 hours
Curricular Resource Type
Lesson Plans & Activities
Curricular Resource Subject Area
US History
Curricular Resource Topic
International Relations
Curricular Standards
Common Core
National History Standards (UCLA)
National Council of Teachers of English
Massachusetts Framework - English Language Arts
Massachusetts Framework - History and Social Science


Download a pdf of this lesson plan.


The Peace Corps, a government agency launched during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, promotes intercultural understanding and provides service to interested countries. In this lesson, students learn about the purpose of the Peace Corps, gather information about the early projects, and reflect on the impact of the program.

Essential Question:

How might living, working, and learning alongside people in other countries help make a more peaceful world?


Students will be able to:

  • identify countries on a world map: specifically, the first ten countries to receive Peace Corps volunteers 
  • describe the purpose of the Peace Corps
  • describe the projects that took place in the countries
  • explain what a volunteer can learn by serving in the Peace Corps



Prior Knowledge and Skills

It is helpful for students to have basic knowledge of maps and continents. 

Historical Background and Context

The idea for a program that would send US volunteers to serve in countries abroad originated in Congress in the late 1950s. In 1960, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota and Representative Henry S. Reuss of Wisconsin proposed legislation to establish a federal volunteer program for service abroad. In the fall of 1960, during his presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy called for “a peace corps of talented men and women” who would dedicate themselves to the progress and peace of developing countries. His inaugural address challenged all citizens, especially young Americans, to contribute in some way to the greater good, including his call to serve abroad.

Encouraged by thousands of letters from interested citizens, especially young people, the new president took immediate action to make the campaign promise a reality. Kennedy launched the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961 by Executive Order 10924 and asked his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, to direct the organization. 

By January 1, 1962, the Peace Corps had trained and placed 580 volunteers in ten countries located in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and South America. Serving only at the request of host countries, volunteers worked alongside community members in teaching, road surveying (planning roads), health (providing medical care), agricultural extension (farming), and rural development (construction and developing the local economy). There were 7,000 volunteers in forty-four countries by the end of 1963.

The “people-to-people” approach of the Peace Corps prepared volunteers to enter communities with cultural sensitivity. Developing relationships with people very different from themselves enabled volunteers to see their lives and their own culture through a different lens. The original mission of the Peace Corps remains the same:

To promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the people served.
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

In the past five decades, more than 240,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 142 countries. Today, the Peace Corps is still growing and continues to serve a vital and relevant mission. In a world where cultural and religious differences have led to devastating violence, fear, and oppression, the Peace Corps continues to offer a unique vision of a government agency committed to intercultural understanding.

Note to teachers: The archival material is from the early 1960s and has outdated language that would not be acceptable today. Specifically, in the newsreel, the countries are referred to as “backward and depressed” which, at the time, meant they were less developed in terms of the economy, industry, and agriculture. Also, the document refers to “peacecorpsmen” as a generic term for Peace Corps Volunteer. People of all genders have served in the Peace Corps, including those who served in 1961.


  1. Ask students if they have lived in or visited another country or state. What was similar to where they live now and what was different? Explain that learning about another country or culture is called intercultural understanding. 
  2. Introduce the video, explaining that in the first two months of his presidency, John F. Kennedy announced the formation of the Peace Corps, a government service organization that would arrange for US citizens to travel to another country and work alongside people there to learn about each other, provide training and education to communities, and in so doing, work toward peace. As they watch the video, listen for the following information:
    • What work will Peace Corps Volunteers do in another country? (teaching, agriculture or farming, health care)
    • Will they get paid? (they will not receive a salary)
    • For how long will they stay in the country? (about two years)
    • What might Peace Corps Volunteers learn from the experience?(a new language, how to live in a culture different that is different than their own, new skills including problem-solving skills.)
      Discuss how sending Americans to serve in other countries might help work toward world peace. 
  3. Show the map of the world and explain that in 1961, Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps, worked hard to arrange for ten countries to accept Peace Corps Volunteers. (Students might be interested to know that Sargent Shriver, known as “Sarge” was John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law.) They will use evidence from an historical document to identify the countries and learn information about the first Peace Corps projects.
  4. Distribute a hard copy or digitally present the document “Peace Corps, Press Release #80”. Analyze the document with students:
    • When was the document written? (January 1, 1962)
    • Who wrote the document? (Tom Mathews, Chief of Public Information for the Peace Corps)
    • Who is the document for? (Press releases are written to distribute to news media to share information.)
    • What is the document about? (It is an announcement about the number of Peace Corps Volunteers that are currently serving overseas, where they are, and what kind of work they are doing.)
    • Why was it written? (Perhaps to show how many Peace Corps Volunteers are already overseas even though the Peace Corps was launched only nine months before the document was created. It gives the public information about where Peace Corps Volunteers are working and what they are doing.)
    • Are there special markings? What might they mean?  There are several handwritten marks: 
      • At the top of the page, a handwritten note, “Dear Jack -- Thought this might interest you. Sarge” ''Sarge” is Sargent Shriver, the first Director of the Peace Corps, writing a note to his brother-in-law “Jack”, the nickname of the President. Perhaps he wanted to show the President how well the Peace Corps was doing after only nine months.
      • Handwritten note  “already overseas” next to the number of volunteers in each country. Perhaps Sargent Shriver made this mark, too. OR the president? 
      • The text about additional projects is underlined, perhaps also by Sargent Shriver. OR the president?
        See The First 9 Peace Corps Projects as a teacher resource for descriptions of the Peace Corps projects.
  5. Explain that students will use the evidence in the document to make the map into a Peace Corps teaching tool. 
    • Discuss the key, using the symbol to explain what the Peace Corps project entailed. (For example, the symbol of a rake for agricultural development shows that volunteers helped with farming.)
    • Have students color the countries listed in the document, using the key to select the color that corresponds to the project(s) that took place in that county. (Some countries have more than one type of project so they will have more than one color. Students may only be able to draw a line or dot on small countries like St. Lucia.)
    • Discuss the map after it is finished: have students notice which continents had Peace Corps volunteers, which projects were most common, and why those particular projects might have been the focus in the first year of the Peace Corps. Additional questions might include: which country had the largest number of volunteers? Which had the fewest? What work might Peace Corps Volunteers have done in the different projects?


Read testimony from a current volunteer ( and write a paragraph to answer the question, “What can a person learn from being in the Peace Corps?”  

There are many stories to choose from but here are some suggested links:


Students can take the JFK Challenge using a free, immersive iPad mobile application from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Users take Peace Corps training to learn Spanish and how to make building materials. They travel to a village in Colombia to build hospitals, dig waterways for clean drinking water, and get to know the local culture. The app features fun, kid-friendly animation combined with primary sources from the JFK Library’s Archives. Includes an Apollo 11 space challenge.

Explore the extensive resources of the  Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program which fosters an understanding of other cultures and global issues by providing online educational resources based on the Peace Corps experience. It also facilitates communication among US learners and current and returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

Connections to Curriculum Standards

National Standards for Civics and Government

  • K-4, Standard 4: What is the relationship of the United States to other nations and to world affairs?

National History Standards:

  • Standard 2: Historical Comprehension 

Common Core State Standards

  • ELA College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language
  • ELA – Reading Informational Texts, Writing, Speaking and Listening, Language, and Literacy in History/Social Studies for grades 6 - 12

C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards

  • Discipline 1 - Developing questions and planning inquiries;
  • Discipline 2 - Applying disciplinary concepts and tools (History and Civics)
  • Discipline 3 - Evaluating sources and using evidence; and
  • Discipline 4 - Communicating conclusions and taking informed action

Massachusetts History and Social Studies Framework

  • Grade 2 Topic 1: Reading and Making Maps
  • Grade 2 Topic 2: Geography and its Effect on People
  • Grade 4 Topic 4: Civics in the Context of Geography: Countries and Governments
  • Grade 6 Topic 4: Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Grade 6 Topic 5: Central America, the Caribbean Islands, and South America
  • Grade 7 Topic 1: Central and South Asia
  • Grade 7 Topic 2: East Asia
  • Grade 7 Topic 3: Southeast Asia and Oceania

Massachusetts English Language Arts Framework

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language