Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Socratic Seminar Project on the Beginning of US Involvement in the Korean War
Joseph Rausch
Honors World History, American History, Honors American History, AP US History
Time Frame:
Block schedule-1 to 1 ½ class periods
Korean War
Primary Source Analysis

Grade Levels:
10, 11

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

Cooperative learning activity containing small classroom groups and ending with entire class, student-led discussion.  Primary sources and maps will form basis for discussion of Korean War.



Students know very little about the Korean War, its causes and effects, and the importance to the nation of this conflict.  This lesson will introduce the war to the students, help them see the concerns of the country when entering this conflict, and help them understand the complexities of decisions that Presidents have to make.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:


STANDARD 1:  Students understand the chronological organization of history and know how to organize events and people into major eras to identify and explain historical relationships.

1.1 Students know the general chronological order of events and people in history. 

1.3 Students use chronology to examine and explain historical relationships.

STANDARD 2:  Students know how to use the processes and resources of historical inquiry.

2.1 Students know how to formulate questions and hypotheses regarding what happened in the past and to obtain and analyze historical  data to answer questions and test hypotheses.

2.2 Students know how to interpret and evaluate primary and secondary sources of historical information.

STANDARD 5:  Students understand political institutions and theories that have developed and changed over time.

5.2 Students know how various systems of government have developed and functioned throughout history

5.3 Students know how political power has been acquired, maintained, used, and/or lost throughout history.

5.4 Students know the history of relationships among different political powers and the development of international relations.


2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

3. Principles and processes of governance systems

7. the use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)


Benchmark 3- The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

A) evaluates the foreign policies of Truman and Eisenhower during the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the United Nations, containment, NATO, Truman Doctrine,

Benchmark 5- The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).


Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Textbook (US History—The American Vision, Modern Times (Glencoe, 2008).  World History—Spielvogel, Jackson.  Glencoe World History (Glencoe, 2010).  These are the textbooks that Sand Creek High School, Colorado Springs, Co uses.)

Maps of the Korean peninsula with surrounding countries.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Memo of Conversation, June 27, 1950.  www.trumanlibrary.org  Secretary of State File, Acheson Papers. http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/koreanwar/documents/index.php?documentdate=1950-06-27&documentid=ki-12-4&pagenumber=1

Memorandum of Conversation, June 26, 1950. www.trumanlibrary.org Secretary of State File, Acheson Papers.http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/koreanwar/documents/index.php?documentdate=1950-06-26&documentid=ki-12-3&pagenumber=1

United Nations Security Council Resolution, June 25, 1950. www.trumanlibrary.org  President's Secretary's Files, Truman Papers. http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/koreanwar/documents/index.php?documentdate=1950-06-25&documentid=ki-17-4&pagenumber=1

Army Department Teletype Conference, June 25, 1950. www.trumanlibrary.org  Naval Aide Files, Truman Papers. http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/koreanwar/documents/index.php?documentdate=1950-06-25&documentid=ki-21-11&pagenumber=1

Memorandum of Conversation, June 25, 1950. www.trumanlibrary.org  Secretary of State File, Acheson Papers. http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/koreanwar/documents/index.php?documentdate=1950-06-25&documentid=ki-12-1&pagenumber=1

Army Department Teletype Conference, June 25, 1950. www.trumanlibrary.org Naval Aide Files, Truman Papers. http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/koreanwar/documents/index.php?documentdate=1950-06-25&documentid=ki-21-12&pagenumber=1

National Security Council Report 76/1, "U.S. Courses of Action in the Event Soviet Forces Enter Korean Hostilities", June 25, 1950. www.trumanlibrary.org  President's Secretary's Files, Truman Papers.


Technology Required:

Computer and internet

Full description of activity or assignment.

Small Group Activity—Students will be divided into groups of 3-5 to examine the primary resources.  Primary resources should be provided by the teacher.  Each group will examine their documents, discuss the important information contained in each source, and come up with 3-5 (instructor’s discretion on number) well-thought questions about the consequences of a US reaction to North Korea’s invasion of South Korea.  This should take anywhere from 30-45 minutes.  (Of course, this is predicated on the assumption that students have already learned the causes and early events of the Cold War.)

Socratic Seminar—Students will reconvene as a class.  The instructor should select one student to act as class moderator.  This student will have to be able to run the classroom, interject in discussions, and keep track of each student’s participation during the period.  Each student should have their 3-5 questions with them.  The student moderator will begin by posing one of their questions to the class.  Students in the classroom will begin discussion by attempting to answer this question, but they may not speak unless recognized by the moderator.  The moderator should never call on a student for a 2nd time before recognizing another student for the 1st time.  The class should operate this way for the duration of the class in order to ensure that all students’ opinions may be heard.  Students may ask one of their questions when recognized if discussion over previous question has waned.  The moderator may do this at any time if the entire class discussion has waned.  The instructor may only take part in discussion to clear up a factual point or if recognized by the moderator in the normal progression of the class (this is tough because you will want to jump in, but it really keeps the discussion on an equal level for the students).

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Students may be assessed by the instructor assigning a grade for the questions that were to have been prepared for the seminar.  This keeps students accountable for examining the primary sources.

Before the seminar, the instructor should assign a point value to the participation in the discussion.  ALL students must participate in order for ANY student to get a grade.  I use this as an all-or-nothing exercise for the class.  Everyone receives a 0 unless everyone participates.  This places peer pressure on those students who may otherwise tune out the discussion.  In an Honors or AP class, the instructor may wish to make each grade individual.  For example, a student must participate twice to receive full credit, once for half credit, or not at all for zero credit.  The topic will keep most students engaged, so usually everyone gets full points and has the chance to learn through discussion the nuances of the decision facing the United States and Harry Truman in reacting to North Korea’s invasion of South Korea.