Teaching the Vietnam War with DocsTeach

DocsTeach, the online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives, is full of primary sources and tools for teaching about the Vietnam War.

For instance, you could use the following document in a document analysis exercise with your students. It focuses on a pivotal event in the Vietnam War — it is the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, as originally introduced. Students should look for both small details and the big picture to truly understand this important document. Ask them: What stands out to you?

Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
When working with a primary source, sometimes the small details reveal important aspects of the historical context. Ask questions like, how would you describe the document to someone who can’t see it.

As students explore this draft, they may notice details like 88th Congress, Senate, and Armed Services Committee that show this is a congressional document. They also might notice handwritten, stamped, and crossed out text that explain its rushed nature.

As students dive deeper, they start to pull out the Gulf of Tonkin resolution’s purpose and goals. Ask: What phrases in the document stand out as important and reveal its purpose?

In a close read, students will see phrases like “deliberately and repeatedly attacked United States naval vessels” and “Congress approves and supports the determination of the President.”

Excerpt of Gulf of Tonkin Resolution

They can even compare it to the approved version from the following week and see no major changes, hinting at the lack of significant debate on the issue. As they study the escalation of the Vietnam War, they will see the Tonkin Gulf Resolution’s role in supporting that.

Tonkin Gulf Resolution

These kinds of questions guide students in in-depth document analysis. Use our online activity What Did the Tonkin Gulf Resolution Do? or our document analysis worksheets.


More Vietnam War Resources on DocsTeach

You can explore the Vietnam War in depth on our feature page – with primary source sets and online activities. The page includes topics and activities related to the Vietnam War, and from the Cold War era such as the space race.

We’ll highlight just a few topics from the page:

Check out documents related to French colonialism and Vietnam’s desire for independence prior to U.S. involvement, like this letter from Ho Chi Minh to the Secretary of State from the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I.

Letter from Ho Chi Minh to Secretary of State Robert Lansing

We have many primary sources related to the soldier’s experience and major battles during the Vietnam War, like this photo of a young Marine landing at Da Nang.

Young Marine Landing at Da Nang

You can also find primary sources related to public opinion and the anti-war movement, including events like Kent State, the March on the Pentagon, and the Tinker v. Des Moines court case.

DocsTeach also has ready-to-use online teaching activities for the Vietnam War for middle and high school. Activities cover topics like propaganda, documentary photographs, and U.S. involvement. Search at www.docsteach.org/activities and use the filters to refine your search by grade level, historical era, skill, or type.

Some of the teaching activities featured on our Vietnam War page include:


Propaganda poster translating to: "Anywhere there is communism, there is terrorism and assassination!"
Propaganda poster created and distributed by the United States Information Agency (USIA) that translates to: “Anywhere there is communism, there is terrorism and assassination!”, 1954. Available on DocsTeach.

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