The Red Scare in the 1950's

Students can learn about the Red Scare, McCarthyism, and other related topics with lesson plans that focus on the 1950's and communism.

By Carrie Jackson


red scare lessons

The democratic United States is geographically and philosophically far removed from communism. However, twice in America’s history, communism has reached across the ocean to create fear in the minds of many of her people.  Americans feared that communism would thrive, and the capitalist system in the United States would be threatened.  Take some time to help your students learn about this important part of history by delving into its causes and effects.  

The First Red Scare

The first wave of the Red Scare occurred after World War I for several reasons. Many countries were involved in the war because of the complex alliances that were formed with developing countries. In addition, the United States joined the war to support ally nations. The Red Scare was sparked by revolutions around the world, especially the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. This revolution led to a worldwide fear of the possibility that other countries might experience this same type of revolution. In the United States, these fears were fueled and exacerbated by the media, causing xenophobia. As you study the Red Scare, have your class do some research on xenophobia. This is a great topic for compare and contrast papers, as well as for debates and/or class discussions.

The Second Red Scare

The second Red Scare was fueled by the climate in the nation, and the work of one man, US Senator Joseph McCarthy. His fears about the spread of communism led to the creation of committees to interview people suspected of communist leanings. Many people were accused of being disloyal to the United States, or spying for communist countries. This particular anti-communist movement was eventually called McCarthyism.

During this Red Scare, individuals who spoke out against the government were viewed as threats to society. Numerous entertainers and writers were blacklisted because their actions were considered un-American. At the same time that committees were interviewing suspected communists, the United States was spreading an anti-communist message through posters, newspapers, and other media. This period also marked the conviction of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage. The couple was executed in 1953 after being convicted of leaking information about the atomic bomb  to the Soviet Union.

Extend the Lesson by Researching Related Topics

Delving into the events that led up to the Red Scare can heighten students’ interest in this topic. Capitalize on their interest by offering them the chance to do some independent, related research. For example, they can read stories about Cold War spies, the FBI, and espionage. Or they can visit, or virtually visit the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. They can also take their research results and create an interdisciplinary project or paper involving history, technology, science, and/or English.

Red Scare, McCarthyism, Communism:

The Rise and Fall of Joseph McCarthy

Pupils will learn about Joseph McCarthy and communism. They will also examine documents and political cartoons related to McCarthy’s key points.

Follow the Marx

Your class will examine the early foundations of communism, and conduct research on other political ideologies.

Eisenhower in the 1950s

Learners examine international and domestic issues concerning the United States in the 1950s.

Dramatizing History in Arthur Miller's The Crucible

Pupils read Arthur Miller’s book The Crucible which was written in the 1950s. The explore the historical context, compare historical facts with Miller's treatment of the facts, and make connections to history and literature.

Urbanization, Blues, and Technology

This resource enables students to use the blues to explore urbanization, technology between 1914 and 1945. They also make connections to the Great Migration and examine certain industries, inventions, technology, and consumerism.



History Guide

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Carrie Jackson