Suggested Lesson Plans Using the CIA Web Site
The CIA Kids’ Page has a wide range of information that you can incorporate into your classroom. We have compiled several ideas for lesson plans to get you started. These plans – which emphasize history, communication and problem solving – are adaptable for students of any age.
- Lesson Plan A: Examples of Problem Solving
- Lesson Plan B: Gathering and Analyzing Information
- Lesson Plan C: Myths About CIA vs. Reality
- Lesson Plan D: Intelligence's Role in War
- Lesson Plan E: Codes and Code-Breaking
- Lesson Plan F: The Importance of Accurate Communications
Grade Level: Middle/High School
Subjects Involved: Social Studies, History, Science, English
Time: 30 minutes; or two 30 minute sessions if used as an in-class assignment
Objective: Students will learn how technology and problem solving have been used throughout CIA history by applying those tools in their own scenarios.
Materials: Access to the CIA Museum Web page or printouts of those pages
The teacher should have students select an item from the list of CIA Museum artifacts, read about it, and then write a short story about how it might be used today. Encourage students to use their imagination to create the story as a homework or in-class assignment.
In the next class, the teacher should ask volunteers to read their stories, and then encourage class discussion. Direct the discussion toward the use of today’s advanced technology for practical uses in national security – e.g., micro-technology, satellite surveillance. Bring relevance to the discussion by introducing applications from everyday life, such as the micro-cameras available in cell phones.
Grade Level: Middle/High School
Subjects Involved: Social Studies, History, English
Time: two class periods, 30-45 minutes each
Objective: Students will learn how to plan, gather, and analyze data by providing a simulation of the CIA’s Intelligence Cycle – the process used by CIA employees to collect and disseminate intelligence.
Materials: “Intelligence Cycle” print outs, pen/pencil and paper
This lesson will take place over two class sessions and include a homework assignment.
To begin the lesson, the teacher will hand out the “Intelligence Cycle” print out and discuss its five steps: Planning & Direction, Collection, Processing, Analysis & Production, and Dissemination.
After the students understand the “Intelligence Cycle,” the teacher should write the following on the blackboard: “Back in my day….” Begin a discussion by asking students how many of them have heard their parents or grandparents use that phrase in conversation and what they learned about their family’s past from those reminiscences.
Next, the teacher should ask students to pick a parent or grandparent they can interview before the next class and write three paragraphs comparing the student’s current day-to-day life to their subject’s life at the same age. Discuss what kind of questions to ask to see the differences in the student’s life compared to their subject’s life at the same point.
The teacher should then break the class into smaller groups so students can make up a list of questions to ask to gather the best information. After a few minutes, each group should share their best questions with the class.
In addition to the questions that the students come up with, the teacher can provide students with some of the sample interview questions listed below:
- Where did you live?
- What did you do after school?
- What did you do for fun?
- Where did you go with your friends?
- How did you communicate with your friends?
- Family photos can also be sources of information –
- Where did the family vacation when they were younger?
- How does that compare to where the family vacations now?
- What can we learn from this information?
- How important is geography? Why do you live in this city or town? Is it driven by economics?
- How has technology impacted lives of kids today versus when you were a kid?
- How has the educational process changed? Or has it?
In the next class, the teacher should break the class into small groups and have students compare their findings with one another and then have the groups report to the class. Ask students to talk about the process of gathering information and analyzing the data. What would they have done differently? What additional questions should have been asked? What have they learned about their day-to-day lives versus their subject’s?
Finally, the teacher should give students the assignment to add a paragraph about what they learned from final group discussion to their original homework.
Grade Level: Middle/High School
Subjects Involved: Social Studies, History, Career Development
Time: 30 minutes
Objective: Students will gain a more realistic view of the CIA and intelligence work than available in popular culture and modern media.
Materials: Print outs of “We’d Like to Dispel a Few Myths About the Central Intelligence Agency” brochure, pen/pencil and paper.
The teacher should ask volunteers to read aloud some of the Myths pages to stimulate discussion. At the same time, the teacher should compile a list on the blackboard of the skills an intelligence officer needs to be successful – traits like courage, the ability to speak foreign languages, comfort using technology, and the ability to analyze information.
The teacher should then discuss the diversity of occupations within the CIA and the intelligence community, showing the range of careers beyond the “clandestine operative.” Discuss and compile a list on the blackboard of other necessary CIA jobs – scientists, engineers, IT professionals, language teachers, analysts, lawyers, etc. Teachers can find a list of specific jobs for which the CIA is currently hiring on the CIA Careers page.
Finally, discuss with the class how each of these CIA occupations plays a role in national security and the world of intelligence.
Grade Level: High School
Subjects Involved: Social Studies, History
Time: several class periods, 60 minutes each
Objective: Students will learn the positive impact of gathering intelligence.
Materials: Pen/pencil and paper.
The teacher should write on the blackboard: “Ben Franklin,” “Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware,” “Yorktown,” and “D-Day.”
Teacher and students should then discuss the role of intelligence and espionage in wartime. Discussion topics could include the main goals of intelligence during war, including tracking troop movements, enemy intentions, battle plans, and where arms are stored. Advancements in technology to enhance intelligence gathering could also be discussed, although the basic purpose of intelligence gathering has remained the same.
Below are four examples that highlight the use of intelligence from U.S. history and how the successful use of intelligence has shortened conflict or effectively ended wars. The teacher should divide the class into four groups and assign one of the following examples to each group. The students should research each example (by Internet or library research) and report back to the class:
- Ben Franklin’s Most Successful Intelligence Gambit
Knowing French spies followed him, Benjamin Franklin made sure he was observed meeting British government officials shortly after the American revolutionary victory at Saratoga. Worried that the Americans and British would reconcile their differences after that battle, the French rushed into an alliance – thanks to Franklin’s ploy – with the Americans that helped lead to America’s ultimate victory. Discuss Franklin’s influence overseas as a diplomat and covert “spy,” the political tenor in America before and after the Battle of Saratoga, and/or French and English relations in the era.
- Washington’s Surprise Attack
In 1776, American spy John Honeyman reported to Gen. George Washington how lazy and unprepared a garrison of Hessian troops in Trenton, New Jersey, had become. Honeyman was involved in persuading the Hessians that the Americans would not attack. Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River at night and recorded a major victory on Dec. 26, 1777. Discuss American espionage in the Revolutionary War, Hessian troops in the Revolutionary War, Washington’s army and their desperate situation at the time of the attack, and/or how the war turned with the American victory.
- Code-Breaking Sets Stage for D-Day
During World War II, a Japanese ambassador in Berlin, who was a military man, studied German military deployments and reported them at length back to Tokyo via ”Purple”-enciphered messages. He reported troop placements on the Atlantic wall fortifications along the coasts of France and Belgium. Allied forces used the intercepted transmissions to plan the D-Day invasion of Western Europe. Discuss American espionage and intelligence operations in WWII, the German Enigma machine and the use of code-breaking in WWII, and/or D-Day invasion planning.
- Eisenhower’s D-Day Deception
Allied force commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower chose to land in Normandy, France, because he knew the German command expected the invasion to come in Calais, France. The Germans posted 19 divisions in Calais, France, as Eisenhower built an elaborate fake headquarters across the channel from Calais. Details of a Calais invasion were deliberately leaked to known German agents. For every aerial scouting mission flown over Normandy, one was flown over Calais, as well, and the Calais area was bombed as heavily as Normandy. The deception worked so well that even after the Normandy invasion began, the German divisions stayed in Calais, sure Normandy was just a diversion. Discuss American espionage and intelligence and counterintelligence operations in WWII.
Grade Level: Upper Elementary and Middle School
Subjects Involved: Social Studies, Math, and English
Time: 30-45 minutes
Objective: Students will learn different methods to breaking codes.
Materials Needed: Pen/pencil and paper
The teacher should begin by writing a statement on the blackboard using one of the four methods provided below. Students should then attempt to decipher the code. Show the students how the code works.
- Using numbers to represent letters of the 26-letter alphabet
- Reverse imaging (write words backward so they appear correct in a mirror)
- Scrambling the letters within the sentence
- Develop a secret pattern using the alphabet. For example, for each letter of the sentence, move up one letter on the alphabet to develop the code. (i.e., Csfbl uif dpef = Break the code)
Next, the teacher should divide the class into four groups and have each group create a coded message of their own using one of the four methods provided above. Teachers can use the suggested methods or develop new ones.
Finally, the teacher and students should discuss the importance of knowing how to write and break codes. One discussion might center on code breaking during WWII and planning the D-Day invasion. This information can be found in the Operation History section of the CIA Kids’ Zone.
Grade Level: Upper Elementary, Middle/High School
Subjects Involved: Social Studies, History, English
Time: 15-30 minutes
Objective: Students will learn how messages can become jumbled in common communication.
Materials Needed: none
The teacher should divide the class into multiple groups of four or more, and give each group a different worded message to relay. For example, “My dog was feeling blue about the book he read at the cafeteria.” or “When I went to start the car, the bunny high-fived the squirrel.” Random sentences such as these will work the best.
Students will then whisper their “interpretation” of the message to the next student in the group, spreading the message around a small circle. The last student will write the message down and then share with the entire class. The teacher will then share what the message(s) should have been. The activity can be repeated several times, reversing directions and increasing in complexity.
At the end of the activities, the teacher can talk about the importance of clear and accurate communications and how messages can get mixed up when more people get involved.
In summary, the teacher should ask students to consider some incidents in history where accurate communications were vital, such as Paul Revere knowing that two lanterns in the Old North Church meant the British were advancing on the Charles River instead of over land.