The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Assassination of
November 22, 1963 – November 22, 2013

Understandably, the topic of President Kennedy’s presidency and assassination may not have direct connections to what you are currently teaching in your classes at this point in time in the school year. However, for those teachers who would like to take an opportunity to use this as a teachable moment in history, I would like to share with you some resources regarding the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination.

The fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination can be an opportunity to celebrate President Kennedy’s life, contributions, and achievements. It can be a time to stop and reflect on a variety of topics and issues that are relevant to the general social studies curriculum including, but not limited to, the transformative roles of the presidency, the role of the media in politics and presidential elections (how leaders communicate with the people), foreign policies towards Cuba and other Communist nations, nuclear weapons proliferation, the role of the federal government in promoting innovation, science and technology, and policies regarding civil rights.

One strategy of utilizing higher order level of historical understanding is studying through themes. Themes allow an opportunity for students to learn about modern history while studying ancient or early history, and to make direct and indirect connections between the past and contemporary times. Sometimes these opportunities are moments that can suddenly spark a student’s deep interest in learning about the historical past; allowing a student to discover a major historical event and understand why an event occurred when and how it did.

Here are some suggestions and ideas across the grade levels and subjects:

(General) History and Geography:

Have students locate the following in relation to Braintree, Massachusetts (using various map skills such as five themes, cardinal directions, distance in miles and kilometers, etc.):

  • Brookline, Massachusetts
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Hyannis Port, Massachusetts
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Washington, D.C.


  • Tuscaloosa, Alabama
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Havana, Cuba
  • Moscow, Russia (formerly Soviet Union)
  • Cape Canaveral, Florida

Students research and write about or present each location’s significance to John F. Kennedy’s life and presidency. Encourage students to think of questions (inquiry-based) to guide their research such as “What significance do these locations have in Kennedy’s life or presidency?” “What happened or occurred in each of these locations?” “Did this location made some impact on Kennedy’s life, or did Kennedy made an impact on this location?”

Incorporating effective research and writing skills:

Introduce effective research skills by having students research the life, contributions, and achievements of President John F. Kennedy. Have students learn the definition of and purpose of developing a thesis; then have students develop a thesis pertaining to the legacy of President Kennedy (e.g., “The Peace Corps defined President Kennedy’s legacy,” “The space race defined Kennedy’s legacy,” “President Kennedy’s foreign policy was a complete failure (or success),” “John F. Kennedy transformed politics and the media,” “President Kennedy played a major role (or minor role) in the Civil Rights Movement,” etc.). Through this activity, students learn how to incorporate and cite evidences to support a thesis (supporting topic development in writing).

Primary Source: Oral History
Here is an opportunity for students to learn about oral history. Students can interview their parents, grandparents, and older relatives about where they were when Kennedy was shot and what they were thinking or feeling as they watched the funeral procession. Or, have students research and view video clips of those interviewed about Kennedy’s assassination and funeral. Students learn about what life was like back in the 1960s, and recognize how volatile and dangerous politics was back then and compare it to the atmosphere in politics today. More importantly, have students think and write about what they as citizens can do to improve the general political discourse in America today.

What makes a leader loved or hated?

Here is an opportunity for students to learn and think about leaders in general. What makes an effective leader? What characteristics does a leader possess to manage the masses follow her or him? What contexts (e.g., political, social, economic, etc.) contribute to one’s rise to power, or fall from power?

Kennedy was a polarizing political figure. People either loved him or despised him. Many cried over his death, while some either quietly or vocally rejoiced it. What made Kennedy become such a renowned leader in contemporary history? Why did so many people become emotionally attached to Kennedy’s presidency and assassination? How does Kennedy’s leadership style compare and contrast with other notable and influential leaders past and present such as, but not limited to, Julius Caesar, Justinian, Napoleon Bonaparte, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Adolph Hitler, Golda Mier, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama?

I hope you find this enlightening, affirming, and helpful.


Partial listing of resources available on the Web:

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