Lesson Plan: Russia and the Baltics

By Channel One News 01.03.2017 blog

The United States and Soviet Union were enemies throughout the Cold War years — and since Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, tensions between the two countries have been on the rise again. We’ve unlocked the first installment of a three-part series on Russia. In this video, Channel One News catches up with NATO forces in the Baltic region. This lesson plan helps students understand why NATO allies have been alarmed by Russia’s actions and provides background on the rise and fall of the Soviet Union.

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Students will:

  • discover why the United States and its NATO allies are concerned about Russia and Vladimir Putin.
  • examine the history of the Soviet Union and its relationship with the United States.
  • identify the former member states of the USSR.

1. Opening Activity

Display a map of the USSR:ussr

  • Ask students if they can identify the nation depicted in yellow on the map.
  • Introductory questions: Is anyone familiar with the Soviet Union? What do students know about this former nation?

Words in the News

Introduce these vocabulary words and key terms to students before viewing the video.

  • focal (adjective): Of, relating to, or having focus or direct attention.
    • Heard on the Air: “The Baltics in particular have been a focal point for NATO.”
  • insignificant (adjective): Unimportant; trivial.
    • Heard on the Air: “This small region may seem insignificant, but it is actually very important.”

2. Watch Video: “Russia Series, Part 1”

View transcript.

3. Quiz

Use the multiple-choice assessment questions to check for understanding after viewing the video.

4. Discuss

Use these discussion prompts for whole class, think-pair-share or small group discussions.

  • What is the purpose of NATO?
  • Why is the Baltic region “actually very important”?

5. “Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union” Slideshow

Share this slideshow to provide students with an overview of Soviet history and geography.

Image Credit: Houhgton Mifflin Harcourt

In March 2014 Russia annexed the territory of Crimea from the neighboring nation of Ukraine — and tensions between Russia and the West have been rising ever since. But tensions between Moscow and the United States are nothing new; they date back to the Cold War (1946–1991) between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Image Credit: gogian/Bigstock

Formed in 1922 in the wake of the Russian Revolution, the USSR, or Soviet Union, was a confederation of Eastern European republics. These republics were ruled by a communist central government based in Moscow. Joseph Stalin was among the communist revolutionaries who overthrew Russia’s tsarist monarchy in 1917 — and by 1929 he had established himself as dictator of the Soviet Union.

Image Credit: pablofdezr/Bigstock

The Russian-dominated Soviet Union grew to encompass — and control — 15 republics: Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Separated from the West by a metaphorical Iron Curtain, citizens of the Soviet Union had little contact with the free world. Foreign travel was largely forbidden. Government-run media controlled the flow of information.

Image Credit: National Archives

During World War II, the United States and Soviet Union were allies, instrumental in defeating Adolf Hitler. But immediately following the war, the USSR began installing pro-Soviet governments in areas it had captured from the Nazis. And in 1948 a Soviet coup overthrew the democratic government of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), installing a communist government in its place.

Image Credit: Volina/Bigstock

Determined to stop the spread of communism, the United States and 11 other Western nations banded together in 1949 to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The purpose of NATO — then and now — is to protect member nations against military attack. If one member is attacked, the rest will defend it. Today NATO includes 28 nations.

Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Six years after NATO formed, the Soviet Union established a rival alliance, the Warsaw Pact, with its seven communist satellites: Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. In addition to using the Warsaw Pact as a defense against the West, the USSR used the alliance as a way to exercise even tighter control over other communist nations.

Image Credit: US Dept. of State

For many years the USSR was a superpower, second only to the United States in strength and influence. But by the late 1980s, its state-run economy was collapsing. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev realized that to survive, communist Europe needed better relations with the West. In 1989 he took steps toward that goal by withdrawing Soviet troops from Warsaw Pact nations.

Image Credit: Chingraph/Bigstock

Almost immediately, peaceful democratic revolutions began in several Soviet satellites. In 1991 the Baltic states declared their independence, quickly followed by 11 additional Soviet republics. By December 1991 the once-mighty USSR had dissolved. Its former republics and satellites had begun the transition to capitalism and democracy. Eventually, many joined NATO and the European Union.

6. Assess

Use these multiple-choice assessment questions to check for understanding after viewing the slideshow.

7. Write

Explanatory Writing: Have students create a timeline depicting the key events in Soviet Union and Russian history. Use information from the slideshow and the video to form your response.

8. Media Literacy

Have students read this statement by the NATO secretary general following the December 19, 2016, meeting of the NATO–Russia Council.

Then work with a partner to answer the following:

  • Why do you think the NATO–Russia Council was originally established?
  • Why do you think the NATO secretary general recently met with the NATO–Russia Council?
  • What topics were discussed during the meeting?
  • According to the statement, what is NATO’s goal?
  • How would you describe the secretary general’s outlook on the current relationship between Russia and NATO?

9. Closing Activity

Ask students the following question and have them share their thoughts on an exit ticket:

  • If you lived in a former Soviet republic, would you be concerned about Russia’s current activities in the region, as described in the video? Explain.


  1. kennon


  2. Link

    Pretty awesome cool.

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