Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

The Things They Carried

Vietnam Era

Tanner Lusher, Lindsey Link, Michelle Grogan | Published: May 5th, 2023 by K20 Center

Based on The Things They Carried by Susan McHale.

  • Grade Level Grade Level 11th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 90-120 minutes
  • Duration More 2-3 class periods


In this lesson, students begin by considering what items are essential for soldiers to bring with them to war. Students then compare what they read from the novel, "The Things They Carried" by Tim O’Brien, with information about the Vietnam War using an H-Chart. To extend their learning, students research a U.S. veteran who served in the Vietnam War to learn more about that person’s life and experiences in the military. Upon completing their research, students create a brief presentation to demonstrate what they have learned and share it with their peers. Finally, students reflect on how war has affected communities.

Essential Question(s)

How does does war affect a community?



Students receive a card with the information of a veteran who fought in the Vietnam war and brainstorm what might have been essential items for their veteran to carry into war.


Students spend time looking through the POW/MIA database and reflect on what they are feeling as they see all of the names.


Students use an H-Chart graphic organizer to organize notes as they read a variety of resources and historical documents pertaining to the Vietnam War. 


Students research the veteran whose card they received at the start of the lesson and create a poster with the information they learn.


Students complete an Exit Ticket answering the question, “How does war affect a community?”


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Veteran Cards (attached; one card per student)

  • Paired Text H-Chart (attached; one per student)

  • Excerpt from The Things They Carried (attached; one per student)

  • Wakelet (linked)

  • Vietnam Era Project Rubric (attached; one per student)

  • Sticky notes

  • Pens or pencils

  • Notebook/notebook paper

  • Student personal devices or laptops to research and create Research Posters

  • Poster or butcher paper (if students prefer to complete their posters by hand)

  • Markers, colored pencils, or crayons

  • Internet access/Wi-Fi


As students enter the classroom, hand them one of the attached Veteran Cards. Let students know that they will carry this card with them through the duration of the lesson, coming back to it and reflecting on the person, their job, and their sacrifices. Introduce the lesson using slide 2 of the attached Lesson Slides. Slides 3–5 contain the title, essential question, and learning objectives for this lesson. Display these slides as needed for students. 

Go to slide 6. Students will use the Round Robin instructional strategy to brainstorm a list of five items that they would "carry" in a backpack if they had to go on a trip where they would not be returning home for an extended period of time. Ask them what five things they would carry with them in their packs?

Go to slide 7. As Elbow Partners, ask students to compare their lists and explain why they chose specific items. Discuss as a class what items might be "essential." Allow students an opportunity to justify their choices. Next, introduce the idea of soldiers going to war and ask student pairs to consider what might be essential items for soldiers to carry. Ask students to think about what their person might take with them based on what they have discussed thus far and about the information on the card about that individual.


Go to slide 8. Use this description to define “POW” to students. Repeat this process on slide 9 with the “MIA” acronym. 

Move to slide 10. Guide students to the POW/MIA Veteran Database provided with this lesson. Students can access it by typing the link or scanning a QR code on the slide. Give students time to look through the website and process the impact of this war. Proceed to slide 11. Use the How Am I Feeling? What Am I Thinking? strategy to help students reflect on what they found while exploring this website. Ask students to consider how their person would feel after looking at this information as well.


25 Minute(s)

Each student will receive a copy of the H-Chart graphic organizer. Advance to slide 12, share the instructional strategy Paired Texts H-Chart, and pass out the attached handout. Using the Web Link provided, or the QR Code for the Wakelet, instruct students to review the information about the Vietnam War. Have them record important events, ideas, places, or information in the first “leg” of the “H.”

Next, pass out the attached Excerpt from The Things They Carried. Instruct students to read the excerpt first, then discuss it with a partner. Student pairs should work together to write the main ideas that they took away from the reading in the second "leg" of the “H.” Next, have the class share out what they included in their charts, explaining why they chose the main points that they did. Discuss how the two sources of information are similar or different. Have student pairs work together to determine how the excerpt from the story combined with historical data contribute to a more in-depth understanding of the Vietnam Era.

Go to slide 13. The students should answer the following questions in the center of the H-Chart: 

  • How do these information sources help to give you a clearer viewpoint of the Vietnam War?

  • How does your new perspective enhance your understanding of how war impacts communities?

After exploring those ideas about the Vietnam War, you should ask students to consider whether or not war is still affecting the United States today. This could be an opportunity to give examples of how war is influencing society abroad as well. 


Go to slide 14. Pass out the attached Vietnam Era Project Rubric for the Research Poster activity. Review the rubric with students to make sure they understand what is expected of them for this project. Instruct students to explore the life of the Vietnam War veteran on the card they received at the beginning of the class. Have them use the information they gather and read to create a brief presentation using a poster board, large piece of paper, or a computer to honor the service of Vietnam veterans. Remind students to refer to the rubric as a guide while they are creating their presentation. Student projects are presented and assessed according to the rubric.

Veteran Cards: James T. Boddie Jr., Bud Day, John Kerry, Sharon Ann Lane, John McCain, Pascal Poolaw, Colin Powell

Move to slide 15 and share the instructional strategy TAG Me! with students. Instruct them to pay close attention as their peers share their research about the selected veteran they have. Once a student has shared their work/presented their project, have students write down (tell) something they like about the project, a question they have about the work, and give one suggestion they have for the work. You can have them do this on a sticky note, a sheet of paper, or verbally, depending on the class structure and how students best give and receive peer feedback. Ask a few students to share something that they learned from one of their classmates at the end of this activity.


At the end of the lesson, advance to slide 16 and have students respond to the following Exit Ticket question on a sticky note, a sheet of paper, or verbally.

How does war affect a community? Consider social and environmental factors.