Presidential Decisions: The Iran Hostage Crisis
Teacher Name: Jared Werges Grade level(s):11 Course: American Government
Describe the classroom or homework activity to be performed (individual assignment, cooperative
learning, cross curricular, technology based, using artifacts and/or primary sources, etc.)
After studying articles and timelines on the Iran Hostage Crisis in groups, students will participate in
a class discussion of the circumstances and causes of the crisis. Groups will then study primary
documents with the goal of providing a recommendation to President Carter as to how he should
Rationale (why are you doing this?)
I want students to understand the difficulty and ambiguity involved in presidential decision-making.
Further, I feel that students should know about this often-overlooked event, in light of current
relations between the United States and Iran.
Required time frame: Ninety minutes
Where in the teacher conference did you get the idea for this activity or assignment (speaker, document,
photograph, activity, audio recording, other)?
I decided to do this lesson while listening to Kahlil Chism’s presentation on the Iran hostage crisis.
Lesson objectives – the student will:
Understand the complexity and ambiguity involved in presidential decision-making
Distinguish between and interpret primary and secondary sources
Understand the causes and effects of the Iran hostage crisis
Offer well-reasoned advice to the president on how to resolve the crisis
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met (be specific when
Distinguish between fact and opinion and analyze sources to recognize bias and point of view
Develop a research plan and identify appropriate resources for investigating social studies topics
Distinguish between and analyze primary sources and secondary sources
Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
“444 Days: Understanding the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis” at
Fast facts on Iran from CBS:
Timeline of US-Iran ties: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3362443.stm
Timeline of US relations with Iran until Obama: http://web.mit.edu/mitir/2009/online/us-iran-2.pdf
Modern history of Iran:
Primary sources (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed:
Diary entries from one of the hostages: Robert C. Ode:
Carter speech on rescue operation:
Washington Post article on the SAVAK, the Iranian secret police:
Selection from the failed commando rescue mission report, 1980:
The U.S stake in Iran: http://www.presidentialtimeline.org/html/record.php?id=835 (this is a lengthy
document that students need not read in its entirety, but may skim for relevant points)
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both you and the students do?
Students will work in groups to read and summarize the main points from the secondary sources
Students should read with the purpose of better understanding the relationship between the United
States and Iran leading up to the hostage crisis. Students may use other electronic sources, as well. The
teacher should help students to find appropriate sources. Provide students the following questions to
◦Thoroughly describe the relationship between American presidents and the Shah in the
years leading up to the hostage crisis. Why was the relationship this way?
◦How did the Iranian people feel about the Shah? How can you tell? Why would they feel
◦Some sources refer to the hostage takers as “students,” while some sources call them
“militants.” Does this change how you view them? Explain.
◦Why did the Iranian students/militants take American hostages?
◦Who was the Ayatollah Khomeini? How did he feel about the United States and the
After students have had the opportunity to read the secondary sources and answer the above questions,
discuss the questions as a class. Then ask students to suggest possible responses to the crisis. Keep
track of these on the whiteboard. Try to guide students toward the following options:
1. do nothing
2. continuing political and economic sanctions
3. undertake another rescue mission
4. mine the harbors
5. all-out military strike
Have students work in groups to come up with the pros and cons for each response. Students will
then assume the role of advisors to the president. Each group will analyze primary sources, with the
goal of determining the appropriate response for President Carter. Students will complete document
analysis sheets for each source. The analysis sheets can be found at
When groups have finished analyzing the primary sources, they must write a memorandum to
President Carter explaining how they think he should respond and why. The letter should be dated
December 31st 1980. President Carter is anxious to resolve the situation before he leaves office.
Students should be sure to provide the president a thorough analysis of the situation and thoroughly
explain why their response to the crisis is better than the other possible responses. Students must cite at
least four of the primary sources in making their case.
Assessment: fully explain your assessment method in detail or create and attach your scoring guide:
Groups will be formally assessed on the degree to which they write a coherent and well-reasoned
memorandum to the president. An outstanding paper will include the following: a thorough and
clear explanation of the appropriate response to the crisis with no spelling or grammar errors that
make the memo difficult to follow, a detailed and clear explanation why their response is better
than each of the alternatives, and citations from at least four of the primary sources that support
the students’ argument. Individual student participation will be considered as well.
As a follow up, students will individually write a reflection on how the hostage crisis has effected
relations between the United States and Iran. They should also address whether their proposed
response to the crisis would have improved relations between the two countries and why.