Ken Burns Classroom

The 1954 Geneva Convention Accords

Ken Burns Film: The Vietnam War

Collections: Postwar United States (1945-1970s)

Subject: US History

Grade Level: 9-12

Lesson Overview

Students will watch selected video segments from THE VIETNAM WAR and examine important provisions in the Geneva Convention Accords and the Geneva Conference, and discuss their merits.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Examine the 1954 Geneva Conference, which settled the war between Vietnam and France.
  • Analyze the reasons why both the French and the Vietnamese were dissatisfied with the agreement.
  • Examine the early goals of the United States in Vietnam.


Map of how Vietnam was temporarily divided after the Geneva Conference Accords in 1954
How Vietnam was temporarily divided after the Geneva Conference Accords in 1954

Activity Procedure

  • Show both video clips to students. Afterward, have them read the CIA document and review the map, which shows the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Vietnam and the migration of refugees.
  • Next, address the following discussion points in small groups or as a class:
  • Examine the map and summarize the negotiated settlement of the 1954 Geneva Conference.
  • Explain why both the Vietnamese and the French were dissatisfied with the settlement.
  • Review the two Viet Minh soldier’s (Nguyen Van Tong and Nguyen Thoi Bung) statements about the Geneva Accords, and explain how they describe the depth of resolve of the people of North Vietnam to reunite their country.
  • Examine the newsreel footage showing refugees traveling to South Vietnam in boats. What images do you see portrayed? What do you think might have been the reaction of Western audiences upon seeing these images?
  • What fears did many noncommunist Vietnamese have in fleeing from the North to the South?
  • What did the United States hope to achieve in South Vietnam in 1954?
  • If you had the opportunity, how would you have designed a peace agreement between the French and the Vietnamese?

National Standards for History

9.1B.1 ( World History Grades 5-12 ): Explain how political, economic, and military conditions prevailing in the mid-1940s led to the Cold War. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

9.1B.5 ( World History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the causes and international and local consequences of major Cold War crises, such as the Berlin blockade, the Korean War, the Polish workers’ protest, the Hungarian revolt, the Suez crisis, the Cuban missile crisis, the Indonesian civil war, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. [Formulate historical questions]

9.1B.6 ( World History Grades 5-12 ): Analyze how political, diplomatic, and economic conflict and competition between the United States and the Soviet Union affected developments in such countries as Egypt, Iran, the Congo, Vietnam, Chile, and Guatemala. [Analyze multiple causation]

9.1B.7 ( World History Grades 5-12 ): Analyze interconnections between superpower rivalries and the development of new military, nuclear, and space technology. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

9.2A.2 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the origins of the Cold War and the advent of nuclear politics. [Hold interpretations of history as tentative]

9.2C.1 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Assess the Vietnam policy of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations and the shifts of public opinion about the war. [Analyze multiple causation]

9.2C.2 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the composition of the American forces recruited to fight the war. [Interrogate historical data]

9.2C.3 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Evaluate how Vietnamese and Americans experienced the war and how the war continued to affect postwar politics and culture. [Appreciate historical perspectives]

9.2C.4 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Explain the provisions of the Paris Peace Accord of 1973 and evaluate the role of the Nixon administration. [Differentiate between historical facts and historical interpretations]

9.2C.5 ( U.S. History Grades 5-12 ): Analyze the constitutional issues involved in the war and explore the legacy of the Vietnam war. [Formulate a position or course of action on an issue]

9.3A.2 ( World History Grades 5-12 ): Explain why the Cold War took place and ended and assess its significance as a 20th-century event. [Analyze multiple causation]

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework

D2.Civ.10.9-12 ( By the end of Grade 12 ): Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.

About The Authors

Greg Timmons

Greg Timmons has been a social studies teacher for over 30 years. He has written lessons for several PBS productions including The NewsHour, FRONTLINE, and various Ken Burns’s productions including The War, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea Baseball, Prohibition and The Dust Bowl.” He resides in Montana and Washington state.