How To Teach About Richard Nixon

Written by Dan

Teaching about Richard Nixon can be challenging, as his legacy is complex and often controversial. However, exploring Richard Nixon’s life—from historic victories to political scandals—can help students understand how elements of the past have shaped our modern world.

Teachers can create an environment that encourages critical thinking about complex topics in history through conversations surrounding topics such as Watergate and Vietnam War negotiations. By taking a comprehensive approach to teach Richard Nixon, teachers can lead their students on an educational journey filled with insightful discourse and engaging activities.

Richard Nixon’s Presidential Legacy

Richard Nixon’s presidency was marked by several notable achievements as well as controversies and scandals that continue to shape his legacy today. Here are some of the key aspects of Nixon’s presidential legacy:


1. Opening relations with China: Nixon’s administration worked to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, marking a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy.

2. Environmental protections: Nixon is known for signing legislation that created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Clean Air Act, which helped to address environmental issues in the United States.

3. Wage and price controls: In response to rising inflation, Nixon implemented wage and price controls to help stabilize the economy.

4. Apollo 11 Moon Landing: Nixon was President when NASA successfully landed astronauts on the moon for the first time in history.

Controversies and Scandals

1. Watergate scandal: Perhaps Nixon’s most significant legacy is the Watergate scandal, which involved the attempted cover-up of a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, ultimately leading to Nixon’s resignation.

2. Vietnam War: Nixon’s handling of the Vietnam War was controversial, with many criticizing his decision to expand the conflict into neighboring Cambodia and Laos.

3. Secret recordings: Nixon’s secret recordings of conversations in the Oval Office were a major controversy during his presidency and ultimately played a role in his downfall.

4. Enemies list: Nixon’s administration created an “enemies list” of political opponents and critics, which raised questions about government abuse of power.

Timeline of Richard Nixon’s Life

1913: Born in Yorba Linda, California.

1934: Graduates from Whittier College and attends Duke University Law School.

1942-1946: Serves in the Navy during World War II.

1946: Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from California.

1950: Elected to the U.S. Senate from California.

1952: Nominated as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Vice Presidential candidate on the Republican ticket.

1953-1961: Serves as Vice President under President Eisenhower.

1960: Loses to John F. Kennedy in the presidential election.

1962: Runs for Governor of California but loses.

1968: Runs for President and wins on the Republican ticket.

1969-1974: Serves as the 37th President of the United States.

1972: Wins re-election in a landslide victory, but the Watergate scandal begins to unfold.

1974: Resigns from office due to the Watergate scandal and the threat of impeachment.

1984: Publishes his memoirs, “RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon”.

1994: Dies in New York City at the age of 81.

Teaching Children About Richard Nixon in School

Richard Nixon is one of the most controversial figures in American history, making him a fascinating topic to teach children. Here are some ideas for teaching children about this complex and intriguing president.

1. Explore Nixon’s Life and Career

Start by giving your students an overview of Nixon’s life and career. Discuss his upbringing, early political aspirations, and time as Vice President under Eisenhower. Then, dive into his presidency, including his foreign and domestic policies, major accomplishments, and scandals.

2. Watch Videos and Read Articles

There are plenty of videos and articles available that can help bring Nixon’s story to life for your students. For example, you could show them clips from his famous “Checkers” speech, or have them read about the Watergate scandal and its aftermath.

3. Discuss Nixon’s Legacy

Finally, take some time to discuss what Nixon’s legacy means for us today. How did his actions affect the country then and now? What lessons can we learn from his successes and failures? This is a great way to encourage critical thinking and reflection among your students.

Primary and Secondary Sources for Teaching About Richard Nixon

When teaching children about Richard Nixon, it is essential to use a variety of primary and secondary sources to help them gain a well-rounded understanding of this controversial figure. Here are some examples of sources you could use:

Primary Sources

  • The Nixon Presidential Library: This is an excellent source of primary documents related to Nixon’s presidency, including speeches, memos, and transcripts of conversations.
  • Photographs and Videos: You could show your students photographs and videos of Nixon during his presidency, such as his “Checkers” or resignation speech.
  • Newspaper Articles: Reading newspaper articles from the period can give your students a sense of how the media and the public perceived Nixon.

Secondary Sources

  • Biographies: Many biographies written about Nixon provide insight into his life and career, such as “Richard Nixon: A Life in Full” by Conrad Black.
  • History Textbooks: Using a history textbook can provide a broader context for Nixon’s presidency and his place in American history.
  • Documentaries: Watching documentaries like “All the President’s Men” can help your students understand the Watergate scandal and its impact on Nixon’s presidency.

Key Teaching Opportunities from Richard Nixon’s Presidency

Richard Nixon’s presidency offers numerous opportunities for teaching children about American history and politics. Here are some of the key teaching opportunities that come up from looking at his presidency.

1. The Watergate Scandal

The Watergate scandal is one of the most infamous events in American political history, and it provides an excellent opportunity for teaching children about ethics in government, the role of the media, and the importance of checks and balances.

2. Foreign Policy

Both successes and failures marked Nixon’s foreign policy, and studying it can help children understand the complexities of diplomacy and international relations. Topics to cover might include opening relations with China, the Vietnam War, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT).

3. Civil Rights

While Nixon is not generally remembered as a champion of civil rights, his presidency saw significant advances in this area, including the desegregation of Southern schools and the creation of affirmative action programs. This can be a valuable teaching opportunity for discussing the ongoing struggle for equality in America.

4. Presidential Power

Nixon’s presidency was marked by many controversies related to presidential power, ranging from his handling of the Vietnam War to his attempts to stifle dissent. This can provide a valuable framework for discussing the limits of executive power and the importance of a system of checks and balances.

Lesson Plan 1: The Watergate Scandal

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the events of the Watergate scandal and its impact on American politics
  • Develop critical thinking skills by considering the ethical and legal issues raised by the scandal


Begin the lesson by asking students if they have heard of the Watergate scandal. Discuss what they know about it, and explain that it involved a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C., during Nixon’s presidency.

Main Teaching Points:

1. The Break-In: Discuss the events leading up to the break-in, including the motivations of the people involved.

2. The Cover-Up: Explain how Nixon and his administration attempted to cover up their involvement in the break-in.

3. The Fallout: Discuss the investigations and hearings that followed and the ultimate consequences for Nixon and his presidency.

Key Questions:

  • What motivated the people involved in the break-in?
  • Why did Nixon and his administration attempt to cover up their involvement?
  • What was the fallout of the Watergate scandal?

Adaptations for Learners:

For students who need additional support, please provide them with graphic organizers or visual aids to help them understand the sequence of events. For more advanced students, please encourage them to think critically about the broader implications of the Watergate scandal for American democracy.


Have students reflect on the importance of transparency and accountability in government. Ask them to consider how the events of Watergate might inform their views on current events.

Lesson Plan 2: Nixon’s Foreign Policy

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the key elements of Nixon’s foreign policy, including his approach to China and the Soviet Union
  • Develop critical thinking skills by considering the successes and failures of Nixon’s foreign policy


Begin the lesson by introducing students to Nixon’s approach to foreign policy, including his emphasis on realpolitik.

Main Teaching Points:

1. China: Discuss Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, and its impact on U.S.-China relations.

2. The Soviet Union: Explain how Nixon sought to ease tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, including the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT).

3. The Vietnam War: Discuss Nixon’s strategy for ending the Vietnam War, including the invasion of Cambodia and the Paris Peace Accords.

Key Questions:

  • How did Nixon’s visit to China change U.S.-China relations?
  • What was the purpose of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty?
  • What was Nixon’s strategy for ending the Vietnam War?

Adaptations for Learners:

For students who need additional support, please provide them with maps or other visual aids to help them understand the geography of the countries involved. For more advanced students, please encourage them to think critically about the long-term implications of these policies.


Have students reflect on the role of diplomacy in resolving international conflicts. Ask them to consider the challenges and opportunities presented by modern-day international relations.

Lesson Plan 3: Civil Rights and Nixon’s Presidency

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand how Nixon’s presidency impacted civil rights in America
  • Develop critical thinking skills by considering the ongoing struggle for racial equality in America.


Begin the lesson by discussing the broader context of the civil rights movement in America, including the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education.

Main Teaching Points:

1. Desegregation: Discuss Nixon’s push for desegregation in Southern schools, including his use of busing as a tool for integration.

2. Affirmative Action: Explain how Nixon’s administration created affirmative action programs to promote diversity and equal opportunity in education and employment.

3. Challenges and Criticisms: Discuss the challenges and criticisms faced by Nixon’s administration in their efforts to promote civil rights.

Key Questions:

  • What were some of the approaches used by Nixon’s administration to promote civil rights?
  • How practical were these approaches in achieving their goals?
  • What are the ongoing challenges faced by minority communities in America today?

Adaptations for Learners:

For students who need additional support, please provide them with simplified explanations of the legal and political concepts involved. For more advanced students, please encourage them to think critically about the broader implications of affirmative action policies.


Have students reflect on the ongoing struggle for racial equality in America. Ask them to consider what role they might play in promoting social justice and civil rights in their communities.

Essay Questions about Richard Nixon

Here are ten essay questions that can help students explore different aspects of Richard Nixon’s presidency:

1. Discuss the impact of the Watergate scandal on American politics.

2. How did Nixon’s foreign policy reflect his approach to diplomacy?

3. In what ways did Nixon’s upbringing and personal background influence his political career?

4. To what extent did Nixon’s handling of the Vietnam War contribute to his downfall?

5. What was the significance of Nixon’s visit to China in 1972?

6. How did Nixon’s policies impact civil rights in America?

7. What was Nixon’s relationship with the media, and how did it affect his presidency?

8. Discuss the role of presidential power in Nixon’s administration.

9. How did Nixon’s presidency shape American politics in the following decades?

10. To what extent is Nixon remembered as a polarizing figure in American history, and why?

Teaching about Richard Nixon can be an engaging and thought-provoking way to introduce students to modern United States politics. If you can provide a well-rounded discussion which explores the issues of right and wrong, leadership, and accountability, then your students will walk away understanding so much more than just one man’s story.

Knowing the details behind his complex character creates an excellent foundation for them to build on as they continue learning more about other historically influential figures. Additionally, by examining how the media’s representation of the scandal affected public opinion at the Reagan White House is a perfect illustration of how important it can be to represent controversial topics fairly and accurately.

We hope that this article has helped guide you through discussion points surrounding Richard Nixon. But if you want more information, feel free to come and check out our other articles!

What are the key topics to cover when teaching about Richard Nixon?

When teaching about Richard Nixon, it’s important to cover key events such as the Watergate scandal, his foreign policy initiatives, his presidency during the Vietnam War, and his resignation from office. Additionally, you may want to explore his early political career and the impact he had on American politics.

How do I make Richard Nixon interesting for my students?

One way to make Richard Nixon interesting for your students is to approach the subject matter from various perspectives. You might consider incorporating primary source documents, such as Nixon’s speeches or interviews, and having students analyze his language and tone. You can also use multimedia materials, such as videos or podcasts, to help bring the subject matter to life.

How should I address the Watergate scandal when teaching about Richard Nixon?

The Watergate scandal is a crucial part of Richard Nixon’s legacy, and you could approach the topic in a few different ways. One option is to discuss the events that led up to the scandal and how Nixon and his administration responded to accusations of wrongdoing. You could also focus on Watergate’s impact on American politics and public trust in government.

Are there any common misconceptions about Richard Nixon that I should be aware of?

One common misconception about Richard Nixon is that he was solely responsible for the Watergate scandal. While Nixon was certainly involved in the cover-up, it’s essential to understand that many other people and factors were at play. Additionally, some people might view Nixon as a “villain” or a “crook,” but it’s essential to present a balanced view of his presidency and highlight some of the positive things he accomplished.

How can I connect Richard Nixon’s presidency to current events and issues?

There are many ways to connect Richard Nixon’s presidency to current events and issues. For example, you might discuss how Nixon’s foreign policy initiatives have influenced U.S. relations with other countries today, or how the Watergate scandal has impacted public trust in government. Additionally, you could explore how Nixon’s presidency set the stage for some of the political and social issues that are still relevant today, such as civil rights and environmentalism.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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