U.S. Foreign Policy: Introduction

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to explain the basic principles of U.S. foreign policy.
  • Students will be able to discuss the role of the President, Congress, and the National Security Council in shaping U.S. foreign policy.
Two 45-minute periods
Grade Level
High School

Class One

  1. (5 Minutes) Think-Pair-Share: Have students turn to neighbors and discuss examples of U.S. Foreign Policy issues that they have seen in the news.
  2. (25 Minutes) Complete: Parts 1+2 of the guided reading handout.
    • Watch: What is Foreign Policy? (2:26)
    • Read: What Roles Do Congress + the Executive Branch Play in U.S. Foreign Policy?
  3. (10 Minutes) Worksheet: Students will complete the attached U.S. Foreign Policy: Congress and the Executive Branch -Worksheet with a partner
  4. (5 Minutes) Wrap Up/ Introduce Homework
    • Ask: What is Foreign Policy? How are foreign and domestic policy related? What are the benefits/drawbacks of the division of power between the executive branch  and the legislative branch? 
    • Intro HW: Students will look at how foreign policy is made by looking at the National Security Council as well as what influences policymaking. They will do mini-simulation during the next class where they will consider the options that the U.S. NSC had in response to 9/11.


  1. Students read and complete Part 3+4 of the guided reading handout:
    • Part 3: What is the National Security Council?
    • Part 4: How Do Forces Outside Government Influence Policymaking?

Class Two

  1. (5 Minutes) Debrief/ Discuss HW: What is the NSC? Why was it created? What forces influence policymaking? What is the relationship between domestic and foreign policy?
  2. (15 Minutes) Complete: Part 5+6 of the guided reading handout.
    • Part 5 - What is the Relationship Between Domestic and Foreign Policy?
    • Part 6 - How Do Treaties Get Made? (4:52 video)
  3. (15 Minutes) Take A Stand: CFR Education Mini-Simulation: U.S. Response to 9/11
    • Read: “Overview”, “The Situation”, and “Policy Options” as a class.
    • Take a Stand: Assign three corners of room for the policy options. Students will move to the corner they agree with.
      • Option #1: Do not take military action
      • Option # 2: Implement targeted military action against al-Qaeda leadership responsible for 9/11
      • Option #3: Launch a war against al-Qaeda and those who support the group in and outside Afghanistan.
    • Give students a couple minutes to discuss why they picked that option in their corner groups (Each corner supports a different policy). Share and discuss as a class. 
    • Consider using some of these questions: Why might the U.S. not want to take military action? What are some of the problems that may be associated with taking direct military action against al-Qaeda? Why might launching a war against al-Qaeda and those who support it be problematic?
  4. (10 Minutes) Debrief: What did the simulation show students about foreign policy? Why is foreign policy so important to what goes on INSIDE a country? Why might making foreign policy decisions be so difficult?


Choose one of the policy options from the mini-simulation and support your choice with at least three arguments.



an agreement undertaken between two entities, generally countries.


an unmanned, remotely piloted vehicle generally used for reconnaissance and combat. Also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

intellectual property

original works created by an author, technological inventions, business marks and designs, and other “creations of the mind” that are protected by copyright, patent, and trademark laws.

Kyoto Protocol

a 1997 agreement reached in Kyoto, Japan, that amended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


undertaken among three or more entities, usually countries. The term frequently describes organizations such as the United Nations (UN).

Osama bin Laden

the Saudi-born cofounder and longtime leader of al-Qaeda, killed in Pakistan in 2011 during a raid by U.S. Navy Sea, Air, and Land Teams (SEALs). Bin Laden was the driving force behind the September 11, 2001, attacks, among others.


disease outbreak that has reached at least several countries, affecting a large group of people.

Paris Agreement

a nearly universal international agreement reached in 2015 that requires signatories to offer concrete emissions reductions pledges, establishes rules to monitor their performance against those pledges, and sets up a process to review and increase the ambition of the pledges over time. The Paris Agreement’s goal is to limit global warming by 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures.


a tool of statecraft, frequently involving economic measures such as asset freezes and trade restrictions, used to exact a certain behavior or outcome from another party.