Teaching for Historical Understanding (TfHU): Developing a Discipline-based Curriculum Model at Tanjong Katong Secondary School, pp. 8 of 17

Lesson Topic: Chapter 2: Stalin’s rise to power

Generative Topic

Big Idea

Rise of authoritarian governments in Europe and East Asia

How did 20th century authoritarian governments rise in Europe and Asia during the inter-war years?

Context for Big Idea

Students need to understand the reasons for the rise of authoritarian rule in Europe and Asia during the inter-war years. Knowing some of these reasons will allow students to appreciate the outbreak of World War 2 which was partly caused by the unchecked ambitions of the authoritarian states. Students will then understand that attempts at world peace are challenged by the interests and ambitions of individuals such as Stalin in Communist Russia. This will help students to understand how totalitarian regimes have brought about benefits and great costs for others.

Understanding goals

Students should be able to understand

  1. Changes in history are driven by multiple causes: agency and motivation alone may not be sufficient to explain Stalin’s rise to power. 
  2. Factors – outside the actions of the main historical players – play a part in influencing events and developments in history.

What is worth understanding about the topic of Rise of Stalin?


  1. Stalin was a prominent figure in 20th century history. As leader of the Soviet Union during the inter-war and post-war periods, he was a key player in world politics and was responsible for developing USSR into a superpower rivalling the US in the post-WW2 years.
  2. Understanding the reasons and factors that supported his rise to power may provide students with a better idea of how Stalin was able to defeat his rivals and become the supreme Soviet leader. 
  3. Understanding the rise of Stalin may also shed light on personality traits of 20th century authoritarian leaders, and the ways and means that they used to take advantage of their circumstances and tighten their grip on power. 

Questions for students to think about.

  1. What do you know about authoritarian leaders and the way their governments work?
  2. What are some personality traits of authoritarian leaders, and how did such leaders gain absolute power?
  3. What accounted for Stalin’s rise to power?
  4. How far was Stalin’s success in gaining control of the Soviet Union due to his personality and cunning nature? 
  5. Was Stalin simply a ruthless man or was he a politically astute leader?   
  6. Was Stalin aided by circumstances at that time and sheer luck or did he engineer his own rise to power?


Students should be able to

  1. identify the factors responsible for the rise of Stalin.
  2. classify the causes/factors responsible for Stalin’s rise to power.
  3. reason and justify the category they had selected as the most significant in causing Stalin’s rise to power as compared to other categories.
  4. demonstrate understanding that there was more than one reason accountable/ responsible for Stalin’s rise to power. Multiple factors were involved in allowing for Stalin’s rise to power.

Making Connections

Studying the impact of the rise of new regimes will help students to appreciate the key forces and developments that challenged world peace in the years between the wars.  Key events such as Stalin’s rise to power and establishment of authoritarian rule in Soviet Union will allow students to understand the reason why Soviet Union was involved in WW2.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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