Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Berlin Airlift
John F. Gardner
World History and Geography II
Time Frame:
Two forty-five minute class periods
Berlin Airlift

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

Note:  I teach world history to high school students who have severe emotional disabilities. Most of my students are either unable or unwilling to do extensive class work independently.  In order for these students to learn the material required by Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL), most work must be done together in class.  This lesson can easily be tailored for regular education classes.

Students will read a brief passage from the text concerning the Berlin Airlift. Students will watch excerpts from documentaries on the airlift and on Gail Halvorsen. After viewing the dvd/videos, the class will discuss and complete a study guide as a group project.


The Berlin Airlift is a significant event in the Cold War.  Knowledge of the airlift is considered essential according to the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL). Also, Gail Halvorsen’s story is so inspiring, students will readily retain facts about the airlift.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Virginia Standard WHII.12 The student will demonstrate knowledge of events and outcomes of the Cold War

Benchmark:  SSWHII 12.a. Explain key events of the Cold War and the collapse of communism

 The student will explain key events of the Cold War, including the competition between the American and Soviet economic and political systems and the causes and collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

Indicator: SS WHII 12.a.3  Analyze events of the Cold War

 Analyze significant characteristics of the Cold War (1948-1989) including Berlin, (Berlin Airlift) and the significance of the Berlin Wall

Missouri Standards

2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions


Kansas Standards

Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

1. (K) explains why the United States emerged as a superpower as the result of World War II.

2.(A) analyzes the origins of the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the Soviet Bloc, Mao’s victory in China, Marshall Plan, Berlin Blockade, Iron Curtain).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:


Spielvogel, Jackson J. Glencoe World History. New York: McGraw Hill Glencoe, 2005.

pages 850-851.

Halvoren, Gail.  The Berlin Candy Bomber. Bountiful, Utah: Horizon Publishersm& Distributors. Inc. 1997.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

DVD/Video recordings 

            Note:  These recordings are actual archive movies from the time period.

CNN Perspectives Presents Cold War: Berlin. Vol. 2. Turner Original Productions. 1998.

Berlin Airlift: First Battle of the Cold War. History Channel video.

Photograph of Gail Halvorsen circa 1948


Photograph of Gail Halvorsen  circa 2008


Technology Required:

DVD or VCR to play excerpts of the videos

Full description of activity or assignment.

The class will begin the lesson by reading four paragraphs in the textbook relating to the Berlin Airlift and analyzing the National Geographic map accompanying the textbook passage. The teacher would provide a short introduction to the dvd/video on Berlin. As the class watches the dvd/video, it will complete the attached study guide as a group exercise.


On the second day, the class will watch the History Channel’s excerpt on Col. Gail Halvorsen, the Berlin Candy Bomber. The teacher will read passages from The Berlin Candy Bomber  Because Gail’s Halvorsen’s act of kindness towards the children of Berlin is so interesting and inspiring, students will remember the facts of the Berlin Airlift and its significance in the Cold War.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

I teach high school students who have severe emotional disabilities.  Many of them are either unable or unwilling to do much written work independently. Written tests are often anxiety provoking. Therefore, much of my assessment is oral.  The day following the activity I would ask questions relating to the study guide completed together in class. One analytical question I would ask my class is to have members speculate as to how world history may have changed had the Berlin Airlift had neither occurred or had been unsuccessful. What may have happened if the Soviets had actively prevented the airlift.

I would also have the students write an essay discussing whether or not Gail Halvorsen should be considered a hero. Teachers of regular education classes could determine other appropriate means of assessing their students’ mastery of the Berlin Airlift.


Berlin Airlift Study Guide



What was the Berlin Airlift?




When did the Berlin Airlift begin?




Why did the Berlin Airlift necessary?




What countries were responsible for helping the citizens of West Berlin?



What things were airlifted from West Germany to West Berlin?



What were the nicknames that the American pilots and British pilots gave to the airlift?



How many flights landed in West Berlin during the airlift?



How many tons of supplies were flown to West Berlin?




Who was the Berlin Candy Bomber?





What role did he play in the Cold War?