Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Berlin Airlift
Janell Sowers
US History 1945-Present
Time Frame:
One 90 Minute Block period with follow-up the next period – maybe an additional 30 minutes.
Berlin Airlift
Berlin Airlift
Berlin Airlift

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

After a short PowerPoint introducing the Berlin Blockade, the students will participate in a cooperative learning activity emphasizing the study of primary sources to increase understanding of the decision President Truman made to continue the Berlin Airlift and what the airlift required to be successful.


Students will have recently learned of the idea of containment theory and this activity will help them see a real example of that theory in action.  Also, students will learn to critically study primary sources and to encourage their own intellectual curiosity about a topic.

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

  • SS.CM.SA.01 Define, research, and explain an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon and its significance to society. (Oregon Standard)
  • SS.CM.SA.02 Gather, analyze, use, and document information from various sources, distinguishing facts, opinions, inferences, biases, stereotypes, and persuasive appeals. (Oregon Standard)
  • SS.CM.HS.05.19 Understand the division of Europe after WWII leading to the Cold War. (Oregon Standard)
  • NSS-USH.5-12.9 Understands how the Cold War and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam influenced domestic and international politics.  (National Standard)

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).

3. (A) evaluates the foreign policies of Truman and Eisenhower during the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the United Nations, containment, NATO, Truman Doctrine, Berlin Blockade, Korean War, Iron Curtain, U-2 incident).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot by Margot Theis Raven.

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

Technology Required:

PowerPoint and Projector (I also use a SmartBoard so I can write on the screen – but not required.)

Full description of activity or assignment.

Students will view PowerPoint on the Berlin Blockade.  Berlin (Powerpoint)

The impact of this event on the people of Berlin as well as the ramifications for President Truman should be emphasized.  On Slide 5, students will brainstorm as a class possible actions that the United States should take at this time.  No answer should be rejected.  Might be necessary to help students so that at least the 3 following actions are on the board – leave, supply Berlin, and attack.  Discuss the pros/cons of those three actions as well as any others that the students seem to support heavily.  With the last slide, present the idea of an airlift as America’s choice. 

Pass out the Primary Sources Chart and using the map as the first document, discuss with the students what can be learned from it.  What do they see?  Also, what can they infer?  What sorts of educational guesses can they make? 

Berlin Chart (Word)

Explain that students will now be examining other types of primary sources about the airlift to learn as much as they possibly can about this event. 

Students move into small groups (3 is always ideal) and examine the Collections.   Probably best to time this so each group gets approximately 15 minutes with a set of documents before rotating.  Move through the groups so each collection is being properly studied and understood.  Better for students to fully study a couple of documents in a collection than to briefly look at all of them.

Students then individually respond to the two questions after the chart. 

Engage students in a class discussion about what they learned and what they still want to know.

Assign homework – see assessment below.


Next class, students will discuss their homework.  Also, they will listen to the story of Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot to see another side of this story.

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

Students will choose 2 questions from their list that they still want to know.  They will do the research to find those answers for homework.  The answers should be typed and include their source for their information.  NO WIKIPEDIA!!  These responses will be discussed at the beginning of the next class.  Students will turn in both their answers and their Primary Source Charts for grading.  Grading will be based on completion and effort in examining the resources.