Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Berlin: A Tale of Two Speeches

U.S. History

K20 Center, Aimee Myers, Kim Pennington | Published: July 5th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 10th, 11th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course U.S. History, World History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 90 minutes
  • Duration More 1-2 class period(s)


In this U.S. history lesson, students analyze the Berlin Wall speeches of President John F. Kennedy (1963) and President Ronald Reagan (1987) in both video and text formats. A variety of assessment options are provided for students to demonstrate their understanding.

Essential Question(s)

How do events change history over time?



Students explore their prior knowledge about the Berlin Wall and merge that knowledge with new knowledge through visuals.


Student view clips of famous Berlin Wall speeches and complete a speech analysis.


Students source text versions of the speeches and then do a close reading to facilitate a deeper understanding of the speeches.


Students create historical sequencing activities online or with index cards and a textbook.


Students show their historical understanding of the Berlin Wall using one of three options for evaluation.


  • Handout 1- Speech Analysis (attached)

  • Handout 2- Kennedy (attached)

  • Handout 3- Reagan (attached)

  • Template- Two Voice Poem (attached)

  • Berlin Secondary Source Materials (attached; optional)


Students will first engage with the Berlin Wall through their own knowledge, then share with a peer, and then fill in any gaps with photo essays. Ask students to write the words "Berlin Wall" in the center of a sheet of notebook paper. Have students make three circles around the word, leaving enough room between circles to write notes and ideas.

Walk students through the following steps for the Inside Out strategy:

  • Give students a minute or two to jot down everything they already know about the Berlin Wall along the innermost circle.

  • Next, have students share their knowledge of the Berlin Wall with a partner. Students should write any new knowledge they learn from their partners in the second circle ring.

  • Using Time Magazine's photo essay, "The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall," allow students to gather more information through the photos and captions. Students can use personal devices to view the photo essay, or it can be displayed for the whole class with a projector. New information learned from the photo essay should be added into the last circle.

  • Once the activity is completed, students can share circle information about the Berlin Wall with the class if desired.


Students will consider two different presidents delivering two different Cold War foreign policy speeches, both given at the Berlin Wall at different points during the Cold War. Distribute the handout titled "Speech Analysis." Inform students that these are the aspects they will be analyzing as they view the speeches. View the following video clips of these speeches:

As students watch the speeches, ask them to write their own notes on the "Speech Analysis" handout, completing the handout for each speech.

After watching the videos, ask students to discuss their observations with an elbow partner/small group. How did the speeches look/sound alike? Different? Who are the presidents? What do they know about these two presidents?


Sourcing asks students to consider who wrote a document and in what context or historical era the document was written. When students review what was happening at the time the document was written, they can more fully appreciate its perspective.

To ensure students have a full understanding of the speeches, review the attached speech excerpts in text form. Conduct a conversation in small groups (or as a class) explaining what sourcing is, its importance to historians, and that it requires that students think about the following aspects of the text:

  • Who wrote these speeches?

  • What was Kennedy's message in his speech? What was Reagan's message?

  • When was each speech delivered?

  • Where were the speeches delivered? What impact would that have made?

  • Why were these speeches delivered? What was Kennedy's purpose? What was Reagan's purpose?

Close Reading: Ask students to do a close reading of each speech. Close reading is a tool historians use to analyze primary/secondary sources. Close reading requires a slow and thoughtful read-through of the document, taking notes and asking questions about what is said and what is unsaid in the document. To facilitate this, use an analytical reading strategy such as Thinking Notes.


The goal in the extension activity is for students to evaluate secondary source materials, connect them to one another in an historical context, and then put these materials (photos, videos, text, etc.) in chronological order and be ready to demonstrate how they relate to one another. To do this, four activity options are listed below that are tailored to varying degrees of technology access in the classroom.

Online Option 1: Visit Docs Teach in the National Archives and on the Create page, begin a new activity with the "Finding a Sequence" tool. Using the construction of the Berlin Wall as the beginning event and the fall of the Berlin Wall as the concluding event, have students select documents from the archives that highlight main events in the Cold War from 1963 to 1989.This online activity requires students to search for, select, and organize primary source documents to connect two (or more events), giving them practice in understanding and organizing chronology and context. The site is for teachers, but students may access the same information and create their own activities. Note: Registration is free but required to access the site.

Online Option 2: The teacher can use this same site, Docs Teach, and create one or two "Finding the Sequence" activities for the entire class to complete. In this alternative, the primary sources are chosen by the teacher but the students must create the proper sequence and explain their reasoning.

Face-to-Face Option 1: Using their textbooks or other secondary source materials, students select 5-8 key events/graphs/pictures from their resources that put the two speeches in historical and sequential context. Ask them to put each Cold War event on a note card, naming the event on one side and then providing the event's date (or time span) and, on the other side, their reasoning for including the event in their timeline.

Face-to-Face Option 2: Ask students to create a web organizer on poster paper of key Cold War events surrounding each speech in order to understand chronology and context.


The teacher may choose one of the following three formats as an assessment of students’ learning in this lesson:

  • Students may complete other student-created or teacher-created "Finding a Sequence" activities online. If the activity was done with note cards, ask groups to switch note card sets and put them in chronological order without looking at the dates on the back of each card. You may also ask the class or a small group to compile all of their index cards and as a whole class/small class and work together to put them in chronological or thematic order.

  • Ask students to use what they have learned from the text and analyses of these two presidential speeches to write a brief foreign policy speech on one current foreign policy topic. Have students pay attention to context as they write their speeches. Where would they give the speech? Who would be the student's audience and what kind of background and point of reference would that audience have on that topic? How would these factors affect the way the speech is worded and delivered? Ask students to deliver their speeches if time allows.

  • Students may complete a Two-Voice Poem (template attached) in the voices of JFK and Reagan or in the voices of two audience members (Berliners) for each speech.