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Historical Era

Thinking Skill


Watching What?

Launch Lesson

National Archives Education Team
Focusing on Details: White out/Black out
Historical Era:
Contemporary United States (1968 to the present)
Primary Historical Thinking Skill:
Historical Analysis & Interpretation
blooms taxonomy
Bloom's Taxonomy:

Use to create an Activity

Watching What?


Students will hypothesize what the president and cabinet members were watching on television by analyzing facial expressions, and body language, and the physical environment. Students will learn that President Ronald Reagan and his staff were watching a televised replay of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion in January of 1986.

Author’s Notes


This activity focuses on photograph analysis and can be used in a variety of places, including a unit on the executive power or a unit on the Reagan presidency. For grades 6-12.


Present the activity to the entire class. Click to start the activity, noticing that initially only one individual will be revealed (President Reagan - don’t share this information with students yet!). Ask students to closely examine his face and expression and other body language. Ask students to identify this person and hypothesize what he is doing.

Click the magnifying glass to reveal the entire photograph. Use the following questions to model careful document analysis:

  • List the people in the photograph. What do you think they are thinking as they watch the television?
  • What questions does this photograph raise in your mind?
  • Based on what you have observed, where do you think they are?
  • What events could they possibly be watching based on your knowledge of events occurring during Reagan’s presidency between January 1981 until January 1988?

After students have analyzed the photograph, click on the Details button to reveal more information and explain that the President and his staff were watching a televised replay of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.

View President Reagan’s Address to the Nation on the Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger or provide students with the transcript of the speech, provided by The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, for more information about the president’s response.

For more information about the featured document, follow the link below.

Documents in this activity: