September 11: Lessons and Resources for Classroom Teachers
What are teachers doing to help their students understand the attacks that took place September 11, 2001? EducationWorld has culled from the Web and listservs a list of possible resources.
For millions of Americans, December 7, 1941, is inextricably linked to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. November 22, 1963, is instantly synonymous with John F. Kennedy's assassination. Now, Americans have one more dark day indelibly etched in our memories: September 11, 2001.
How can teachers help students put the events of September 11 into a meaningful context? Below, EducationWorld has gathered background information, lessons and ideas that can help.
Don't miss the EducationWorld article Helping Children Cope: Teacher Resources for Talking About Tragedy.
HOW WILL YOU RECOGNIZE THE ANNIVERSARY?
Schools will recognize the September 11 anniversary in many different ways. Some will honor the memory of those who died. Other teachers will engage students with lessons that challenge them to think or that help them put the events of September 11 in perspective.
Education World presents Remembering September 11, which includes five new lessons to help teachers reflect upon the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States. Those lessons keep alive the spirit of patriotism and tolerance stimulated by the events of 9/11. We also offer below a long list of online lessons and other resources to help make classroom observances more meaningful and inspiring.
Two more resources worth noting:
- About Our Kids [archived copy] offers resources such as a school manual with practical steps for recognizing the anniversary of September 11.
- The National Association of School Psychologists offers Remembering September 11 [archived copy], which includes "One Year Later" tip sheets for parents, adolescents, and teachers plus a list of do's and don'ts for memorial activities at school.
SEPTEMBER 11 LESSON PLANS
- PBS: America Responds
PBS offers a variety of lesson plans for educators. Those plans include A World At Peace (for grades 2-6), Tolerance in Times of Trial (grades 6-12), Emergency Preparedness (grades 6-8), Taming Terrorism (grades 9-12), and more.
- Beyond Blame: Reacting to the Terrorist Attack
The Education Development Center created this 25-page curriculum for middle and high school students in response to concern that the terrorist attacks created a hostile climate for Arab Americans -- much like the climate Japanese Americans faced following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
- Who Are the Arab Americans?
Activity ideas designed to challenge student misperceptions about people of Arab descent -- from the Web site Teaching Tolerance.
- Dear Teacher: Letters on the Eve of the Japanese American Imprisonment
A classroom lesson focused on letters sent by Japanese American middle school students to their teacher in the days following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
- Reflecting on September 11
The Constitutional Rights Foundation has assembled a series of online lessons designed to help young people deal with terrorism, reactions to tragedy, information and disinformation, civil liberties, Islamic issues, and international law.
- Teaching September 11
This lesson from PBS's Online News Hour provides classroom discussion resources for talking about the recent controversy over the 9/11 resources published for teachers on the NEA's Web site.
- Helping America Cope
This updated guide contains activities to help children cope with the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The guide is designed for use with children six to 12 years of age; however, many of the activities have effectively been adapted for use with older children.
- Dealing With Tragedy in the Classroom
WNET in New York City offers these activities to help students cope with loss and learn how to talk to on another about their feelings.
The New York Times presents this page, which provides lists of all those killed on September 11 and a National Book of Remembrance in which Americans can write their reflections about the events of September 11.
- America Responds to Terrorism
The Constitutional Rights Foundation has prepared online lessons, including September 11 -- How Did You Feel?, Fact Finders -- The Media During Times of Crisis, and Analyzing Rumors and Myths.
- Understanding Stereotypes
This lesson from Discovery.com teaches the ideas that assumptions can lead to stereotypes and unfair judgments about individuals and groups.
- Lesson Plans About Terrorism
This list from links to lessons comes from KidsClick.org.
- Chain of Hope
This news article from the St. Petersburg Times tells of a classroom lesson in which students created a "chain of hope." Students wrote personal messages on strips of red, white, and blue paper. They planned to send the chain to the New York City Fire Department.
- Aaron Shepherd's Reader's Theater: The War Prayer
"The War Prayer," a short story by Mark Twain, is presented in reader's theater format on this page from Aaron Shepherd's Web site. The script is appropriate for middle and high school students.
- Another Day That Will Live in Infamy
In this lesson from the New York Times Learning Network, students are encouraged to share, through discussion and writing, their feelings about September 11, 2001.
- Hooray for Heroes
This lesson challenges students to define what a hero is and to select a hero to spotlight.
- Culture Matters Workbook
Teachers and students in grades eight and up can benefit from this cross-cultural training workbook. It was developed by the Peace Corps to help new volunteers acquire the knowledge and skills to work successfully and respectfully in other cultures.
- An American Tragedy: September 11, 2001
TeacherVision.com's resources include a timeline of the events of September 11, a printable map of the four hijacked airliners' routes, news and informational articles, lesson plans, and more.
- One Man's Freedom Fighter Is Another Man's Terrorist
In this WebQuest, students determine the extent of the threat to the United States from terrorism, both domestically and internationally.
- Preventing Terrorism on the Home Front
In this lesson plan from CNN, students examine a report by the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century. They analyze the recommendations of the bipartisan commission and defend or oppose the commission's recommendations.
- Terror on Trial
In this lesson plan from the New York Time Learning Network, students examine the motivations, goals, and actions of terrorist countries.
- What About You?
Teachers might use this short story about aliens to start a classroom discussion about prejudice.
- MidLink Magazine's Resources for Helping Students Deal with Tragedy: Lessons and Curriculum
This page offers links to a variety of lessons.
- Pencil Flag
Have students create their own "remember" pencil flags.
- USA Activities
ABCteach offers activities and other resources. Included: September 11th Bookmarks.
- Teaching 9/11/01: Lesson Plans and Syllabi
Links to lesson plans for all grades, compiled by the Clarke Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Contemporary Issues (Dickinson College).
- Global Connections: The Middle East
PBS offers a rich collection of background articles, lesson plans, timeline, and other resources, which are indexed to help educators quickly find topics and materials that are most relevant for their classroom needs.
- United We Stand
Publisher Prentice Hall offers classroom lessons on understanding prejudice and students' responses to the terrorist attacks. (Click on Classroom Lessons and Resources at the bottom of the page.
ADDITIONAL SEPTEMBER 11 RESOURCES
- In the Mix: The New Normal
Resources to accompany a three-episode series of In the Mix, a weekly show for teens.
- Muslim Students in the Classroom
This teacher-created resource explains what Muslims believe and what to expect from the Muslim student.
- Why Is My Loyalty Questioned?
In this student-created Web site, parallels are drawn between how the Japanese were discriminated against in the days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and how the same thing happened to many Arab Americans in the aftermath of September 11.
- America Responds
Resources from PBS.
- Children of September 11
This children's page of the Families of September 11 Web site includes links to resources for teachers.
- September 11 Through Children's Eyes
A student-created Web site. The students visited New York P.S. 89, which is located a block from Ground Zero. The site shares their interviews with students and teachers and more.
- A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam, Muslims, and the Koran
This Islamic guide for non-Muslims is rich in information, references, bibliography, and illustrations.
- Life After 9/11
Special reports from the PBS Online News Hour with Jim Lehrer.
- Scholars of Islam and the Tragedy of September 11
This Web page is produced through the cooperation of more than 50 professors of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies.
- Global Connections
This resource from Boston's PBS station, WGBH, offers a timeline of Middle Eastern history and resources for responding to six big-issue questions.
- America Rebuilds
A resource from PBS that documents the cleanup of the WTC site and planning for the future.
- Why the Towers Fell
This companion Web site to a NOVA (PBS) episode follows a team of forensic engineers during their in-depth investigation of the precise causes of the Twin Towers' collapse.
- Heroes of Ground Zero
This is the companion Web site to a WNET program that presents a candid account of the firefighters in two New York City firehouses as they struggle to cope in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Sept. 8, 2011 | Updated
Since this post first went up, more teachers have written – and, the case of a former colleague, called – in to share more ideas. They have been added below. We will add more again soon. Please feel free to share more ideas and thoughts.
As teachers are making plans for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, many are concerned about how to make it meaningful because, they note, today’s K-12 and college students very likely have only dim memories, if that, of the events of that day.
But today’s students did not experience other crucibles in our nation’s and world’s history: slavery, the Holocaust, the Vietnam War. Teachers have always found ways to use engage students in events and difficult issues like these — with the historical record, with representations in literature, film and the arts and with writing and creative projects — to foster their growth into informed, thinking global citizens.
And if you are still feeling reluctant, consider the comment from a student named Rachel on a guest post about why 9/11 should be taught:
I am a student, and to be honest I really thought history was boring because all of the dates you had to remember for tests. But now by reading this Learning Network article I started to think about how you really need to deeply understand the history of something. And by understanding it you will realize that it is essential to human life.
I think 9/11 should be taught in schools across the world, and we shouldn’t neglect it, we should understand and remember the event.
In July, we put a call out to teachers, asking them to share teaching approaches that help students forge personal and intellectual connections to 9/11.
Here are the suggestions they shared. (Please note that they have been lightly copy edited and links have been added. Some organizations posted curriculum collections and resources, too, and we’ll include those in a resource collection on Friday.) They are grouped into four categories: Interdisciplinary Ideas, Ideas Using Writing, Literature, Theater and Fine Arts, Ideas Using History and Humanities and Ideas for Younger Students.
Thank you to all the teachers who shared their ideas, and to those who got the word out — especially the National Writing Project, who were extremely helpful in asking their members to contribute ideas.
We hope you will use The Learning Network as a community to keep the sharing going. Please post more suggestions and experiences. We will update this collection as more ideas come in. And thank you for making us part of your plans to teach about 9/11.
As students enter my classroom each year, I have a list of names of those who died up on the screen. It’s in four columns in alpha order, and the font is tiny. I start by pointing out that only A-D is shown, and that makes an early impact about the sheer number of lives lost.
Then, to introduce the literary elements of mood and tone, I show three very different newspaper front pages from 9/12, including The New York Times. I have them vote on which they would select, and we have a lively discussion about why–the headlines, the image(s) used, which seem more credible, how some seem less credible but better communicate the rage that readers may feel, etc.
To further illustrate the theme of mood/tone in the literature of 9/11, we read Dan Barry’s article “For One 9/11 Family, Five Waves of Grief.” Last year, I had them answer a few written questions after reading, then we shared responses as a group. Some questions were about Barry’s writing style and techniques; others are more personal. (For example, the Petrocellis received calls about parts of their son being found, and I explain that many families received similar calls about wallets and other personal items being recovered. Students write about whether they feel such a find would be a blessing after losing a loved one, or whether they’d rather have closure without the call.)
We’re in Oregon, so my students don’t know people personally affected by 9/11, but there are always some tears as the discussion connects them to their own losses. We don’t have a curriculum for 9/11–this is something I do because I feel it’s important. Each year, I get thanks from kids who say that no one else mentioned 9/11 all day.
I blogged last year about how my lesson has changed as students increasingly don’t remember the day. You may read about it here.
— Five Septembers
While I have not finalized my plans for a 9/11 curriculum, I have decided to use sections of “A Nation Challenged” and “Portraits of Grief” in my curriculum. In the immediate years following 9/11 as I attempted to cope with loss, “Portraits of Grief” provided some comfort. These glimpses into the lives of souls lost provided some peace and hope. They also put a face on an immeasurable tragedy. The students who will enter my classes in September will know about the tragedy of 9/11 at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville but they may not know the faces, the souls, lost in that tragedy. It is my hope to share “Portraits of Grief” with them and to acquaint them with those faces and use their portraits as a springboard for writing.
— Joan Marie Bellotti, High Tech High School, North Bergen, N.J.
I had my high school students create 9/11 anniversary videos, by allowing them the creativity, to tell a story that was personal to them in some way. You may see their videos here.
— Don Goble
Last year I began to incorporate a service project along with my writing prompt I’ve used to discuss 9/11 with my high school English classes. Many of these kids do not remember the events or the aftermath of the attack. The discussions and service project coordinates with a year-long “tolerance” theme. I have a downloadable lesson for teachers (free) and also will incorporate parts of Scholastic’s lesson.
— Tracee Orman
I am the principal of Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, NY. We plan on remembering and teaching about 9/11. On Sept. 9, the school’s opening Mass for the school year will be in memory of the victims of 9/11. We have invited Binghamton firefighters, who assisted in recovery efforts, to speak about their impressions and experiences at Ground Zero. We have also invited veterans of the Iraq and Afganistan wars, who have connections with the school, to discuss their roles in these conflicts. Our theology classes will focus on an interfaith discussion of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Our students have grown up with the consequences of 9/11. To have an understanding of the profound issues facing the nation and the globe today they must be familiar with the events of 9/11. The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is a critical teaching moment.
— Richard Bucci
An extremely powerful and educational way to learn about 9-11 is through an organization like September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. They are family members of 9/11 victims who have figure out how to turn their grief into steps towards peace, justice, and reconciliation. This organization recently collaborated with an educational magazine, The Change Agent (free online) to produce materials for the classroom. Through storytelling, reflective essays, poems, and background facts, students can use The Change Agent to learn about the history of 9/11, wrestle with important legal and moral questions related to security and liberty, and examine the “rule of law” in the context of terrorism.
— Cynthia Peters
A student of mine put together a 9/11 tribute video on YouTube that other students, teachers & parents might be interested in viewing as we remember the tragic events of ten years ago: “United We Will Stand: a Tribute to the Fallen of September 11th, 2001.″
— Brett Malas
As a seventh grade science teacher I wanted to look at this tragedy from a different point of view. I created a power point first explaining the meaning of the day and what exactly happened, but then I continue with a more scientific explanation. With pictures and diagrams I plan to discuss what caused the towers to collapse and the structural significance. We will look at the history of the towers, how they were built and how eventually they were brought down, therefore allowing for an emotional and educational impact. I plan to share my power point with my entire department.
— Susan Russo
This is the second year of a blogging community among four schools, and soon to be two international schools. We collaborated and decided to do something as a community to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. We are compiling a message of hope, peace and remembrance written by our students. From their written words we are adding their voice and a visual element to connect all of the schools together for a final product.
Most of our students were so young when this happened, we want to impress upon them the changes in society, on many levels, that have been triggered by the events of 9/11. Showing relevance to their daily lives and passions will help them understand the impact caused by the tragic events.
We collaborated using Twitter, Google Docs, and Skype. I will share a link after the final project is done. We plan to share this with the schools as well as the world.
— Shaelynn Farnsworth, Erin Olson, Shawn Hyer, Bev Berns, Todd Vogts
Ideas Using Writing, Literature, Theater and Fine Arts
I use my own blog post from the day (or pre-blog, I guess) as we were in our fourth day of school at one of the two high schools located directly south of the South Tower. I also had my students write immediately after the first plane hit. I had them type their pieces up and have those texts uploaded on my site as well.
Between the two, you have some pretty immediate writing you can utilize in your classroom. I am happy to provide you and any other teachers who could use them with URLs to the blogs, photos, and student reactions.
— Heather Ordover
I’m a mom and work in a homeschool group of kids ranging in age from 7-15. We did a research writing unit and kids could choose between two topics, one of which was 9/11. The students who chose this had to complete factual research and then write a first person narrative story including the facts. The stories were extremely creative. One child put together a power point presentation with wonderful images that explored the feelings of her character in relation to different things that happened on that day. One person wrote a story about being twins that were born on 9/11 and traveled back in time to observe the experience. These twins had some super powers and were able to change the pattern of history. One student put together an ABC book with a variety of facts and emotions related to the event. Each student presented his/her information to the class. We then debriefed about the emotional content. It’s been one of the best homeschool group experiences we’ve had.
— Jennifer Rouyer
I will be planning a lesson that coordinates with the anniversary of 9/11. My intended focus will be on designing a monument. I teach sculpture and Art 3D.
I hope to teach students about some of our country’s great national monuments through a slide show and question/answer session. Students will learn where the monuments are located, their purpose/meaning, and be asked to share if they have visited the monuments or have any other prior knowledge about them. Next a discussion will be had based on the prompt question, “What do you think the artist was thinking when they designed the monument?” I hope to have some peer discussion and then greater group discussion as well. After discussing design and purpose of the national monuments, we will start planning to build a 3D sculpture of a monument by starting with some free sketching to work out some ideas. After students have settled on design concepts, they will build their monuments (most likely in small groups of two-four). The materials used will vary from sculpting clay to cardboard to wire. I expect this lesson to take one-two weeks of class time, in 45-minute class periods.
— Christine Todd
I teach 8th and 11th grade English students in Southwest Virginia. I’ve been teaching for four years. I admit that each year my 9/11 focus changes as a result of my annual tweaking but, I really like how last year’s 9/11 remembrance worked out. For the sake of space I will focus on my 11th grade students.
Each year in September, my 11th-grade students and I find ourselves in an American Literature introductory unit which includes our oral tradition. A few days before 9/11, I give my students a homework assignment to discuss with at least two people what they remember about 9/11. One has to be a family member and 1 other person (could be a friend or someone they know that is old enough to remember 9/11 or another family member).
The students are to take good notes and be prepared to share them on 9/11. Meanwhile in class we are still discussing the strengths of the oral tradition in handing down what the culture’s most important messages are for the next generation. We also discuss how often young people are the audience of these cultural stories so figurative language is used to help them visualize the messages the elders are trying to pass down.
During the week I will also be reading quotes from my own 9/11 family interviews to give my students an idea of the kind of notes I want them to be taking.
On 9/11 I will begin class by showing students one of the many 9/11 memorial videos on YouTube (after previewing them the night before) and then we spend just a couple of minutes discussing what the main message of the video was or the main focus; then we break into groups.
Student share their interviews with their group members. They are to take notes on what stands out as the main memory or main feeling or main message they get from all of the interviews they have heard and discussed. They decide as a group which message they think is the most important to pass down to the next generation.
The next day students get back into their groups and create a story map of a story they could tell in an oral tradition style that would teach one powerful message about 9/11 to the next generation. I suggest they use animals as characters to get away from any stereotyping that could occur in the making of the story and they should use figurative language. Each story needs a message or a moral but the story should stand on its own; no need to add “the moral of the story is…”
Last year we just stopped the lesson at the outline only and with the students sharing their ideas with classmates. I think this year I would like my students to finish their stories and create podcasts that my 8th grade class can then listen to and try to decide what the main messages of each of the stories are. Maybe I will have my juniors create voice threads so the 8th graders can easily comment on them and then they can go back and review.
I really look forward to the results this year.
— Alicia Johnson
My students in AP English Language and Composition read Jonathan Safran Foer’s wonderful book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Our focus in this unit is postmodernism and postmodernist literature, and our standard is reading and writing in a specific genre. We watch clips from “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers” and “Falling Man.” We look at reader response theory and how memories of an event transcend the actual physical “being there” in a community. We also talk about style, pairing the novel with the essay “On Ground Zero.” My students have been the protagonist’s age or older for the past five years, so I’m interested to see how my future students will react to an event they were too young to remember personally.
— Wendy Turner
I have been teaching high school literature for 30 years and last year I had a magical experience teaching Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” to about 90 regular junior students at the suburban high school where I teach outside of Cleveland, Ohio. The text is especially relevant because it is being made into a movie that will be released in December, starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Due to its unusual format, the novel challenges students to use their reading skills in unique ways because it uses a non-linear sequential story line and also includes photographs, illustrations, and experimental typography, as well as offbeat humor with puns and wordplay. My students loved the book and I plan on teaching it again this year.
— Linda Lackey
I realized my sophomore students this year were only in kindergarten when 9/11 occurred. (I was a freshman in college.) I wanted to acknowledge the 10-year anniversary in some way, and I decided to use poetry from Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry Web site/column.
My students will read, annotate, and discuss Stuart Kestenbaum’s “Prayer for the Dead” and Tony Gloeggler’s “Five Years Later.”
— Jason Stephenson
You and your readers may be interested in my recent Huffington Post story on Ten Books About 9/11 to Share With Kids & Teens.
— Rocco Staino
In the aftermath of 9/11, I had my students write a letter to Osama bin Laden. I saved the letters to use as primary sources with my future students. On the first anniversary, I had my students write as essay about their memories of 9/11. I saved the essays, too. Every year I have done a lesson remembering. I show a DVD of the news coverage of the event. Then I bring out the bin Laden letters and the memory essays. The students love to read the accounts from the students who were their age at the time. For several years now the middle school age students do not remember 9/11. For some it is the first they even heard of it.
— Annette Duffy
As an English teacher, I have included “The Names” as part of my curriculum during September. This poem, written by Billy Collins, the Poet Laureate at the time, was read at the memorials that year. It is a poem, that no matter how many times I read it, has new meaning and is more moving. I highly recommend that English teachers check it out if they aren’t familiar. I have students draw an image from the poem, or select a part to respond to.
— Becky Riley
A former Stuyvesant High School colleague of mine called me to share a discussion he has with his A.P. English literature students about the Billy Collins poem “The Names.” Here is a very brief description of his approach, in my words, not his:
We discuss how “The Names” is an occasional poem and falls within classical traditions and poetic modes, delving into these elements and devices, among many others: the elegiac mode, the use of Homeric dactylic hexameter, the hero and heroic death that recalls book two of “The Iliad,” classical epithets, anaphora, monody and phrenody, juxtaposition of pastoral and urban, tribute to democracy, list-making and name-reading.
– Walter Gern
Ideas Using History and Humanities
I am an adjunct professor of philosophy at a SUNY community college. I teach 3 sections of Introduction to Philosophy. Each year, on the anniversary of 9/11, I devote my 50 minute classes to an exploration of the event from the perspective of human nature. The text I use for this course unfolds the history of Western philosophy through the lens of various theories on human nature. I carry over the human nature theme to our 9/11 inquiry.
These are some of the questions we explore:
What did 9/11 tell us about our origins, nature, and destiny?
What did 9/11 tells us about the human qualities of good and evil, love and hate, strength and weakness, kindness and cruelty, aggression and passivity, generosity and greed, courage and cowardice?
How did 9/11 depict us as part angel, part demon, part rational, part animal, capable of great glory and great tragedy?
What did 9/11 “say” about who we are?
— Katherine FitzGerald
I worked as an undergraduate teaching assistant, alongside my mentor professor, teaching a political science class at the college level called 9/11: A Historical Review. Basically, our approach was to put 9/11 into historical context, with an emphasis on U.S. foreign policy and unforeseen consequences in the world: the Middle East and Central Asia. We reviewed the CIA funding of Osama bin Laden and the jihad in the 1980’s, the Iraqi Tilt policy of Gulf War I and U.S. support for Saddam Hussein, the Iran Contra Affair and more. We framed our semester with a few key questions, some of them being: How have past US policies affected our lives and the world today? Do the ends justify the means?
We discussed the nature of U.S. foreign policy, pre-9/11 – largely done in secret, without public or congressional debate. Because this secrecy fits the definition of conspiracy, we logically entertained all theories about the events of 9/11, and any inconsistencies or questions on which the students chose to focus their attention and research.
We used all forms of media and literature (independent and mainstream) to discover the information our students desired: documentaries such as “9/11 Press For Truth” and “Zero: An Investigation into 9/11,” and required readings, “The Terror Timeline” by Paul Thompson, and the 9/11 Report: The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. We discovered and discussed information from countless scholars, groups, sources and Web sites with volumes of information relating to 9/11, such as The Project for The New American Century, Dr. David Ray Griffin’s “The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions” and Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth.
We encouraged our students to be their own media by creating a YouTube video about any topic related to 9/11 as their final project. Most students focused their projects on the inconsistencies relating to 9/11, and many focused on the history – past U.S. foreign policies and what roles they might have played in the events of 9/11. Some students even conducted campus interviews, finding and showing an unfortunate abundance of common, often improperly, or not fully informed understandings of historic events. We taught this class three semesters in a row, and it was consistently the most popular and highly peer-recommended class within its particular program, which shows that even 10 years after the event, 9/11 continues to be a relevant and important scholarly topic.
I taught social studies to grades 8-12, in a private school, for three years. One of the essential questions we looked at was, How was 9/11 exploited, for political purposes? Since the students were inundated with a textbook perspective that didn’t examine the erosion of civil liberties after 9/11, I sought to give the students a viewpoint that is more akin to Howard Zinn’s in “A People’s History of the United States.: We looked at how whistleblowers, 9/11 victims’ relatives, and other voices of dissent were marginalized. In post-9/11 Ameica, critical thinking about the government often was, and still is, characterized as denigrating the memories of those who died on that tragic day. 9/11 should not be used as a tool to indoctrinate students into blindly obeying the government. Fighting terrorism should never imply ignoring the Constitution.
— Michael J. Berman
I was in eighth grade when the towers fell. I was in my classroom 19 blocks from the Twin Towers when the planes struck. I remember every detail of that day.
The school in which I was sitting at the time of the attack is a progressive K-8 school in Greenwich Village. Each year our homeroom curriculum focused on a particular subject and other disciplines found ways to incorporate that topic. In seventh grade my homeroom’s focus was the culture and belief system of Islam. I cannot express how grateful I am to have gained an un-biased perspective on Islamic tradition before the attacks. Because of my curriculum, even as a 13-year-old I was fully aware that this horrible event was perpetrated by a small, fanatical group of Muslims and that the community overall was peaceful and loving.
I think that it is so important when teaching about 9/11 to emphasize that the people behind the attacks do no represent the Islamic community as a whole. Making an effort to do so is required to prevent prejudice from developing in young and impressionable minds.
— Sarah Philips
In my eighth grade U.S. history class, we debate the merits of having a 9/11 national holiday through a 3-corner debate. We look at a few opposing views on why 9/11 should, or should not be addressed in classrooms and then I write the statement on the board, “9/11 should be deemed a national holiday by the U.S. Congress.” Students take a stand in one of three corners of the classroom 1) Strongly Agree 2) Somewhat Agree/Somewhat Disagree 3) Strongly Disagree. One student at a time from each group then has a chance to try to convince students from the other corners of the classroom to move to their corner. To conclude, we discuss who had the strongest argument and why. This is only a one-day, 50-minute lesson. It sparks great debate over the ways we really want to remember the 9/11 tragedy.
— Jill DiCuffa
I drew a lot of comfort from re-reading the details of the Blitz of London, and realizing that if London recovered from months of nightly bombings, NYC and the US would recover from the events of that morning.
Students should always be taught how the people of NYC, Washington and the rest of the US resolved to move beyond the unimaginable, how the world banded together to support us, and how the heroes of that day and the ones that followed turned the story of 9/11 into one about the bravery and devotion to duty that our people can show.
It will serve them well when drawing connections and relationships from 9/11 to unimaginable events that occur in their adulthood.
— Mark Moran
Pam Moran and Ira Socol, who wrote the guest post Teaching 9/11 | Why? How?, also shared four project ideas with us. Here are descriptions of their projects (they are fleshed out on Mr. Socol’s blog, SpeEdChange):
- Localizing history – Examining “big events” in the history of the community where your school is located, focusing on how the stories about those events are shared and how they have changed, commemorative gestures like memorials or plaques and groups that play a role in keeping the history of the event alive. In groups, students conduct interviews and visit local sites in addition to conducting research.
- Considering how history is created – Considering and investigating comparisons of other significant events to those of Sept. 11, 2001 by generating research questions related to how various groups in the United States remember those events differently and how those differences affect political and personal decisions. Groups of students then search for primary sources and images, including global news sources like The New York Times.
- Considering iconic absence – How does a place deal with the loss of a landmark? Why might it be important to many New Yorkers to have the ground zero site rebuilt with tall towers? What landmarks define where you live? Have any local landmarks been lost? Students search local history to find lost landmarks and photograph the locations where they once existed. How did locals feel when these landmarks were lost? Students can create QR codes to tag locations in their community, leading users to images of landmark views of the past or to interviews with those who remember the landmark, or to stories about the landmark.
- Reflecting on knowledge of history – What do American students know about U.S. and global history? What do students around the world know about their own country’s history and about world history? Does emphasizing certain historic events in curriculum affect how a nation behaves in the world? Students investigate various incidents and how it is taught and recalled.
– Pam Moran and Ira Socol
Ideas for Younger Students
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in a rural northwest Ohio school district. I use two picture books to teach about 9/11. Students fold a 8-1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper into fourths and we use both sides. I stop three times throughout the books and have students write to a prompt for each “box”: a connection, vocabulary word, a prediction, etc. and the fourth box is always a drawing. The two books I use are “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers” by Mordicai Gerstein and “Fireboat” by Maira Kalman. Our social studies teacher shows the junior high students a DVD she made of images from 9/11 set to music.
— Erika Snyder
In the past I have asked my 8th grade students to interview a family member about their memories of where they were, and the impact the day had on them. The students then have the opportunity to share with the class if they choose. In addition, because it is the 10th anniversary, I plan to create a gallery of images posted on big paper where students may silently post, in writing, their responses to each image.
— Karen Dorr
My students were not yet born in 2001, and many of them have never been to New York, or even the United States. Most have very little background knowledge about 9/11.
Every year on Sept. 11th, I read “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers,” by Mordicai Gernstein, to my students. I’ve read this book to students from first grade to fifth grade. They are drawn in by the true story of Philippe Petit, and the book is a powerful vehicle for introducing this topic. The book leads naturally to generating questions and discussion. I highly recommend it for elementary classrooms.
— Greg Feezell
My fourth graders and I are interviewing the adults in our building to ask them this question: “How has your faith been strengthened or your relationship with God changed?” I teach at a Catholic school and we are focusing on the good that came out of 9/11.
After the interviews, each student will create or locate an image to accompany the words. We will then put the voice and image to music as a multimedia presentation to share with our school and our parent community.
— Renee Streicher
I haven’t yet decided how I will address this because I have to have a sense of my new students first — as this is history to them I need to know if they have personal connections or if it is remote to them. Being a New Yorker it is a difficult anniversary for me, but not necessarily for them and I want to keep that in mind as I consider what they need not what I need.
I am considering reading aloud and discussing a new picture book, “America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell” by Don Brown, which will publish on Aug. 16.
— Monica Edinger
Carmen Agra Deedy’s picture book “14 Cows for America” tells the true story of an African medical student, his Masai village and the generous gift they wish to present to America after 9/11. It’s a great jumping off point!
— Susan Robie
We have taught about 9/11 in our elementary school, with age-appropriate material since it occurred. we not only have a word of silence, read stories,sing songs, write poems, draw pictures, express feelings, but we have established a 9/11 Memorial Perennial Garden that the students work in and have lessons in. This year in commemoration of the 10th anniversary, we will be holding a special assembly, where the students will express their feelings in song, poems,etc and will rededicate our garden. The garden serves a twofold purpose: to never forget those lost on that day while serving as promise for the future to strive for peace. Every school throughout the nation should have 9/11 curriculum in place. I am currently on a quest to write curriculum particularly for the elementary school age child. This should never be forgotten and is a piece of history every child in America should know about.