Today I wanted to talk about what I do for September 11th, in my classroom each year.
My first year of teaching I kind of just ignored 9/11. Not because I didn't want to talk about it, but I just really didn't know what to do. I was also still learning about how to address tough topics with my 5th graders, and really I still didn't really understand how to talk about that day.
Then, a couple months later in Reader's Workshop I read The Man Who Walked Between the Two Towers and all my students were asking why we didn't talk about it on 9/11.
I realized that the students and I would have both benefited from taking the day to talk about 9/11. Every time 9/11 comes around, I also think I don't have "enough time" or I have already mapped out a week or two of lesson plans and realize I didn't "squeeze it in," but I know that's not entirely true.
Fast forward to my second year of teaching and I really wanted to spend a good chunk of the day learning about the events of that day, and even more, about America after the attacks. It was honestly one of my favorite days of teaching ever, and since then I try to devote a good chunk of 9/11 (or days surrounding it) to learning about the day.
This is what I did my second year of teaching, and since then I have done some version of the same thing. I think these lessons and activities would honestly work in almost any age group… but realistically, based on my teaching knowledge, more like grades 3-12.
The following video was done by Nick News and to this day, I think it is the most well done video for teaching about 9/11 with your students. It was originally made for the 10th anniversary. Since then I have had a hard time finding it and making the links work every year, but I hunt it down every year, because it is just that good.
It never occurred to me that my students had misconceptions about 9/11, because I lived through it. I remember exactly what happened that day. I was in 6th grade, so I was their age, which made it even harder for me to understand what they didn't understand. This video addresses all the questions and misconceptions they have.
Here are some links to get to it, but if you have a hard time making them work (which I always do) the original video is called: Nick News with Linda Ellerbee: What Happened? The Story of September 11th.
Back Up Link (shorter video)
After we finished the video, my kids created these ribbons from Lovin Lit.
She created the ribbons to be very meaningful and the following description was included in the FREE product.
Four red stripes represent the four sites of tragedy: Both towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania.
The four stars represent those who died in the attacks.
Star 1 – 343* Firefighters
Star 2 – 60* Police Officers
Star 3 – 15* EMTs
Star 4 – 2552* Innocent Civilians (including 50 Military Personnel in Pentagon)
My students were begging to wear them, so I found some pins and they wore them around ALL day.
During our reader's workshop, we re-read the book The Man Who Walked Between the Two Towers
(I had read it earlier in the school year) and talked about the book and what Phillippe Petit did. This story resonates with the kids so much every single year. It has since been made into a movie, which would be another great idea to include in your 9/11 lessons somehow.
Then we talked about our video, the events of the day, and I tried to answer any other questions they had. We then spent a lot of time talking about what it showed us about Americans. My students were really amazed by the passengers on flight 93 that took over the plane and crashed it into a field. We talked a lot about how Americans came together and did whatever they could to help others, even if it meant risking their lives.
Then we created this flag from Art with Jenny K. It didn't take long at all and my kids absolutely loved putting the flag together after they each had colored their portions. It was even more amazing to watch them all work together to assemble it.
The last thing we did for Patriot's Day was write about what we learned about Americans after 9/11. I only gave them one page to write on, but many of them had some great responses. One student even wrote, "Americans came together after 9/11, just like our class came together to make our flag." My heart just about came out of my body.
The finished flag and essays looked like this on our bulletin board. Some students decided to pin their ribbons onto their essays. You can get the writing page here.
It was honestly one of my favorite days as a teacher. It was wonderful to think about how brave and strong Americans can be and just as wonderful to see my fifth and sixth grade classroom community grow.
Again, I have used these ideas in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th with much success and it honestly gives me a type of closure each time, and also builds and creates community in a such a powerful way.