Wednesday 7 Sep, 2011

Teaching 9/11: Lesson plans, ideas and concerns for bringing September 11th into the classroom

As the 10-year anniversary of September 11th creeps closer, it seems like most Americans thoughts are turning to the events of that days. And as we approach this milestone—10 years since the worst terrorist attack the United States has ever seen—educators face a difficult dilemma: How do you bring 9/11 into the classroom?

September 11, 2001 New Report

Rhonda Churchill / AP file

High school teachers are working with students who may be too young to remember the day America was attacked. Middle school teachers struggle with how to make adolescents empathize with something that may not have directly affected them. Elementary school teachers have students who weren’t even alive for 9/11 and are young and impressionable. They want to share lessons while keeping things age appropriate.

After speaking with teachers of all age groups, the majority has the same outlook. Teaching 9/11 can be tricky and uncomfortable, but students are curious, especially the younger ones. As educators, they feel they owe it to their students to address 9/11 in the classroom and help them understand the impact of the tragedy and its aftermath on our country.

Below, I’ve compiled some links to help teachers think about how they can talk about 9/11 in their classroom this year.

9/11 Lesson Plans

The first article is great for elementary school teachers. A 3rd-5th grade teacher from New York City discusses how to make a lesson plan appropriate for younger students who weren’t yet born in 2001 yet are curious for more information. The author lays out five-step plan that she has found success using.

The 9/11 classroom guide is from a middle school teacher. This is probably my favorite blog, as middle school is a notoriously tough age group to get to sympathize. The author of this blog states, “Since middle school is a time of uncertainty and doubt, my lesson focuses on fostering feelings of empathy, making interpersonal connections, and understanding different perspectives about the same event.” The activity is also interactive, keeping students interested and engaged in discussions.

For teachers of high school students, there is a great blog with a proposed lesson plan that can also incorporate technology. There is a low-tech, middle-tech, and high-tech option that teachers can assign based on student levels. It’s a great way to let teenagers combine the technology they utilize every day to educate themselves and then teach their peers about 9/11.

Teaching Tolerance has an amazing blog that is applicable to all ages of students. The article gives tips on how to discuss 9/11 while making sure students are reassured they are safe and anticipating tough questions the kids may ask.  It also has some advice on how to address some of the stereotypes and cultural differences that arose after 9/11 and emphasizing the importance of accepting diversity.

All the teachers that I am fortunate to work with share the same passion for turning everything into a “teaching moment.” With the wound of 9/11 still fresh for many educators, it can be tough to imagine communicating the magnitude of what happened that September morning. That said, teachers agree that with preparation, sensitivity and open communication between students, teacher and parents, incorporating 9/11 into the classroom can teach valuable lessons to all ages. As George Santayana once said, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

More resources on bringing 9/11 into the classroom

Free online resources to help educators reflect on 9/11 along with teaching and curriculum guides accompanied by ideas for classroom lessons and activities.

Interactive timelines to help communicate the events of 9/11 and understand the effects on our country complete with teacher support materials. (This link from Pearson’s Online Learning Exchange (OLE) is no longer available without an account. Read about teaching 9/11 on Pearson’s OLE blog.

From they New York Times Education blog, here’s a post by two educators explaining why and how 9/11 should be taught in the classroom.

Museum Resources

If you’re going to be in Washington, D.C. over the next week, be sure to visit the National Museum of American History’s September 11th exhibit.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C., also has a permanent 9/11 gallery.

Many of our group leaders are gearing up to take students to New York City this coming spring where they will visit 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero. Teachers traveling with EF Explore America express their desire to use the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and their educational trips coinciding as a way to not only remember the tragedy, but as a forum to teach and educate their students as well.

2012 Updates

The 9/11 Memorial in New York City offers several lesson plans and teaching guides.

Scholastic has entire section of its lesson plan website dedicated to 9/11 lesson plans and resources for teachers of all grades.

The National Association of School Psychologists has also created resources for talking to children about 9/11.

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