Monday, June 18, 2012

Presenting 9/11 to 5th Graders

I believe that by 5th grade, students are old enough to understand the gravity of the events of September 11, 2001, and discuss it with all of the emotion and historical significance intact. However, with that being said, we're still talking about young children, and with that in mind, I've developed some activities (with a heavy emphasis on borrowing ideas from other great teachers out there) that go well with teaching about 9/11.

I normally teach United States history chronologically, but I do teach about 9/11/01 on the anniversary or near it if it falls on a weekend. I invite parents to join us for a discussion and remembrance time, and this is how the afternoon goes:

I start with a video that gives a run down of the events of that morning, and play it in its entirety. I usually mix this up quite a bit, and there are hundreds of these videos out there, so I've just chosen the clip that I showed this past year:

After the video, I like to open it up to parents to share their stories of where they were that day. It's interesting to note that with this upcoming group of 5th graders, it will be the last group of students I teach that will themselves have been alive (most of them) on 9/11/01. This is a good chance for parents to connect the events to us here, and usually their stories are pretty routine, including where they were when they heard, what they did for the rest of the day (watched TV), etc. 

This past year, ESPN Outside the Lines showed a small 13 minute piece titled The Man in the Red Bandanna, the story of Welles Crowther, a heroic man who died in the World Trade Center collapse. This story gives a human face to this tragedy. When you tell kids that 2,996 people died that day, they have a difficult time imagining it and the emotions that are tied to that. But this fantastic documentary has been extremely well received. I even had a student opt to do their social studies Individual in American History research project on Welles Crowther.

Once students have watched the video, I invite them to take a copy of a blank bandana, color it red, and write a one paragraph statement about what it means to be a hero. The bandana I use (a large 3 megabyte JPEG file) can be accessed HERE

I end with two tribute videos, to further attach the emotion of that day to our discussion. It's not my goal to evoke tears from my students, but it is a common reaction. I might actually play the tributes before the Welles Crowther video this year. This first one is one of the most emotionally moving things I've ever seen, and will definitely evoke a strong response.

This second video is one I show every year and kids remember and enjoy. 

My goal is to give them a reason to care, and to attach meaning to this singular event that has had a huge impact on the world ever since, the most important day in American history over the past 30+ years, and definitely the defining moment of this century.

Student questions that follow can be quite deep, and some are just curious. I get a lot of questions about people jumping out of the buildings, about the terrorists, and about if it will happen again. This is why it's great to have parents in the room while the discussion takes place. I've done this talk each year for the past 7 years, and have always had a great response from both students and parents. It's a goal of mine for children to understand and remember 9/11, and I look forward to doing it again this year. 

If you're a teacher, and you work with students who are old enough to comprehend and discuss the events, I hope you too will teach your students, and take the time to sit and talk with them, and possibly their parents. 

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