On September 11, 2001 the world changed forever. The country came together in the face of terrorism and tragedy. It is an important day in history that your students need to learn about.
I wanted to teach my students about this significant day in an age-appropriate way. Each year I did a mini-unit on September 11th with my 5th graders. Here are the activities I used – I hope this post engages your students and helps simplify your lesson planning.
To introduce the subject, we watch this free video from Brain Pop:
It’s 5 minutes long and gives a great overview of what happened – it’s age-appropriate for 4th-6th graders. The video covers the events of September 11, 2001, and discusses terrorism, al Qaeda, and the United States’ response to the attacks.
Next I share my personal story of where I was on September 11, 2001. I remember specifically where I was, how I found out, and the aftermath of the attacks. It’s so meaningful to share with your students so that they can realize that this isn’t ancient history – it happened during our lifetime. It makes the historical event come alive when they can connect it to someone they know.
Then we read the book Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman.
It is an inspiring true story about a fire boat that came out of retirement to help fight the fires at the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. I love using this book to focus on the heroes that sprang into action to help in the face of unthinkable tragedy.
We do some reading comprehension activities to support and extend the book. We focus on the vocabulary, complete a timeline activity, fill in a cause and effect graphic organizer, and do three different writing activities. The students end the unit with a greater understanding of what happened on September 11th and a deeper appreciation for the heroes who helped our country during a time of great need.
At the end of the book, we focus on all of the heroes, both in uniform and volunteer, who stepped up to lend a helping hand in the hours, days, and weeks following the attacks.
I love reading them this quote from Mister Rogers:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
You can download this print-and-go unit to supplement the book Fireboat by clicking here:
Then, with my high level students (or you could do this with your whole class) I do a novel study with the book I Survived: The Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis. It’s a wonderful book that shares the story of a young boy who is in New York City when the Twin Towers fall. His father is a firefighter, so the book features the bravery of the FDNY during and after the attacks on September 11th. The book discusses the day in a way that is appropriate for children while still covering the important facts of this historic event.
Before we start the book we do some non-fiction reading about 9-11:
As we read through the book, we complete reading comprehension activities for each chapter, which includes multiple choice and short answer questions and covers basic recall as well as higher-order thinking. I’ve also created writing prompts for your students to complete when reflecting on the book and when writing to a hero of 9/11.
I have also included a digital version for your students to use on Google slides if you’re doing virtual learning or have devices for each student.
I Survived: The Attacks of September 11, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis is a phenomenal book that really drives home the importance of that fateful day with my students – I know your students will enjoy it too. If you’d like to use this no-prep with your students, either as a literature circle book, a small reading group activity, or a whole class novel study, click on the picture below to read more about it:
To end our unit, I like to focus on the Freedom Tower (or One World Trade Center), the 9/11 Memorial, and Museum which were built to commemorate the 2,996 people who died during the Attacks of September 11, 2001. I show my students pictures of the memorial and the walls with all of the names of the fallen victims on them. We talk about the hope that we have moving forward and the unity and resilience that Americans demonstrated in the face of such tragedy.
President George W. Bush declared that September 11th is now known as Patriot Day, a day set aside to remember those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks and to celebrate the freedom that we have in America.
If you think it would be appropriate and/or beneficial, you can take your students on a virtual tour of the 9/11 Memorial
September 11, 2001 was a truly horrendous day that will be forever remembered in American History. But we are not without hope. Former New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, said,
The attacks of September 11th were intended to break our spirit. Instead we have emerged stronger and more unified. We feel renewed devotion to the principles of political, economic and religious freedom, the rule of law and respect for human life. We are more determined than ever to live our lives in freedom.
As you teach your students about the bravery of the men and women on September 11, 2001 you can have them color these pictures to help them remember what they’ve learned – grab these coloring pages for FREE: