Thursday, September 11, 2014

How I Taught About September 11

This is always a tough day for teachers, and it's getting more strange as the gap between student awareness and our own grows. For a few years now, my students have been post 9/11 babies. They only know what they've heard (and some haven't heard anything). By 5th grade, I think it's important to talk about what happened, even if it's just a little bit, because this had such a HUGE impact on our history and lives today.

Normally (as in the previous eight years I've taught), I read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers to my students.

This is a great option for the faint of heart or younger classes because it's mostly about an exciting event that happened in the 1970s when the towers were being built. I've used it to discuss character traits because it's a biography of a French aerialist who actually tightrope walked between the towers. Very cute story, and it only hints at the towers being gone at the very beginning and end.

I love the story and still may use it. It also has jump-started many great conversations because students will naturally offer some information or questions about the towers. However, this year I decided to go super-serious and hit it hard with a lesson created by Erin (you can find it here - I'm Lovin' Lit). You know I love her stuff and have talked about her before.

Anyway, just a quick overview. Erin included a website to this amazing interactive timeline. Y'all, I had chills when I was checking it out this morning. I literally felt like I was back in high school reliving the day all over again. It has pictures, videos, audio clips, etc.

I printed out Erin's interactive activity for them to follow along, but we were so engrossed in discussion and moving along that we didn't end up filling any of it out. I told them they could take it home to discuss. Here were some interesting points for me:

We had an interesting discovery after the first plane hit the tower when I asked what the people were probably thinking. One boy said they would have thought someone took over the plane and ran it into the building. The other teachers and I had to explain that before September 11, the word "terrorist" wasn't even in our vocabulary. We weren't afraid of things like this and just thought it was an accident until the second plane crashed. It's amazing how perspectives have changed from generation to generation. Although we did agree that if this happened now, we would probably think differently.

The shoes were great for a quick inference practice. I showed each picture and had students discuss what they noticed and what they thought that person had been through. Then I shared what the sidebar said about each survivor.

As I was, they loved the story of Flight 93! It was neat to hear them realize these people were heroes without being told.

This video is what really got me. I was able to show it because the sound wasn't working on our Promethean board, but it does have some language. The catches the terror people felt perfectly, but you WILL have chills.

The kids were so engrossed in this lesson that they didn't even realize it was time for recess. I had them completely captivated with many questions we didn't even get to address for an entire hour and 15 minutes. We didn't write anything. We didn't even have a "formal" lesson plan. But I think it was great for awareness, questioning, and discussion.

It was probably one of the hardest lessons I've ever taught, but I think I would do it again in a heartbeat.


  1. Sometimes those are the best lessons. How powerful! My son, a fifth grader, asked about it last night. It was the first time we really felt like he would understand what happened. Showing this was definitely a moving way to teach students the importance of the day.

    Reading Toward the Stars

  2. I taught this same lesson today and had the same response from my students. I was literally telling students to put their hands down because there wasn't time to get to all their comments and questions, even though they were SO good. I taught all the way to the bell and easily could have continued. I wish I had time to discuss this further!