An Early Challenge in a School Year That Hasn’t Begun


The ten year anniversary of September 11, 2001 is next Sunday, and I have every intention of spending some time on it on Friday, September 9. As Americans, and more so as New Yorkers, my students need to learn about it.

My first year, I read “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers” to my fifth graders, but I can’t remember what else we did. The past two years I did nothing. But now, with it being ten years and all the run-up we are having in New York, I feel like it’s an absolute must.

Only thing is, I’m not exactly sure how to approach it with third graders. I certainly plan to read the same book. Currently, my basic framework for developmentally appropriate discussion is to tell the students that there used to be two really tall buildings in Manhattan (I have a beautiful poster to show them) and that people who didn’t like our country got on airplanes and flew them into the buildings. The buildings fell down and many people died, which made a lot of people very sad. I will allow their questions and comments to guide the conversation after that.

I just don’t know, though. There has to be a better way to go about this. Do you have ideas? Do you have resources? What works for you? Please share. This is too important a conversation to pass up or botch. Thanks.

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4 responses to “An Early Challenge in a School Year That Hasn’t Begun

  1. I haven’t gotten a chance to look through them so I can’t vouch for these, but apparently the DOE has launched a collection of 9/11 lesson plans: http://www.911memorial.org/lesson-plans

  2. After reading your blogs and listening to your stories with other teachers, I’m sure you will do the right thing. I definitely like the idea of letting the students’ guide the discussion. I remember when 9/11 happened we didn’t know how to approach it either. At first we didn’t say anything, we were sort of had a gag order not to talk about it, but it was hard to ignore. We actually had a student that lost a relative and we couldn’t continue to ignore the elephant in the room. I know we had some discussions and it was very hard for my students to grasp the concept, but they knew that it was a sad thing. Good luck. Looking forward to hearing how it goes.

  3. I think in some ways, that age group will be the easiest to discuss 9/11 with…they were not yet here, so there is an emotional distance there for them. Like many other historical topics, it was a horrible event, but eight year olds won’t have the emotional reaction that those who have lived through that horrible day will. And eight year olds are often more mature than we expect them to be. We can’t protect our kids from all the negative. They are living in this world and need to understand just what that means, all the negatives as well as all the positives, so I believe some straightforward, honest student led discussion will be healthy. I’m sure you will handle it just fine, and so will they. The toughest part for a teacher during these lessons is maintaining control of our own emotions, yet I believe showing our students vulnerability is not necessarily a bad thing…we are human too. :). Good luck!

  4. Two other blogs that I follow have both posted extensive listed of sites and resources for teaching 9/11:
    http://www.freetech4teachers.com/
    http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/

    I also just came across this one today:
    http://smithsonianconference.org/september11/resources/

    Finally, I saw a great idea about having students interview an adult at home about where they were and what they remember about 9/11. I thought this would be a great way for them to make a personal connection to something that happened before they were born and to understand how people felt about what happened. It must have been on Richard Byrne’s blog (freetech4teachers), because he also posted a site to help generate good interview questions…
    http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2011/08/great-interview-questions-list.html

    A good book to use is:
    Understanding September 11th: Answering Questions about the Attacks on America by Mitch Frank (available on Amazon)

    Hope this helps.

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