Authentic ways to spotlight 9/11 for students who weren't alive

My first year of teaching was 2001.  I was in my third week of school when the planes hit the World Trade Center, and my principal came to my door to tell me.

That day stands out as a "Do you remember what you were doing?" moment for me and many people.  But for our students, this is history.  For many of them, it's history they have misconceptions about.  So how do we make it real for them?
 Introduce them to good books written about the day.  These three get passed around a lot in my classroom.  
Alex's birthday is September 11th and he's sure he's getting a dog, the only thing he's asked for this year.  There's no dog waiting for him at breakfast with his family, but that's fine, it's still early.  Off he goes to school with his younger sister. 

Then, unexpectedly, school is shut down and he's sent home.  On the way home, he rescues a mangy, stray dog, Radar, faces the challenges of bullies, plays with (and loses) his little sister, and promises his mom that he won't turn on the TV.

The story is told in alternate chapters - Alex's point of view and that of the "man in the white shirt."  I thought I had it figured out.  I was in tears when I got to the end of the book.

A gentle book that gives students a sense of the disconnect that occurred on a day when the world fell apart and no one knew quite what to do.
A beautifully woven story of four middle school-aged kids who don't know each other, but whose lives weave together in the two days leading up to September 11th.  Will is struggling with the death of his father, a truck driver who told him never to do anything stupid on the highway - and then did just that thing.

Naheed is Muslim and in her new school, she gets funny looks and questions because she is wearing a head scarf.

Aimee has just moved to California and her mom has to leave for a business trip to New York, missing her first day of school.  For the first time.

Sergio, raised by his grandmother because his father is never around.  Except when Sergio makes the news.
Deja lives in the homeless shelter near a great school and she comes with her guard up so she doesn't have to share her life with any of her classmates.  But the students turn out to be pretty chill, and her teacher starts them on a massive project to look back at September 11th.  

In the asking and answering of questions, Deja begins to learn about her family: why her father gets inexplicably angry, why he can't hold down a job anymore, and how she and her friends were impacted by an event that happened many years before.
Engage them to learn more about the day.  Here are some good resources you can turn to.

1) Develop interview questions as a class and then have students interview someone about where they were that day and what they remember.  Put these recollections together in a book, poster, or video.

2)  Work with them on one of the lessons from the September 11th memorial.  They have many outstanding choices leveled by grade.

3)  PBS has lessons, also leveled by grades, including ones to help students with misperceptions about who their Arab-American neighbors are.  

4) Scholastic has plans and discussion guides, leveled by age group.

5)  Newsela is a great source for nonfiction articles written for lower or upper elementary, middle, and high school students.  Some are paired with other texts; each comes with a general writing prompt and a 4-question quiz.


 

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