How to teach the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to young people

September 11, 2013
foraction

Families of September 11 is a nonprofit organization formed more than a decade ago by family members who lost loved ones in the 2001 terrorist attacks in an effort to provide support, information and advocacy. As part of their work the group started the “For Action Initiative,” an effort to provide teachers and community members with tools to help young people understand the attacks as well as challenges they face in today’s world. Those tools include 58 lessons, written and piloted by volunteer teachers and curriculum developers for grades K-12, that help young people learn about what happened that day as well as ongoing world issues. (For several years Families of September 11 was joined in this education effort by the Liberty Science Center and the New Jersey Department of Education’s Commission on Holocaust Education.)

The curriculum deals with the events of Sept. 11 as well as ongoing threats to global security, and it teaches students how they can take action to help their own communities.  Kids learn that all people should not be condemned because of the acts of a few, and that individuals, even young ones, can make a difference. The lessons are age appropriate (the concept of terrorism not addressed until middle school), and designed across multiple disciplines: history, social sciences, literature, music and the arts, media literacy. The material is organized around seven themes:

*Human behavior (positive relationships, helping, respect, tolerance, courage)
*Aggression and violence in our world
*Historical aspects of terrorism
*9/11 as a case study
*Consequences and Challenges in a post-9/11 world (safety, civil liberties)
*Remembrance and the Creation of Memory
*Building Better Futures: Narrative, Recovery and Responsibility

An example of the available lessons is “A Case Study in Contemporary Terrorism” for elementary, middle and high school students:

A Case Study in Contemporary Terrorism

Elementary Level

Lesson E-UIV-L1: A Fireboat and Its Heroic Adventures

Unit IV: 9/11
Grade Levels: 3–5
Time: 45–60 minutes
Synopsis:
Students read the book Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman and discuss the boat’s history and the heroism of its crews and actions. Students explore the concept of a hero and demonstrate an understanding that everyone has the potential to be a hero. (Grades 3–5)

 

Lesson E-UIV-L2: A Poem About St. Paul’s Chapel

Unit IV: 9/11
Grade Levels: 3–5
Time: 30–45 minutes
Synopsis:
Using the books The Little Engine That Could and The Little Chapel That Stood, students examine characteristics that determine courage beyond size. Students also explore what St.Paul’s Chapel represented to the people of New York City before and after 9/11, and identify the support structures or networks in their own lives. (Grades 3–5)

 

Middle School Level

Lesson M-UIV-L1: A Moment in Time: Part I

Unit IV: 9/11
Grade Levels: 7-8
Time: 90 Minutes
Synopsis:
Students discuss the sequence of events occurring before, during, and after 9/11/01. They explore a timeline of events and then create and present their own timelines. Students also interview an older family member or friend to explore how 9/11 affected individuals in America. (Grades 7–8)

Lesson M-UIV-L2: A Moment in Time, Part II

Unit IV: 9/11
Grade Levels: 7-8
Time: Two 45-minute class periods (Allow at least a week between the class periods to provide time for students to prepare interviews)
Synopsis:
Students read and discuss testimonies from people with various experiences related to the events on September 11, 2001, and then create presentations based on an interview with a person who has a recollection of that day. (Grades 7–8)

Lesson M-UIV-L3: Looking Back: What Happened Before September 11

Unit IV: 9/11
Grade Levels: 7-8
Time: 90-120 minutes
Synopsis:
Students use timelines and other information to recognize that September 11th was not an isolated event and understand the chain of events that led to the formation of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden’s role in terror attacks. (Grades 7–8)

 

High School Level

Lesson H-UIV-L1: The Road to 9/11

Unit IV: 9/11
Grade Levels: 10-12
Time: 100-190 minutes
Synopsis:
By viewing the film The Road to 9/11: A Brief History of Conflict in the Middle East, students study the individuals, groups, actions, reactions, and historical events that precipitated the attack on the United States on 9/11. (Grades 10–12)

Lesson H-UIV-L2: Interviews and Personal Stories

Unit IV: 9/11
Grade Levels: 9-12
Time: 80–160 minutes
Synopsis:
Students interview a survivor, emergency care worker, first responder, etc., or search the Internet for personal stories from 9/11. They conduct interviews and share the story with the class. Students develop an understanding of interview skills and the importance of primary sources in recording history. (Grades 9–12)

Lesson H-UIV-L3: Challenges in Enhancing Media Literacy Regarding Global Terrorism

Unit IV: 9/11
Grade Levels: 9–12
Time: 240 minutes
Synopsis:
Students identify definitions for “media literacy” and practice selected skills necessary for the critical analysis and evaluation of mass media content related to global terrorism. They apply skills to analyzing media related to the Iraq War using criteria developed in the lesson. (Grades 9–12)

Lesson H-UIV-L4: Pictures of 9/11

Unit IV: 9/11
Grade Levels: 9–12
Time: 200 minutes
Synopsis:
Students view, organize, research, and provide captions for pictures of the events of 9/11. They arrange the photographs into a timeline of events on 9/11, give faces to the events, and develop a picture essay of the day. (Grades 9–12)

 
Here’s the organization’s website, where you can find many more lessons and educational resources on this subject.
Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · September 10, 2013