There are topics, concepts, and strategies that are difficult for me to teach, but with a little review and finding some best practices, we know that we can get through to our kids. But, then there are those topics that there is no playbook for. Those that we have a hard time teaching, because we don’t know how our specific class of students will react or what questions they will have. These are the conversations that are the hardest for me as a teacher. It’s at these moments when I don’t know what will happen that personally, I discuss with students and teach them from the heart. These are when I feel the most vulnerable as a teacher. And, guess what? These are the moments when our kids learn the most.
Teaching young students about 9/11 can be a very difficult topic. I know that I could just nor bring this moment in our history up, because honestly, maybe teaching kids about terrorists and the atrocities that have happened on this day and since are not quite appropriate. I believe that we must teach our students about this day, even those at the lowest grade levels. For the last 10 years, I have taught 3rd and 4th grade. We know how big of a difference there is between 3rd and 4th grade students, and when I talk about 9/11, I treat things very differently. In 4th grade, students have more of understanding of how our current world works. Fourth graders know about words that we never thought they would at this age, like terrorist and hijacker. But, our world has changed, and it’s the sad reality that students know these words. In 4th grade, we read a few books that helped students understand the terror our country faced on September 11th. I even included a couple of letters from survivors from the book “The Legacy Letters.” This book is a collection of letters from those who died on 9/11, and letters from survivors to those that passed away. This activity no doubt built empathy for those involved.
When I was teaching 4th grade, I also taught a lesson using the song “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?”, by Alan Jackson. This is a tough song to get through, but extremely powerful. I created a guide to go along with this song, which is available here. A portion of the proceeds are donated to the Voices of September 11th Foundation, which helps families and communities heal after tragedy. This is available by clicking here.
In lower grade levels, including 2nd and 3rd grades, I tend to spin things in a different way. I read the students a story called “The Little Chapel That Stood,” which is a book about the events of the day. But, more than this, it is a book about the heroes, including firefighters and policemen and women who saved so many lives on 9/11. This book keeps it simple, sparks conversation, and yet gets the point across to students. This book is out of print, but there is a video of the book being read by the author on Youtube (see below). Below are also a few other books that you may wish to read to your class. The books in this list are appropriate for grades 2nd and higher.
Other books about 9/11:
(Each linked to Amazon)
*14 Cows for America
*New York’s Bravest
*The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
*September 12th: We Knew Everything Would Be All Right
There are so many books out there that can help you teach your kids about 9/11, and about heroes. You know your class the best, and you know what they can handle, but I absolutely believe that we can never let our students forget about 9/11, the heroes of September 11th, and how our country came together in the days that followed.
If you have other books or lesson ideas, please share in the comments.