As teachers ease into the first few weeks of school, we have a tough decision to make – what classroom activities do we use to commemorate the anniversary of the September 11th tragedy?

For those of us who lived through the tragic events of that unforgettable day, we are aware of the impact it had on the world, and we remain forever changed. Students nowadays were far too young to remember, and it may just be another day in history to them.

This division makes 9/11 classroom activities quite a challenge. While many schools bow their heads in silence, hang the American flag at half-mast, or hold an assembly to honor those who have perished, others leave it up to the teacher’s discretion to decide how they would like to honor the day.

No matter our course of action, the World Trade Center disaster anniversary offers a time for us to reflect upon this important day in history and give our students a firsthand look at the heartbreaking events that unfolded.

Here are some ways you can bring 9/11 into your classroom space constructively:

Writing Ideas

Students can honor the tragedy by expressing their thoughts and feelings through various writing exercises:

  • Write letters of appreciation to the military who fight terrorism, thanking them for their service and sacrifice.
  • Write letters of appreciation to the local police, fire department, and emergency personnel. Students can discuss how the anniversary of September 11th has reminded them to show their gratitude for how hard they work to make their community a safe place to live.
  • Have students write an essay about what makes a hero. Start by discussing who they think the heroes of 9/11 were and why.
  • Reflect upon their feelings in a journal. Students can discuss where they were on September 11th, how the event has changed their life, and what Americans learned from what happened.

Discussion Ideas

To help you set the stage for a 9/11 discussion, think about how you feel about the event. To organize those thoughts, jot down a few notes that you’d like to share with your students. From here, choose a few objectives you’d like your class to discuss. Here are a few ideas:

  • Define the scope of what happened and tailor your information to be age appropriate. Be honest with students about the tragedy—more than 3000 people were killed, including 400 police officers and firefighters. It was the deadliest day in history for New York City firefighters and more than 10,000 people were treated for injuries, etc.
  • Gauge what your students remember. What are their thoughts about the events that took place on September 11, 2001? Why do we honor that day?
  • Discuss how safe students feel today, compared to how children felt in 2001.

Artistic Ideas

Honor the memory of the victims by having students create an artistic piece. Here are a few ways students can express their feelings:

  • Have students choose a symbol that represents tolerance, peace, or patriotism. Then have them create that symbol using clay, construction paper, or other art supplies.
  • Have students look through old newspapers and magazines to find information about September 11th. Then have them create a collage that pays tribute to that tragic day.
  • Team students together to come up with a new flag that honors those that were lost on 9/11. Using any medium, students design and create a flag to be hung in the classroom.
  • Pair students together to create a song. They must first create a timeline of the events, then change those words into lyrics.

Children’s Literature on the September 11th Attacks

For those that were not born when the horrific events of 9/11 rocked the nation, a book may be the perfect discussion starter. These resources will help your students examine how the events that day impacted the world.

Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey

  • Grade: Primary
  • A true-story about a retired New York City fireboat that was called to service on September 11, 2001.

Understanding September 11: Answering Questions About the Attacks on America

With Their Eyes: September 11th: The View from a High School at Ground Zero

  • Grade: Secondary
  • A firsthand look at what happened on September 11, 2001, from the eyes of high school students that were a few blocks away from the event.

As you reflect upon the September 11th attack on the United States with your students, be aware of the impact that it may have had (or continues to have). Like any dramatic teachable moment, September 11th provokes strong emotions, and it’s our responsibility as educators to guide our students through a thoughtful discussion that can develop their ability to think critically.