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Preparing for September 11th

Where were you on September 11th, 2001?

It’s a question that makes my heart tighten. I was in Manhattan, at a job interview in Midtown. I heard that a plane hit the Trade Center and I immediately headed home via surface transportation for fear the subways would be unsafe. When I emerged from the building and on to Madison Avenue I saw huge clouds of dark gray smoke billowing into the air. For blocks my bus took me north. All I saw, as I watched from the Madison Avenue Bus Window were people on their cell phones, staring south, in disbelief. (Read more about that day by clicking here.)

I was one of the lucky ones. I did not lose any personal friends or family members on September 11th, 2001. However, it doesn’t mean that the day didn’t impact me. As a New Yorker, which I still consider myself even though I live in Rhode Island, it did. It will. Forever.

I was surfing the ‘net this morning. I read through Bonnie’s Post about Philippe Petit, the man who walked between the Towers. I read about the Pentagon Memorial that’s opening this-coming Thursday. Hence, feeling obligated to share my plans for how I’m going to delicately broach September 11th with my fourth graders, I decided to post my plans for the week. (Feedback is welcome should you wish to comment below.)

Tomorrow, I’m reading The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein so my students can learn more about their height and about some of their history. On Thursday, September 11th, I’m reading Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman so I can talk about the courage of everyday people. Finally, on Friday, I’m going to read September 12th We Knew We Would Be All Right, which was published by Scholastic as part of the Kids As Authors Program. (It was written and illustrated by former first grade students at Byron Masterson Elementary in Kennett, Missouri.)

Here are some other suggestions for what you can do, in addition to reading aloud, on September 11th, based off of Fireboat.

  • Discuss the irony of this tugboat being called out of retirement on September 11th. Go online and view the real story and pictures.
  • Discuss the concept of unlikely heroes.
  • a. Talk about how the people (pg. 27) may have helped others on September 11th.
    b. Talk about the heroism the owners (pg. 28) of the Harvey exhibited by rushing to the boat on September 11th.

  • Select a few photographs from to discuss with your students.
  • a. Ask questions like:
    i. What do you think is happening in this photograph?
    ii. How do you think these people felt about the work they were doing?
    iii. Does anything about this photograph feel heroic to you? Explain.
    b. If the images on the FEMA KIDS Website seem too graphic for use with your students, then use some of the photos and stories found at

  • Students can brainstorm (small groups) about the ways in which everyday people can become heroes when tragedy or disaster strikes.
  • Provide students with a short writing assignment in which they write about heroes based-off of what they learned in class. You could ask students to ponder how they could help others in a time of crisis or need.
  • Students can go online and sign the National Book of Remembrance.
  • Stacey Shubitz View All

    Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

    6 thoughts on “Preparing for September 11th Leave a comment

    1. September 11, I remember it so vividly. A gorgeous fall morning. I had just finished teaching my first period 8th grade class and I headed down to the main office to get my mail and a cup of coffee.
      For some reason, and I’m still not sure why, a tv was on in office and I stopped to watch the broadcast of the planes hitting into the towers and it initially seemed ridiculous until the impact was clear.
      Pearl River, lost business people working in the towers, firemen and police, given our proximity to the city.
      A young 8th grader in my first period class. lost his father.
      Every year after that while I was teaching, I would read the Billy Collins poem The Names, written for the the first anniversary. It was a powerful way to bring the class to a community using image explosion. I would read the poem aloud, volunteers would read. Everyone would select a line and we would write together and then I would read slowly and everyone would then share what they had written, a community poem and then someone would create a poster with all the writing included with the poem and it would be hung up in the classroom and it was a powerful reminder of our roots as a class community.


    2. thanks, stacey, for the gentle reminder of what tomorrow’s date is. Last year, I read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers” and it was a lovely thing to do. Our newspaper recently had an article about this walk with photographs.
      I know what I’ll be sharing tomorrow.


    3. Stacey,
      That was a horrible day and I don’t how you’ll talk about it! I still feel like I just want to treat it like a regular day. I didn’t lose anyone that day either, but it was only the second day of school and in my southern New Jersey suburb lots of people work in New York. I didn’t know whose parents might be there. It was very scary. “The Man Who Walked Between the Towers” is a great book to share.


    4. Thanks, Stacy, for your thoughts on commemorating the tragedy of 9/11. Although I was teaching at the time, we teachers had been informed of the disaster in NYC and at the Pentagon.
      As my students happily played tag and chased the soccer ball at morning recess, I had a few moments to wrestle with the unimaginable horror of it all. A plane appeared in the sky flying lower than usual over the playground. Strangely, it seemed to wobble from side to side. The bell rang, recess was over, and we returned to class.
      Shortly after, we were informed that Flight 93 had crashed within a few short minutes and a few short miles of our school in rural Pennsylvania.


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