Last year, I asked readers how their schools mark the September 11th anniversary each year. I received responses which included information about tributes and read alouds. Seeing as the 15th anniversary of the September 11th Attacks falls on a Sunday this year, I’m unsure how many schools will be marking this solemn day. However, I still compiled a list of ideas, which can be used this year or any year going forward.
Verrena Anderson has written about her school’s annual 9/11 Program, which you can read about by clicking here. She also emailed me about it. Here’s an excerpt, about her school’s program, from her note to me.
It has been observed every year since that first anniversary. It has stayed much the same from one year to the next, with changes in the musical selections sometimes. Two times through the years, the firefighters and EMTs have been on a call and unable to bring the firetruck and ambulance, but most years they park in front of the school along with a police cruiser for the ceremony.This year the classes went all out in art and there was patriotic art decorating the front windows of the school and lining the hallways to the art room, where teachers had set up a potluck breakfast for the officers and firefighters. Classes also wrote letters to our local heroes that were also posted in the hallways.This program every year is one of my proudest moments.
Sarah Ewing shared:
We have a silent dismissal to leave for the day. Each classroom has a student hold the classroom flag to make a tunnel for the rest of the students to walk through as we leave. Each teacher silently leads their class through the tunnel on the way to their bus.
Retiree Barbara Krawiec wrote about the way her former school (grades PK – 5) commemorated September 11th:
Located on a heavily trafficked street, the school’s front lawn provided the perfect place for students to assemble first thing in the morning for an outdoor ceremony filled with sights and sounds that I’m sure touched the hearts of drivers passing by or stopped in traffic.
Like so many others, we referred to the day as Patriot Day, and focused on patriotism, as well as remembrance. Fifth grade student congress members led the 3-11 year olds, along with their teachers and aides, in pledging allegiance to the flag, singing patriotic songs, and listening to child-friendly and appropriate mini-presentations about the history of the day.
Moving inside the building for a school-wide assembly, our Principal very movingly read September 12th…We Knew Everything Would be All Right, a picture book written and illustrated by first grade students from Missouri. At the end of the very reassuring reading, the Principal’s eyes were not the only teary ones in sight.
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski explained what she did with her third graders last year:
Today I shared this post from Wonderopolis with my third graders: http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/do-all-heroes-have-superpowers. We talked about heroes and how people really came together to help each other on 9/11 and in the days after. We related it to how we can be a hero each day as third graders- what are the heroic things we can do in our own school? I am hoping to connect this to International Dot Day, which we will celebrate on our next school day, which will be September 16th. Dot Day is all about making your mark on the world, so I think there might be some nice connections to make. My school played the song “Proud to Be an American” this morning and we wore red, white and blue.
Verrena Anderson also shared what one of her friends does with me:
I also have a friend who is a music teacher in New Mexico who wrote on Facebook about her observance of September 11 with her students- teaching about the history of the Star Spangled Banner. Her lesson concluded with the book America the Beautiful by Katharine Lee Bates and Chris Gall. The book includes an artistic interpretation of Ground Zero on September 11th, with firefighters raising the flag.
Paula Bourque shared about a new middle-grade novel, Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes:
On the 15th anniversary of the tragedy, Deja’s 5th grade teacher presents some lessons on the history of this date. Somehow Deja is the only student who has never heard of 9/11 and yet she will find she is the one student in her class who has a personal connection to that date. Jewell Parker Rhodes has created a story of friendship and compassion as she introduces us to Deja (a homeless girl) and her two friends Sabeen (a Muslim girl) and Ben (a child of divorce) who band together to try to understand why recent history is important and relevant and how it can influence our lives today. I think this is an essential read for students who weren’t alive on that date and are trying to understand why it is so important for our nation (and perhaps their families’) history.
Susan Canabel said:
I read Fireboat to my elementary students, and we discuss the events in an age-appropriate way. I also bring my photo albums of New York trips, where they can see the memorials, and freedom tower in various stages of completion. Sometimes I find a video commemorating the event, which usually elicits quite an emotional reaction by the students (perhaps too much so early in the year when I don’t know them all that well yet).
Michelle Haseltine recently read two new novels about September 11th: Nine, Ten: A September 11th Story by Nora Raeigh Baskin and The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner. Here’s what she had to say about each of these books:
In Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story, we meet four kids from around the country 48 hours before the attacks. We get to know them. We learn who they are. Baskin masterfully brings the reader back to “before” with ease. Each of these kids is dealing with life, as they know it, before it all changes. And then it changes…and we travel with these characters as they deal with the attacks. This book will definitely be shared with my sixth graders in the upcoming school year…and for years to come! I can’t wait to share this with my students and start the conversation!
The Memory of Things, a young adult story, begins on September 11th, but it’s really a story about love and faith and the goodness of people as told through two perspectives… two teenagers who have survived 9/11. I love how Polisner draws us into this experience. One of my favorite quotes from the book, “So now I get it. Now I fully understand. Tuesday, and those planes, they’ve broken something. Permanently. And in the process, they’ve changed everything. And everyone.” I’m changed after reading this book. Powerful!
Linda Minor and Aliza Werner explained why they read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.
Here’s what Aliza said about the book:
I read aloud The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, the story of Phillipe Petit, a tightrope walker and street performer who strung a rope between the North and South towers of the World Trade Center as it was being built and walked the wire to the astonishment of New Yorkers below. My third graders were not even born at the time of this tragedy, but I was living in Boston at the time, the origin city of those fateful flights. I want the reflection of history to not dwell in the details of the tragedy, but to focus on a positive story of bravery, courage, and a man who dared to dream. This story briefly touches on the towers demise, but is truly about the bold construction of the towers and a man who danced between them. The illustrations are phenomenal, much deserving of its Caldecott medal.
Here’s what Linda said about the book:
I always read The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, which ends with the ghostly image of the towers that are no longer there. It always brings questions from the children (kindergarteners) as to what happened to the towers, so I give them a very abbreviated story of what happened on September 11, because I want to preserve their wide-eyed innocence but let them know of the story of this day.
Camille Shea recommended Sirius, the hero dog of 9/11 by Hank Fellows for use with upper elementary school students.
Katherine Sokolowski stated:
Most of my fifth graders know what 9/11 was, but are still so far removed from it. I usually read 14 Cows for America and share photos of that day. I also tell them about how I vividly remember where I was, what I was doing, just like my mom remembers where she was when Kennedy was shot.
This month, a new book, Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan and Thomas Gonzalez, was released. It is the story of how a steel beam from the World Trade Center was reformed into the bow of a navy ship, the USS New York. Here’s the publisher’s summary:
There is a ship, a navy ship. It is called the USS New York. It is big like other navy ships, and it sails like other navy ships, but there is something special about the USS New York. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the governor of New York gave the Navy a steel beam that was once inside one of the World Trade Towers. The beam was driven from New York to a foundry in Louisiana. Metal workers heated the beam to a high, high temperature. Chippers and grinders, painters and polishers worked on the beam for months. And then, seven and a half tons of steel, which had once been a beam in the World Trade Center, became a navy ship’s bow. This powerful story reveals how something remarkable can emerge from a devastating event.
This book can be used in conjunction with any of the books listed above to talk with children about the ways in which we worked to heal ourselves as Americans after the devestating attacks on September 11th.
For more read aloud ideas, check out Anna Gratz Cockerille’s personal blog.
Camille Shea shows “Hero Dogs of 9/11” to students. Then, she reads a short article about September 11th to give students some background knowledge. She models a reading strategy with the article. Students get to choose from five different articles about the search and rescue dogs of 9/11. They read and practice that reading strategy she modeled.
Amanda suggested showing “Hope Was Born on 9/11” to middle and high school students. The idea is to challenge students to do good deeds on 9/11 to honor those who lost their lives.
Fran McVeigh suggested watching/listening to “Remember September” by Karla Ruth, which captures the “legacy of bravery.”
- Interview someone who lived through September 11th. Ask them what they remember.
- If your students don’t have access to people who lived through September 11th, then there are plenty of blog posts (Click here to view some of my old ones.) and newspaper from people who lived through that day.
To close, I’ll share an excerpt from a moving article about September 11th, written by Jordana Horn, with you.
But the thing that was truly lost on September 11, that no memorial will ever commemorate and that nothing will ever bring back, is the rainy New York day of September 10, 2001. On that prosaic day, we yelled at our dry cleaners for losing our shirts, and went to work pissed off. We ordered Chinese takeout and tipped the delivery guy extra for having biked through the dark, wet night. We ran out of shampoo, and wrote it down on a shopping list for the next day.
On September 10, 2001, our “problems” were amazingly, beautifully small and mundane. Because on that day, there was nothing to remember, and we had no idea how grateful we should have been.
This giveaway is for a copy of Seven and a Half Tons of Steel by Janet Nolan and Thomas Gonzalez. Many thanks to Peachtree Publishers for donating a copy for one reader. For a chance to win this copy of Seven and a Half Tons of Steel, please leave a comment how you would use Seven and a Half Tons of Steel with your students to teach about September 11th by Wednesday, August 31st at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Friday, September 2nd. Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, my contact at Peachtree will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.) You must have a U.S.A. shipping address to be eligible for this book giveaway.
If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – Seven and a Half Tons of Steel. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a curricular idea or thoughts about how they’d use this Seven and a Half Tons of Steel with their students. Kim Haines’s commenter number was selected using a random number generator so she’ll receive a copy of Nolan and Gonzalez’s book. Here’s what she had to say:
I appreciate all of these ideas for ways to honor and mark the 9/11 anniversary. Working with 4th graders, I believe it’s important to focus on the response to the tragedy, including the warmth and care of those who helped in so many ways. I discovered Saved by the Boats this month, which focuses on the sea evacuation of Manhattan. What a nice connection it would be to use Seven and Half Tons of Steel to show a piece of the tower becoming part of a boat.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).