Teaching About 9/11

With the recent fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the events and reprecussions of that day in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania have been incorporated into most social studies curricula across the country. However, teachers face the unique challenge of teaching a “current” event about which students have no memory. Generally, the subject is now taught as history. Teachers across the country wonder how to teach about these events, their causes and their consequences. Further, there is some ambivalence about using the opportunity to teach about Muslims and Islam, since connecting 9/11 and Islam may reinforce the misconception that Muslims as a group bear responsibility for the attacks.

This seminal moment affected both domestic and foreign policy and ushered in an era of renewed patriotism, fear and conflict, and non-state terrorist groups that continue to cause great upheaval across the world. September 11th is part of the national narrative in the United States but it’s a loaded topic for teachers to introduce. Furthermore,  the U.S. Department of Education is barred under federal law from having any sort of role in setting curricula; instead of guidance, it offers a list of potential materials, published on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, for teachers to consider.

Many states offer a toolkit of reference materials – websites where they can find find sample lesson plans and other ideas for teachings. Some states, but not all, include instruction of the terrorist attacks as part of their academic standards, though teachers determine the actual method of instruction.

By and large, the decision about how to address 9/11 is left up to individual teachers, some of whom struggle in determining how best to deal with such an important but also sensitive and complex topic – especially since the 50 million students in public elementary and secondary schools today were either born after the terrorist attacks or were too young to have any memory of it. [U.S. News]

We believe that with the renewed onslaught of media attention on this important anniversary, we cannot but take advantage of the opportunity to bring students to a richer understanding not only of the 9/11 events themselves, but of the communities of people in the United States and around the globe who were impacted by those events. In order for young people to be able to better grasp contemporary global dynamics, they must be aware of the phenomena that set them in motion. We have compiled a list of organizations and teaching resources that take a broad variety of approaches to these issues, from looking at the activism of those who lost family in the attacks to understanding the diversity of American Muslims to researching issues of national security and Constitutional protections. If you discover other resources you think would be helpful to teachers on this issue, let us know!

Included below are: Noteworthy Media Mentions about Teaching 9/11, Digital Resources, 9/11 Lesson Plans, and a 9/11 Student Book List.

LP indicates that a link has classroom resources such as lesson plans that can be adapted and used for various age groups.

Noteworthy Media Mentions About Teaching 9/11

9/11 Is Now a History Lesson for Most School Kids – Hechinger Report, September 11, 2016

The Challenges and Opportunities of Teaching 9/11  – Blog post from Facing History and Ourselves, 2014

Making 9/11 Relevant to Young Learners – The Atlantic, September 2016

Teaching Sept. 11 To Students Who Were Born After The Attacks Happened – nprED, September 10,  2016

Digital Resources in Alphabetical Order

9/11 Materials for Teachers from the United States Department of Education

These materials were developed by federal grantees and agencies in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. The materials are provided as a convenience for teachers and others seeking resources for teaching about September 11. Some standouts are a feature on 9/11 and the Constitution, and the National History Education Clearinghouse’s “In Remembrance: Teaching September 11” which contains resources from across the web that include primary source archives and strategies for teaching emotionally-charged subjects.


9/11 Remembered: Pearson Online Exchange

The collection is meant to help teachers present 9/11 in its historical contexts to students who have no memory of the event itself. It includes age appropriate resources for elementary, middle, and high school students, with timelines, historical accounts, activities, and more.


9/11 Tribute Center: Teaching 9/11 Toolkit for Educators 

Teaching 9/11 is a set of online resources for teachers. Videos and lesson plans introduce creative and probing approaches that teachers have taken to introduce the subject of 9/11 to their students. The 9/11 Tribute Center is a project of the September 11th Families’ Association which brings together those who want to learn about 9/11 with those who experienced it. The 9/11 Tribute Center has created a set of eight videos of personal stories of transformation along with discussion questions that guide students to connect the events of 9/11 to the choices they make in their own lives. They have also created a list of suggested resources, including PDFs, books and films on topics ranging from: 9/11 History Facts, Why? Individual Experiences, The World Trade Center Past and Present, and The Impact of 9/11 in Local and Global Communities. LP.


ADC Anti-Discrimination Education Resources

While 9/11 spurs feelings of patriotism, it can also incite stereotypes and discrimination. Here are some valuable resources to help inform students and discourage anti-Arab discrimination.


Beyond Belief 

Beyond Belief is a 2010 film featuring two American women whose husbands were killed on September 11th working with women in Afghanistan. The video is available on Netflix, and the distributor (click the link above) has resources for educators and options for screenings.  The American women featured in the film went on to found Beyond the 11th, a non-profit organization that provides support to widows in Afghanistan who have been affected by war, terrorism & oppression.


 The Choices Program at Brown University

Students explore the human dimensions of the September 11 attacks by conducting oral history interviews and sharing their interviewee’s experience in this free online lesson.

Responding to Terrorism: Challenges for Democracy helps students consider the issues surrounding the 9.11.01 attacks and the U.S. response to terrorism in a constructive context that promotes dialogue about future policy directions. This curriculum unit offers five different lessons with focusing on experiential learning and critical thinking. The lessons are available for purchase in a variety of formats.

Supplemented by Scholars Online videos featuring academics and policymakers such as U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, this lesson encourages students to recreate the national public debate that took place as the country stood on the brink of invasion in March 2003, and to explore four distinct options the U.S. public considered at the time. A preview video is featured on the link. This curriculum unit offers six different lessons with focusing on experiential learning and critical thinking. The lessons are available for purchase in a variety of formats.


Heroes of Ground Zero Unit

Inspired by the heroic firefighters from 9/11, PBS has a week-long, standards aligned civics unit for middle and high school students. It focuses on community needs. LP.


In Remembrance: Teaching September 11

Teachinghistory.org, an initiative of the National History Education Clearinghouse, is a collection of resources is recommended by the U.S. Department of Education and explores topics and events surrounding 9/11 as well as recommended strategies for educators on how to teach 9/11 in the classroom.


National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center

The National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center bears solemn witness to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and February 26, 1993. The Museum honors the nearly 3,000 victims of these attacks and all those who risked their lives to save others. The Teach & Learn Section has numerous resources for educators (teaching guides and lesson plans) and students (timelines, history, personal accounts). An in-depth FAQ about the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, with particular attention to the Twin Towers and the 9/11 Memorial that stands in their place today. Two interactive timelines that chronicle both the attacks and the Ground Zero recovery. Note: Both timelines incorporate videos and images from the attacks, so please view them first before sharing them with students who may be upset by the content. LP.


New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education

Global Security, Terrorism, and 9/11 in the Classroom: A New Curricular Initiative for Students in Grades K-12

The lessons contained in this curriculum were developed, piloted in over 60 New Jersey school districts, revised and refined by curriculum developers and the 4 Action Initiative team. While there are lessons for all grade levels, teachers should adjust the lessons for their classes, always taking into account the ages of their students and the potentially traumatic nature of the content of some lessons. Lesson plan themes include: Human Behavior, From Playground to World Stage: Aggression, Hostility and Terrorism, The Historical Context of Terrorism, 9/11/01: A Contemporary Case Study, Consequences and Challenges in a Post-9/11 World, Remembrance and Public Memory, and Building Better Futures: Narrative, Recovery and Responsibility. LP.


The New York Times 9/11 Resources

The Learning Network: Teaching & Learning with the New York Times offers many news-based resources to address the challenges of teaching about war, terror, 9/11, and more.


PBS: America Responds

In the days immediately following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, PBS pulled together resources to help educators teach students at different grade levels about peace, tolerance, war, patriotism, geography, and other related issues. Although time has passed, educators can continue to use these valuable resources to teach lessons on these important subjects.


Remembering 9/11: Building Tolerance

These lessons, developed by Share My Lesson, ask students to look not just at the events of 9/11 but at the following days and years. Students explore the parts of a newspaper, the functions of a news article, and the importance of a free press in a democratic society. LP.


Scholastic 9/11 Resources

Scholastic Books, purveyor of books and educational materials found in tens of thousands of schools and tens of millions of homes worldwide, has an array of lesson plans, activities, news stories, videos and booklists adapted specifically for younger children. LP.


The September 11th Education Program

Teaching 9/11 Organized by families of 9/11 victims, the lessons in this curriculum are designed to develop students’ critical thinking skills. With an interdisciplinary approach, the lessons draw upon questions of history, government and citizenship, economics, and artistic interpretation. For example, a sample lesson called The Historian’s Craft: Creating Timelines and Using Personal Narratives asks students to analyze the different scope and limitations of long- and short-term timelines and personal narratives.


Smithsonian National Museum of American History

On August 3-4, 2011, the National Museum of American History, National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Pentagon Memorial Fund, and Flight 93 National Memorial offered a free online conference, September 11: Teaching Contemporary History. Designed to provide educators with resources and strategies for addressing the September 11 terrorist attacks, the conference included round-table discussions with content experts and six workshop sessions. The entire conference was recorded and is available; accompanying materials highlight K-12 lesson plans and resources available from the conference affiliates, provide timelines of events at each September 11 memorial site, and encourage conversations on how to document, preserve, and interpret recent history and current events. You will also find the blog posting by Joan Brodsky Schur, Essential questions for teaching September 11, to be a valuable tool. LP.


Teaching Tolerance

The Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center provides a number of resources by and for educators for teaching about 9/11, focusing on creating a positive classroom environment for all students and confronting Islamophobia. See Facilitating Constructive Conversations about 9/11 (developed by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding), Commemmorate 9/11 by Confronting Islamophobia, Bringing 9/11 in the Classroom: Useful Lessons, How Do You Bring Islam into the Classroom?, Combating Anti-Muslim Bias, and more.


Unity Productions Foundation

My Fellow American is an online film and social media project that seeks to change the narrative – from Muslims as the other, to Muslims as our fellow Americans. It asks people of other backgrounds to share a real-life story about a Muslim friend, neighbor, or colleague whom they admire. Check out the many fascinating stories being told.


What is the Truth About American Muslims? Questions and Answers

This publication, produced by the Interfaith Alliance and Religious Freedom Project of the First Amendment Center, provides answers to frequently asked questions about religious answers to frequently asked questions about religious freedom and American Muslims. This resource is useful for understanding basic tenets of Islam and underscores the diversity of Muslims, which are both essential to confronting stereotypes.

9/11 Lesson Plan Resources

9/11 Map & Web Research Lessons

McGraw Hill offers an array of Social Studies activities focused on the historical events from 9/11. There is a map project and several web activities, as well as an extensive web resource list. LP.


Heroes of Ground Zero Unit

Inspired by the heroic firefighters from 9/11, PBS has a week-long, standards aligned civics unit for middle and high school students. It focuses on community needs. LP.


PBS Frontline: Are We Safer Now?

Students will examine post 9/11 surveillance tactics and evaluate whether this increased scrutiny has improved national security or restricted. Other Frontline video clips and associated activity plans related to terrorism, US foreign Policy, and religious extremism can also be found at the PBS Learning Media portal through a search engine.


Remembering 9/11: Building Tolerance

These lessons, developed by Share My Lesson, ask students to look not just at the events of 9/11 but at the following days and years. Students explore the parts of a newspaper, the functions of a news article, and the importance of a free press in a democratic society. LP.


Scholastic 9/11 Resources

Scholastic Books, purveyor of books and educational materials found in tens of thousands of schools and tens of millions of homes worldwide, has an array of lesson plans, activities, news stories, videos and booklists adapted specifically for younger children. LP.


TeacherVision Sept. 11th  Lessons

TeacherVision has categorized a plethora of worksheets, classroom activities and reading activities that relate to September 11thLP.



And, more!

9/11 Student Book List

The Little Chapel That Stood
Beautifully illustrated book tells of the historic chapel less than 100 yards from the Twin Towers that miraculously survived on 9-11. Firemen hung their shoes on the fence and raced to help the people in the towers: Oh what gallant men did we lose/Who never came back to get their shoes. The story of terror overcome by courage and bravery that teaches us no one is too small to make a difference. Preschool through 3rd grade.

September Roses
On September 11, 2001, two sisters from South Africa are flying to New York City with 2,400 roses to be displayed at a flower show. As their plane approaches the airport, a cloud of black smoke billows over the Manhattan skyline. When they land, they learn of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. All flights are canceled; the sisters cannot go home, and they are stranded with boxes and boxes of roses. In the days that followed September 11, Jeanette Winter was drawn to Union Square and saw, among the hundreds of memorial offerings, twin towers made of roses. In the pages of this small and vibrant book, she tells a moving story. Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

14 Cows for America
This New York Times Bestseller, from award-winning author Carmen Agra Deedy, is a true story of hope and generosity, and the gift a small Kenyan village makes to the people of America. Grades 2 and above.

America at War
In this ever-timely collection of more than fifty poems and paintings divided into eight sections, one of America’s most distinguished poets and anthologists, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and internationally acclaimed painter and printmaker Stephen Alcorn trace emotions of warfare from the American Revolution to the Iraq War. Grades 3-7.

We the People: September 11
On a bright sunny morning on September 11, 2001, hijackers took control of four U.S. commercial airplanes. This book tells the facts from 9/11 in a way that children can understand. Grades 3-6.

With Their Eyes: September 11th–The View from a High School at Ground Zero
Tuesday, September 11, seemed like any other day at Stuyvesant High School, only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. The semester was just beginning, and the students, faculty, and staff were ready to start a new year. Within a few hours that Tuesday morning, they would experience an event that transformed all their lives completely. Here, in their own words, are the firsthand stories of a day none of us will ever forget. Grades 7 and above.

Messages from Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11th
This is a collection of letters, poetry, and art by children in response to September 11th. All were sent to other children reflecting innocent support, outreach, and caring. This book is an archive of what children were thinking and feeling through their honest and heartfelt messages.

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers
Eight weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and translated into a dozen languages, 102 Minutes is a gripping narrative that is also investigative reporting of the first rank—”in a class by itself,” according to Reader’s Digest. Dwyer and Flynn reveal the decisions, both good and bad, that proved to be the difference between life and death on a day that changed America forever. Newberry Book Award Finalist.

Report from Ground Zero
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 forever altered the American landscape, both figuratively and literally. Immediately after the jets struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, Dennis Smith, a former firefighter, reported to Manhattan’s Ladder Co. 16 to volunteer in the rescue efforts. In the weeks that followed, Smith was present on the front lines, attending the wounded, sifting through the wreckage, and mourning with New York’s devastated fire and police departments. This is Smith’s vivid account of the rescue efforts by the fire and police departments and emergency medical teams as they rushed to face a disaster that would claim more than five thousand lives.

Last Man Down
On September 11, 2001, FDNY Battalion Chief Richard “Pitch” Picciotto answered the call heard around the world. In minutes, he was at Ground Zero of the worst terrorist attack on American soil, as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center began to burn-and then to buckle. This is the harrowing true story of a true American hero, a man who thought nothing of himself-and gave nearly everything for others during one of New York City’s-and the country’s-darkest hours.

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