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About This Lesson Plan

Social Studies, American History, Wars and Military


2 Class Periods

History in the Making: Remembering September 11, 2001

Learning from Objects and Memorials

Students will visit (in person or online) a public memorial to gather details about the event/person/group of people honored by the memorial and to understand the reason why this event/person/group of people was honored.

Students will understand how artifacts—from building remnants to personal items—help document the story of past events and why it is so important for archivists and museum curators to preserve this tangible evidence for future generations to study and learn about the past.

What students should know:

  • The events of September 11 were witnessed by a global audience in real time. As a result, there is an abundance of primary source material—first-person testimonies, objects, and digital materials—for scholars and future generations interested in learning about this event.
  • Different people may describe or remember the events of September 11, 2001, in different ways.
  • Artifacts—from building remnants to personal belongings—provide concrete evidence of past events.
  • It is important for artifacts to be preserved by archivists and museum curators so that historians and future generations may study and learn about the past.

What students should be able to do:
  • Identify the kinds of primary sources that have been preserved, so that future generations can learn about the events of September 11, 2001.
  • Record a story of September 11 and its impact as told through the eyes of someone who remembers it.
  • Compare and contrast the different points of view reflected in various accounts, and recognize that individual and personal memories reflect different perspectives on an event.
  • Recognize the range of artifacts being collected by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.

Teacher Introduction/Background (PDF)
Take-Home Pages (PDF)

Activities—Day 1:

1. Warm-up/Preparation:

  • Define “memento”: a small item kept to remember a place, an experience, or a person. Ask: What kinds of mementoes do you or your family and friends have? How do they help you remember an event or person? What stories are associated with these mementoes? What could future generations learn from these objects?
  • Then ask: Do you or does anyone you know have any objects that remind you of the events of September 11, 2001, or of visits to the World Trade Center in New York City before then? How might these objects be valuable for historians in the future?

Artifacts and History
  • Discuss the definition of “artifact” with students: an object produced by human workmanship, especially one of historical interest.
  • Provide students with descriptions of some of the artifacts the National September 11 Memorial & Museum will collect and display. Stress that this is only a tiny sample of the artifacts: a fire officer’s helmet damaged by debris when the South Tower collapsed; monumental pieces of steel from the North Tower, twisted on impact with the first plane; wall and column remnants of the World Trade Center towers; recorded testimonies and written remembrances of the events of September 11.
  • Discuss how each artifact could help visitors to the Memorial understand the events of September 11, 2001. Ask: How will these artifacts help visitors draw meaning from the events? How will they help historians and future visitors understand the events? What other artifacts do you think could be included at the Memorial Museum?

  • Pose this question: What is a “memorial”? (Something that is built or done to help people continue to remember a person or an event.) Make sure students connect “memorial” to the words “memory” and “remember.”
  • Point out that a memorial or memorial site can be private or public. A cemetery is filled with private memorials; a wreath by the roadside where an accident occurred is a private memorial in a public space.
  • Elicit from students some examples of public memorials, both national and local: For example: national—Washington Monument or Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC; National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York; local—sculpture, plaque, or structure honoring local men and women or a local event.
  • Ask volunteers to describe a visit to a memorial, either private or public. In describing their visit, students should answer these questions: What or who was being remembered? What are some of the important things you learned on that visit? How did you feel about your visit to the memorial?
  • Discuss the statement: A memorial is a way that communities make promises to the future about the past. Ask: What kinds of events are important to remember? Why?

2. Assignment—Describing Public Memorials
  • Tell students that for this assignment they will be investigating a public memorial in their community.
  • Have students write the following assignment in their notebooks:
    Step 1: On a sheet of paper, record the name of a memorial and its location.
    Step 2: Answer these questions on the same page:
    —What event/person/group of people does this memorial honor?
    —Describe it briefly (or sketch it). What details, such as words or decorative objects, appear on it?
    —What do these details say about the event/person/group of people’s significance to your community?
    —What questions do you have about this memorial? Where could you find answers to these questions?

Note: If it isn’t feasible for students to visit a local memorial, have them take a virtual trip to a national memorial website and answer the above questions in response to what they view online. Some suggestions include—

National Fallen Firefighters Memorial
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial
Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum
USS Arizona Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial

3. Wrap-up:
    Review the definition of “memorial.” Then go over the questions that students will be answering during their investigation of a local memorial.

Activities—Day 2:

1. Share Your Findings:

  • Have students share their findings about local memorials.
  • Have students respond to these questions orally or in writing: What different kinds of public memorials are there in your community? What did you learn from the memorial you visited? In what other ways could the community remember the event/person/group of people? What additional artifacts and materials would help to better document the story of your local memorial?

2. Wrap-up:

  • Have students recommend which primary resources will best document the story of September 11 and its aftermath.

Take-Home Pages (PDF)

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