Encountering History: A 9/11 Lesson Plan
Encourage students to understand the events of September 11, 2001, through first-person accounts and their own interviews.
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
Nancy Barile is a high school teacher with more than 15 years of experience in education and is a frequent contributor to Scholastic.
Encountering History: A 9/11 Lesson Plan is suitable for language arts, journalism, history, and social studies classes. It will help students see connections between historical events and their own lives, as well as gain an understanding of the importance of first-person accounts as primary sources in the historical record.
- Conduct an interview that will allow them to make connections between an individual's personal experiences and historical events
- Develop and practice interviewing skills
- Develop and practice active listening skills
- Draw conclusions about the influence of historical events on contemporary life
1. Activate students' prior knowledge about the events of 9/11. What do they already know? What do they need to research? Do they have misconceptions about the attacks?
Because a good interviewer must be familiar with the discussion topic, high school students may need to do research to round out their prior knowledge of September 11. Scholastic's article on 9/11 provides background information on the subject. In addition, the 10th anniversary collection from Scholastic News Online includes videos that explain the attacks in an age-appropriate manner, maps of the attack sites and the U.S. wars in the Middle East, and a compilation of news articles from the Scholastic magazines.
2. Activate students' prior knowledge about interviewing. Have they conducted an interview before? Have they ever seen an interview they consider exceptional? Discuss what skills an interviewer needs, and what makes for a compelling interview.
For more resources for teaching journalism to high school students, see the High School Journalism Initiative.
3. As a class, make a list of vocabulary words that will be essential for conducting the interview. Words like Allah, jihad, al-Qaeda may be unfamiliar or misunderstood. Students may be unfamiliar with connotative terms such as the West, the Middle East, and others.
4. Ask students to discuss their feelings about conducting an interview. Have them make a list of what is needed to conduct a successful interview. The list should include:
- Arranging a mutually convenient time and place to meet with the interview subject. The location should be quiet, private, and free from distractions.
- Having a list of questions to ask, including follow-up questions and backup questions. A good rule of thumb is to have twice as many questions as you think you may need and always create questions that require more than a yes or no answer.
- Establishing a natural balance to the interview. Ideally, there will be a conversational flow, while still allowing the interviewer to ask all her important questions and achieve her goals. This is one of the more difficult interviewing skills to master.
- Deciding how to record the interview. Will the interviewer write down the subject's answers (which can be difficult) or will she use an audio or video recording? Be sure to get the subject's permission before recording.
- Listening. The interviewer needs to stay focused on what the subject is saying. If she is thinking about her next question while the subject is answering, she might miss important information. By actively listening, the interviewer may discover unexpected information.
For more interviewing tips, have your students review "How to Conduct an Interview" from the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps.
5. Discuss first-person accounts with your students. What makes them powerful? Why are they so essential to the history record? Have your students consider these questions while preparing for their interviews.
In addition, have them read examples of compelling first-person accounts, such as Emily Sussell's experience of 9/11 in New York City from Upfront magazine and journalist Suzanne McCabe's story of witnessing the World Trade Center collapse.
You can also have your students explore StoryCorps® for inspiration. This nonprofit organization aims to provide Americans with "the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives," and features first-hand accounts of the 9/11 tragedy.
6. Model effective interviewing techniques for your students, demonstrating the way an interview might be conducted. Then ask students:
- How can you put your subject at ease?
- How will you deal with the fact that 9/11 is a sensitive issue for many people and your subject may become emotional during the interview?
- How will you follow up on answers that you did not anticipate?
- How will you be sure to keep your subject focused on the topic? What will you do if your subject deviates from the question being asked?
Have students practice their interviewing skills on each other by conducting short interviews.
7. Help students generate a list of questions. Provide and elicit sample questions.
Note: As talking about the events of 9/11 can be emotional and politically-charged, encourage students to create questions that record the subject’s recollection of the events, but do not ask the subject to take a stand or form an opinion about controversial issues resulting from 9/11.
8. Create a record of the interviews. Talk to your students about how to edit their interviews for length and clarity without damaging the integrity of information. Then, create a record of the interviews recorded by the class to serve as a historical artifact. This will also give your writers a sense of audience. Decide how to preserve the interviews either in a bound book, a webpage, a video diary, or another format that can then be shared with parents, families, and the community.
9. Summarize and reflect. After their interviews have been completed, ask your students how they feel that 9/11 changed the country. Students should provide specific examples to back up their point of view.
Lesson Extension, Grades 9–12
Political scientist Samuel P. Huntington said in his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order that the primary source of conflict in the post-9/11 world will be people’s religious and cultural identities. Specifically, Huntington (1997) states in his clash of civilizations theory that:
"It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future."
It is interesting to note that Huntington set forth his theory before 9/11. How accurate do you believe Huntington theory is? What events have occurred in recent years that back up what he says? How can global leaders prepare to address and combat conflicts that stem from the "clash of civilizations"?