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What to teach in January

What to Teach this Month: January

January 2, 2024

What to Teach this Month: January

From the opening of Ellis Island to Penguin Awareness Day, January has a wealth of events and holidays that provide timely topics to introduce into your curriculum. Check out the list below for ideas.


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With the cheers on New Year’s Eve as the clock strikes midnight, it seems as if magic fills the air as we enter a new year, where a feeling of renewal and promise takes hold. January tends to take on the role of a blank slate where the possibilities for the future seem endless. 

New year—a new chapter, new verse, or just the same old story? Ultimately, we write it. The choice is ours.
Alex Morritt, Author, Poet and Lyricist

January can be a perfect time to rethink some of our approaches to life: how we treat others, how we treat ourselves (are we showing ourselves the kindness we deserve?), how we approach our work, how we approach our health, or something else. We definitely shouldn’t jump into changing every aspect of our lives, but setting realistic and achievable goals at the beginning of the year can be the building blocks we need to make positive changes. Maybe it starts with something small, like starting the day with morning affirmations and words of kindness to ourselves, just like Jessica, the little girl in the video.

Remote video URL

January can also be a great time for educators to consider what tone they want to set for their students for the upcoming semester and what lessons they want to start the year off. From the opening of Ellis Island to Penguin Awareness Day, January has a wealth of events and holidays that provide timely topics to introduce into your curriculum. Check out the list below for ideas.

National Save the Eagles Day (Jan.10)

On Jan. 10, we recognize National Save the Eagles Day. The day started in New Jersey in 2015 as a way to try to save the habitat and lives of two nesting bald eagles, but then was expanded into a national holiday where we celebrate and learn about all 60 eagle species across the world and the necessary conservation practices that must be continued. Celebrate this day in your classroom with these resources:

Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 15)

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated each year on the third Monday in January to recognize the civil rights leader and his instrumental contributions in ending segregation, and passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It took 15 years of campaigning before President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law Nov. 2, 1983, and then it took an additional 15 years for the holiday to be approved by Congress. The third Monday in January was chosen because it is on or close to King’s birthday, which is Jan. 15, 1929. MLK Day marks the only U.S. federal holiday designated to service. Teach about his legacy with these lessons:

18th Amendment (Jan. 17)

On Jan. 17, 1920, the 18th Amendment went into effect, banning the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in the U.S. To date, this is the only amendment to have been repealed. Learn about the amendment and prohibition using these resources:

Prohibition in the United States

Handout, Worksheet | Grades 9-12

Roaring 20s packet

Handout, Worksheet | Grades 9-12

1920's Speakeasy/Prohibition

Activity, Handout, Worksheet | Grades 9-12

U.N. International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27)

The United Nations designated Jan. 27 (the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945) as U.N. International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day, we are called to remember and honor the 6 million Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust, as well as millions of other victims, including Poles, Ukrainians, Roma, labor unionists, “subversive” artists, resister, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the disabled, political dissidents and others who were murdered by the Nazi regime during World War II. The day strives to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust endures, fostering a commitment to preventing future genocides, combating antisemitism and promoting a world rooted in compassion and inclusivity. Teach about the Holocaust with these lessons and resources:

How To Teach About The Holocaust

Handout, Lesson Plan, Worksheet | Grades 6-12, Professional Development

Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster (Jan. 28)

On Jan. 28, 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart just 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the tragic loss of all seven crew members, including American teacher Christa McAuliffe who was part of NASA’s Teacher in Space Program. The event had a profound impact on space exploration, leading to a suspension of the Space Shuttle program and a re-evaluation of NASA's safety procedures. The lessons learned from this tragedy have since influenced safety protocols and decision-making processes in space exploration and other high-risk industries. Teach students about the Challenger and our history in space with these lessons:

Looking for more new content in January? Try out our first wellness session of the year, Dimensions to Wellness: Self-Care for Educators, on Jan. 24. And, on Jan. 28, be sure to register to hear from Amanda Gorman at the new AFT Book Club Series launch. What else are you diving into teaching this month? Let us know in the comments.

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Megan Ortmeyer
Megan Ortmeyer is an SML Team Member and has worked in the AFT Educational Issues Department since fall 2018. She received her M.A. in education policy studies in May 2020 from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the George Washington University. Prior to working at the AFT,... See More

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