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Teaching 9/11: A comprehensive unit for high school students

Grade Level Grades 9-12
Resource Type Activity, Lesson Plan


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Eyewitness accounts, or first-person narratives, are essential to understanding truth in history. As a primary source, this type of perspective is needed to understand what happened in an event from a variety of angles. Without reading eyewitness accounts, our cultural perception of major events becomes molded by secondary sources, such as news media coverage and interpretation, political speeches and rhetoric and other perspectives which are removed from direct contact with the original event. As 9/11 changes from current event to history, the students we teach now were too young to have their own direct memories of the day and the aftermath, and so teaching them to think like historians and making sure they understand the complexities of 9/11 is of vital importance.

The lasting physical, psychological, cultural and political effects being felt in New York and across the country serve to highlight the importance of how we teach 9/11 in our schools. Teaching the next generation how to understand these sociopolitical, psychological and cultural repercussions is important to honor the people who were there. Furthermore, teaching 9/11 first person narratives in schools shapes the way it is remembered, and helps develop the citizens who will shape the policies and values of our city, and the country, in the future.

Personal interviews with 9/11 responders are central to this unit and give insight into the minds of those who experienced 9/11 directly. Some seek to find or make meaning. Many raise questions about the nature of heroism, resilience, retribution, guilt, hope, camaraderie, civic duty and politics. With respect to the fact that some questions have no answers, these lessons are designed to get students to ask questions and analyze sources as empathetic historians.

This unit uses a text, We’re Not Leaving, by Benjamin J. Luft, M.D., to explore first hand narratives and search for common themes within the stories. Students are also asked to analyze key speeches, explore the Patriot Act, debate the Zadroga Bill for first responder healthcare and think about the best approach to responding to terrorism internationally. Additionally, students will spend time evaluating ideas about what terrorism is, how these events have affected their lives, and how to reach out to the witnesses in their own lives to learn about 9/11.

Want more free lessons on teaching 9/11?

Check out the Share My Lesson collection, 9/11 Lesson Plans and Resources.


1 Review
As an administrator who has seen these lessons in action, I can speak to the level of rigor and interest on the part of the students. The students were thoroughly engaged during this lesson, which was representative of Common Core Learning Standards. They are extremely useful teaching tools
August 08, 2016

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