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Speakers, Projects Bring Veterans' Stories to Classroom

Curriculum CenterTeachers use a variety of ways to educate students about the historic significance of Veterans Day, coming on November 11. Some teachers ask students to interview a veteran, others invite current members of the military to talk to their students, and others use the holiday as a chance to focus on the historical time line that evolved Veterans Day into a national holiday. Included: Classroom activities for teaching about Veterans Day!

Although many towns mark Veterans Day by closing school, the holiday provides teachers with opportunities for presenting lessons and assemblies -- often held the week before Veterans Day -- in many different areas. History -- including students' own family histories -- language arts, civics, geography, and social responsibility, are just a few.

Veterans Day has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1938; originally called Armistice Day, it commemorated the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. After World War II, the name was changed to Veterans Day. Congress declared it a day to honor all veterans in 1954. Canada honors its veterans on Remembrance Day, also celebrated November 11.

Currently, veterans make up about 30 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).

"There are fewer and fewer veterans who are going to be alive," Brenda Dyck, a teacher in Canada, told Education World. "It's an appreciation thing. We remember the contributions of veterans because we don't really know what they gave and what was lost."


Promoting Peace

Dyck, a sixth-grade teacher at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, developed lessons for sixth through tenth graders about the consequences of war to mark Remembrance Day.

Last year, some of the activities included the following:

  • Students made symbols of peace, including 1,000 paper cranes, for a "peace gallery" display.
  • Students watched images of peace and war while listening to the soundtrack from Private Ryan and Sarah McLachlan's song "I Will Remember You."
  • Students discussed the purposes for building various walls, such as the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • Dyck's class built a replica of the Western Wall on the school's entrance wall, and students put messages and prayers on the "bricks" just as people do in Jerusalem. (Note: Learn more about the history of the Western Wall.)
  • Dyck's class also discussed the invisible "walls" that people build to separate themselves from others.

Dyck said she plans to use the wall lesson again this year. Remembrance and Veterans Day programs are important not only for honoring veterans, but for helping students develop a deeper appreciation of peace as well, she said.

Poems and Poppies

One symbol of Veterans Day and Remembrance Day is the red poppy. The flower became a symbol as a result of John McRae's famous poem that describes a World War I military cemetery in Belgium covered with poppies. Try these activities involving the poem and poppies:


Students Learn Their Own History

Seventh graders at the Washington School in Monticello, Illinois, interviewed veterans last year. The students then created a slide show based on their interviews and prepared maps of areas where the veterans had served.

"It was a great experience," said teacher Mary Murphy. "The students learned from one another, found out where [armed forces] bases were in the United States and abroad, and even where some countries were. We invited the veterans in to see the final project. The kids felt differently about veterans after this project."


History of the Holiday

The Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida have developed a series of Veterans' Day activities for students in sixth through 12th grades. Following are a few ideas:

  • Teach students about the history of Veterans Day by having them create a time line of events leading to the observance of the holiday.
  • Ask students to write "newspaper" accounts of how veterans are honored around the world.
  • Have teams of students research how American veterans were treated after they returned from various military conflicts, ranging from the French and Indian War to the Persian Gulf War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Ask students to compare and contrast their findings. Also have students compare and contrast how women and minorities who served in those conflicts were treated.


Meeting Tomorrow's Veterans

For a lesson on tomorrow's veterans, the Pear Tree Point School in Darien, Connecticut, a K-5 school, invited a group of U.S. Marines to speak to students about why they chose to become marines. Students asked about the jobs the marines performed and what their life was like in the service.

The school's headmistress began the assembly by talking about her own relatives who had been in the service and invited students to talk about veterans in their families. She also read "In Flanders Fields" and discussed its significance.

"The students were rapt and attentive and gave the visitors a standing ovation," said Pear Tree Point School teacher Lynne Branstrom.

Additional Veteran's Day Activities 

The Department of Veterans Affairs Web site provides a variety of Activities for Veterans Day, such as:

  • Have young children draw pictures of the various U.S. military uniforms throughout history.
  • Provide materials for students to make construction paper hats for different branches of the service.
  • Ask students to research family members who have served in the military.

Numerous Veterans Day activities are available from the Instructional Materials Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Education. Here are some suggested activities:

  • Ask high school students to imagine they are preparing for their high school graduation and college at the beginning of World War II; then they receive a draft notice and a college scholarship letter. Ask students to write letters to the college president, explaining why they cannot accept the scholarship.
  • Ask girls to write letters to their parents, explaining why they want to volunteer to serve with one of the women's auxiliary units, such as the Navy WAVES.
  • Assign students to research scientific, health, or medical discoveries made during wartime.
  • Show young children how to make construction paper stars. Have them to decorate the stars with ribbons and print on them the name of a friend or relative who is a veteran. Display the stars in classrooms or hallways as a "Salute to Veterans."


Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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Links last updated 05/11/2015