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Teaching about Veteran’s Day

Many, if not most, schools are out of school on Veteran’s Day (November 11), but do your students know why they are not in school? This short blog will bring clarity and offer ideas for teaching students the importance of this day away from school.

Before getting to the instructional ideas, we need to pause to bring clarity. Why? Far too often, adults conflate and confuse Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, but these two national holidays are not interchangeable. Veteran’s Day has a broader focus as it celebrates everyone who has served in the armed forces, so “thanking a veteran” on this day is certainly appropriate. Memorial Day, however, is narrower as it specifically honors the military members who lost their lives in service to our country.

To teach about Veteran’s Day, any teacher would start with the paragraph above to make sure that students understand the difference between the focus of those to holidays. A few, interdisciplinary ideas are provided because Veteran’s Day learning should not be confined just to history or social studies classes:

  • Foreign Language – veterans speaking different languages were often used as translators, but it goes much deeper. The ability read a text in the native language brings in a richness and cultural understanding through its nuances. Foreign language teachers could demonstrate language acquisition through listening by examining the use of Native Americans in both world wars.
  • Science – teachers of biology and chemistry have multiple options available to them for teaching about Veteran’s Day. For biology, students can learn how medical technology evolved over time due to increasing information about germs. Similar topics could be taught in chemistry biological understanding allowed for the scientific creation of medicine that helped save soldiers lives.
  • ELA – this content area is rich with possibilities as teachers can focus on individual, soldier journals that created a historical record or value of writing in after-action reports. Individuals who read critically and wrote clearly were quickly identified and placed into roles where their strengths could be used – interpreting messages, writing for soldier morale, or communication up and down the chain of command, etc.
  • The Arts – music was integral for soldiers to receive comfort or boost morale, so a music teacher could look at some of the most famous songs during war or even look at the work of the USO. Art teachers could bring in famous solider paintings and discuss what the artist was trying to convey with the selected elements.
  • Physical Education – the PE teacher could test students against the physical requirements required of service members. For instance, the average World War 2 paratrooper jumped with more than 60 pounds of gear (not including the parachute). If age appropriate, have the students see have far they could carry that load and remind them that veterans often moved forward in muddy, wet conditions making that weight seem even heavier.
  • History – one great avenue for history teachers is to discuss the different types of history. Often, everyone thinks of the written word; however, S.L.A. Marshall, during World War 2, used oral history to create a “bottom-up” approach. His historical methods are controversial and can lead to a wonderful discussion about the evaluation of source materials.

While these are a few basic ideas for lessons you could create and customize, here are some specific lesson plans, printable templates, or other ideas:

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