“What Happened on September 11? I Honestly Don’t Know.”

Statue of Liberty September 11, 2001- By Lou Scotigna (2013)

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

What happened on that day?
On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 the al-Qaeda terrorist network successfully executed attacks against the United States using four commercial airplanes. The airplanes were used as missiles to commit suicide bombings on several key buildings in the US. The most damage was done in New York as they completely destroyed the twin towers at the World Trade center. The attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage. The death toll increased even after the initial attacks, as additional people died of cancer and respiratory diseases related to the debris from the destroyed buildings in the months and years following the attacks.

Where were you during 911?
For some, they were wrapping up the third period of seventh grade science class. Others were starting out their morning working at the office when they received “the call.” Still others were starting a routine day on their college campus. But for others, they have no recollection of the events, because they were not even born yet.

Lived Experience or Recent History
These events are for some people a lived experience in recent history and for others a historical event that they read about in history textbooks or learn of the events on an online resource. Many people across the US did not live through the events we know today as 911. Lauren Camera has written an article to this effect in USA Today entitled How to Teach 9/11 to Students With No Memory of It. Because we are in a time period where there are more and more people that do not have a vivid memory or lived experience of that time period, there will be more and more people who honestly do not know what happened unless they are taught information about 911. One of the important aspects of the field of history is that it reminds society of significant past events (Good and bad), events that had such an impact on people’s lives at the time that it would be a travesty for people to forget. September 11 is one of those events in history, that as long as the world exists, we should always remember.   

For many, it is obvious why we should remember and continue to make it a part of the collective memory of the United States (Much like the American Civil War or World War II). But a number of today’s young people may sincerely not understand why it is so important. That is why a good social studies education is so essential today, indeed the job of the classroom teacher is evermore critical. In many cases, the first time students will hear about September 11 is from their social studies teacher. Below I have provided lesson plans and resources that teachers can use to teach students about 911 and even get the conversation started.  

Lesson Plans and Teacher Resources

Lesson Plans
Lesson Plans- 911 Memorial Museum
Middle School Lesson Plans- 911 Museum
9/11 Lesson Plans- National Education Association (NEA)
9/11 Lesson Plans- Scholastic
9/11 Classroom Activities- Newsweek
9/11 Lesson Plans- Teacher Planet
9/11 Lessons- Education World
9/11 Lessons- Tomorrow Together
9/11 Lesson- Teach Hub.com
9/11 Anniversary Teaching Guide- Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility

Footage/News Clips
Remembering 9/11: Watch Today Show’s live broadcast of Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001
9/11 FOIA Videos: Street-Level Footage, Aerial Shots (Viewer Warning)
Second Plane Hits South Tower
Remembering 9/11 | Archive Footage We Will Never Forget

Photos: Remembering those lost on 9/11
The Names on the Memorial
How to Teach 9/11 to Students With No Memory of It
The 9/11 Anniversary in the Classroom- PBS News Hour
While America Slept: The True Story of 9/11

September 11 Attacks- The History Channel
September 11 Attacks- Encyclopedia Britannica
History of the 9/11 Attacks

Discussion Questions
1. Where were you on September 11, 2001 when the terrorist attacks occurred?
2. Why do you think important events are often so quickly forgotten?
3. View some of the resources provided above (Articles, footage, news reports, images). What thoughts and emotions come to mind as you examine the material?
4. What are creative ways teachers might begin discussion about 911? For those currently teaching in the classroom, what are lessons or activities you have tried that have been effective in teaching about September 11? 


  1. I chose to read and respond to this article because 9/11 just passed this last Friday. For me and I’m sure many, in my current class, we were alive, we just don’t have a memory of the attacks because we were so young. I think events like this are so often forgotten because life moves on so quickly and especially for those like us who don’t live near any of the buildings where the events occurred, it is not something that is thought about often. Also, when more news happens every day it can be easy to lose track. Additionally, that is why I agree with your statement in the article that we need to stress events like these as well as other types of multicultural history or else it will be forgotten and I am interested in looking at the resources more in depth to teach it more creatively. Throughout the years in school, I have always watched videos and then done a worksheet and therefore, I am interested to look at different more interactive ways to teach it.

  2. September 11, 2001…. I remember this day so vividly. I was in my 7th grade math class when the first plane hit. The day started out as a normal morning, until things changed forever. I remember our teachers having an emergency private meeting in the hallway and being confused as to what was going on. Our teachers decided that we would join homerooms and turn the tv on. When we started watching, it was only the 1st building that had been hit, little did we know what was about to happen. This entire day as the 2nd plane hit and the building collapsed, our classrooms were combined. The teachers were unsure how to answer all the questions we had as even they did not have the answers. We all left that day quiet and in shock. When I got home that evening, my Mom cried as she talked to my Dad about the situation. This day is one that I will remember forever and I’m glad that I have it in my memories. Each year, I dedicate time to pray for those lost and still effected. Not only did people lose their life that day but are continuing to. This is something that I will share with my future students as it is not only part of American history, but my own.

  3. I work in a daycare like program called Child Focus Inc. where I am in an elementary school before and after the school day. The program includes children from kindergarten to 5th grade. Last Friday was September 11th and my co-workers and I did not have any idea on how to teach our kids about the significance of 9/11/01. Our personal experience with the event was not much better than theirs because we were only 2-3 years old when it happened. How could we share the relevance of the tragedy if we were also too young to completely understand it as well? We came to the conclusion of having the students explain to us their definitions of what a Real Hero looks/acts like in regard to the brave souls who responded to the calls. As stated in the linked article, “How to Teach 9/11 to Students with No Memory of It”, Clifford Chanin says, “By now there are really no kids in elementary, middle or high school who actually have an active memory of 9/11, so it really is at the initiative of teachers.” Due to the ugly truth in that, my co-worker and I did not have much else we could talk about. I feel that even though I personally have slim recollection of the event, it should still be taught about, especially in the significance to Social Studies classes. After reading the 2 articled and browsing through the provided lesson plans and resources, as a future teacher I feel that it can be much easier to teach our future students about the importance of September 11th, 2001. I think that it’s something we, as educators, need to keep relevant in our history.

  4. I was two years old when 9/11 happened. I have no recollection of it happening, but I do remember my mom saying she was home with me and watching it on the television as it happened. I remember watching documentaries every year with my parents because it was so shocking to me. I couldn’t believe that something so recent was happening in my lifetime, and it caused a war. I was fortunate to have learned about it both at home and in school and it blows my mind to think that kids today don’t know what 9/11 is. My own children and my students won’t know until I teach them. It’s such a strange thing to think about the generation gap and how history works. Kids today will have textbooks that talk about 9/11, something that I didn’t have. We are living our history now and someday these events will be in history books 20 years from now.

  5. I was in seventh grade classroom when it happened. I remember watching the news with confusion at what was happening but came to terms a little later after some explanation. With the new generation being born after this, it is important to teach them what happened along with most history. This incident brought around a change in society’s thought process and introduced many policies and laws that are still in use today. It is important as an informed citizen to know these policies and why they were implemented to make informed decisions.

  6. On September 11th, 2001, I wasn’t even in the United States yet. My adoption was set, but because of the events that happened on that day I could not come home to my family. 9/11 terrified my family because the precautions that were put into place after made it extremely difficult for them to find out any information on when I would be coming home. I was delayed by 4 months, but the unknown is what terrified them the most. 9/11 scarred many families that day, but it seems that the teaching about the horror of 9/11 is dwindling. Literally a decade ago, the day of September 11th would be the day to have a moment of silence in school and to learn about the tragedy. Now, you don’t hear anything and we go through the day like it’s any other day. This article speaks about the importance of remembering 9/11, which I find extremely important especially as the years go by to inform those who weren’t yet born to about the events.

  7. Though I was not living the United States when 911 attacks happened, I do have a clear recollection of the events. I was riding the bus from school to home and someone was handing out a special edition of the city’s newspaper with the horrible news. The deaths and the damaged caused by the attack on that day were mourned by many people around the world. I was unaware that there were people dying afterwards because of the debris, but it is not surprising at all.
    I had the opportunity to visit the 911 memorial museum in New York last year; it was a touching experience; the museum is full of information and memories from an event that though sad deserve to be remembered for generations to come.

  8. Every year on 9/11 in school or at home your parents and teachers would tell you of this tragedy that happened in 2001. Most of the people in school now, were either babies when this happened like me, or they weren’t even born yet, so we don’t actually know what it like on the day of this horrible tragedy. I think schools need to elaborate on 9/11 more in classes, they touch on the subject each year on the anniversary of the attacks but other than that I don’t remember learning about it much in schools. I agree that this will be a hard subject to teach in schools, as you want to teach your kids about history like this because you don’t want them to know about the hate in the world. I think this article helped me especially think about how I’m going to explain 9/11 to my future classroom, and realize that we can’t just brush up on the topic seeing as when I’m in the classroom, none of my students will have been born during this time. I enjoyed this article and learning about 9/11, many things that I didn’t know before like the amount of deaths and injuries from this tragedy.

  9. I really enjoyed this article because it points out how all Americans are different and have very unique ways of seeing something. 9/11 has always intrigued me into wanting to learn more about it since I was only about 4 months old when it occurred. For me, I do not remember the day, but have learned more about it each and every year since. I feel like 9/11 is going to be a hard, but important, topic to teach my future students because it changed the United States in many ways, but also it is a sensitive subject to teach young children about the hatred that goes on in the world around us. This article was short and to the point and the part that stood out to me most was the fact that many people died even after the event due to all of the debris.

  10. I think this is a great article explaining what happened on that day. I have not thought much about where I was the day this happened. But most of us do not think about it. We only know what happened and how much of a toll it took on the United States. In today’s classrooms, we do not talk much about 9/11 anymore. I think it is important that we still teach the students what happened and what that day had in store for the future of America. It is also important to teach your future students what 9/11 is because they were not born nor will they know what that day is/means. This article, as well as the resources, are great because they could easily be used in the classroom to help explain what happened.

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