“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. On 9/11 I was in my mom’s belly going to an ultrasound. She always recounts every single plane in the air being grounded around the CVG airport. Having absolutely no idea what was going on, she skipped her 9 month appointment and went straight home. Hearing the radio was enough for her to feel unsafe and scared. My dad was at work. He was supposed to go to New York for a work trip to meet with clients but it was cancelled earlier that week due to scheduling conflicts. I will forever be grateful for that. Now, whenever my dad flies for a work trip, he takes his necklace with a charm for each kid off and prays over it. This is how I know he will always be safe.
    Having no recollection of the events myself, I will find it difficult to teach why we should never forget this date and the devastation that came along with it; however, I can find different ways and use the resources to show my future students just how much of an impact this had on the United States.

  2. I remember 911 like it just happened. I was flying back to Hawaii from my grandmothers funeral. I was just getting off the plane in Dallas, TX. When I noticed that a bunch of people were standing around a small TV in a coffee shop. That is when we all watched the 2 plane hit the second tower. Then mass panic broke out in the airport. They made an announcement overhead that everyone needed to exit the airport and the area surrounding it. I was stuck. I was 19 and had no one. My family was back in Indiana. Thankfully I had a cousin that lived 2 hours away that drove and got me. All the planes were grounded for 2 weeks. Our world changed in those few moments. It is odd to me that something that happened in my generation is now a piece of history. That my daughter will ask my husband and I if we remember it. Going to NYC this last January and seeing how the skyline is now different than it once was is still shocking. The terror that our nation felt during that time and the months that followed will be something that is never forgotten. I still cry when I watch the videos of that day, all the emotions are still as raw as they were the moment 911 happened. I do not think that will ever go away.

  3. I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I was in the 1st grade in my art classroom. I remember teachers whispering and the looks of fear on their faces. We were rushed back to our classrooms and the teachers turned on the news. Living through this event and actually remembering how it felt to be an American that day, helps me realize how important it is that we teach those who didn’t live through it. This was a turning point in American history and our lives were forever changed. Everyone should be taught about what happened that day, in my opinion.

  4. When the terrorists attacks happened, I was just brought home from the hospital. They are so quickly forgotten because people don’t talk about it. people don’t keep it within memory. Something that you can use to teach about that day it to use that actual day!

  5. I was not alive when 9/11 but I have been told things and seen things about the major tragedy. This specific event changed the world forever. It took away numerous lives and caused a country wide panic. 

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