Teaching September 11th: Resources for Empathy and Inquiry


Teaching September 11th is often an emotional and challenging task.

Teachers vividly remember the horror of that day, the heroism of our first responders, the temporary unity of Americans, and the changing nature of government and warfare that ensued. Our students, however, do not have these memories and need a social studies teacher and rich curriculum resources to help unpack these things.

While our students may not remember 9/11, our students still have social emotional needs when learning about 9/11. The content might be especially sensitive for students with family members or friends directly affected, children of first responders, Muslim-American students who may have felt prejudice from others, and so on. For students without these perspectives, we want to foster empathy in our students to understand multiple points of view.

It is not enough, however, to expose students to random primary and secondary sources without a focus for inquiry. In order to create an engaging, student-centered, inquiry-based classroom, students need to investigate an inquiry question, with sources that will help students draw conclusions. The sources below can be framed around several inquiry questions:

  • Analyze the extent of continuity and change in the United States in the immediate and long-term aftermath of the September 11th attacks.
  • Analyze September 11th as one point on a continuum. How does the attack fit in a change over time narrative? What is that narrative?

Here is just a sampling of Discovery Education resources that can help students answer these questions. The list includes some materials from Discovery Education’s Social Studies Techbook, previewed here as free sample downloadables.

  • Excerpt from Hepting v. AT&T Corporation, 2011. Upheld the National Security Agency’s right to eavesdrop on telecommunications without a warrant under legislation passed during the 2000s. [From Discovery Education Social Studies Techbook]