For most students, Memorial Day means a three-day weekend, one last mini-break before the end of the school year. But the last Monday in May is the perfect opportunity to use class time to open a discussion with students about the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. armed forces and their legacies.
How do you plan to teach Memorial Day in your classroom? It’s not always easy to capture student attention late in the school year, but hopefully these lesson plans, multimedia resources, and activities will help. For starters, check out the brief video above from the History Channel that explores the holiday’s origins. In addition, you might want to check out History.com’s Memorial Day resource page.
Fun, Insightful Memorial Day Multimedia
- “7 Things You Didn’t Know About Memorial Day”: If you have some extra time, this list of interesting, little-known facts about Memorial Day put together by Time is worth a read. This is great for middle school and high school students. For more background on the holiday, check out a CNN resource that explains the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
- “Why Do We Celebrate Memorial Day?”: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History published this interesting profile on the origins of Memorial Day. This is just one Smithsonian resource related to the holiday. Also be sure to check out “July 1942: United We Stand,” a resource great for grades 6–12 that looks at magazine designs during World War II, as well as the History Explorer site, where you can search for additional resources and lesson plans.
- Virtual Tour of the National Museum of the Marine Corps: Here’s a super interactive tour of the Marine Corps museum in Virginia. The easy-to-navigate tour features 360-degree views of many of the exhibits, along with narrative text and related media. Other engaging virtual military museum tours include the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, the National Aviation Museum (be sure to check out the online exhibits as well), and the National World War I Museum (the museum’s activities for kids are also great).
Classroom Ideas for Remembering and Honoring Veterans
- The NEA’s Memorial Day Lesson Plans: Phil Nast, a retired educator and freelance writer, provides some curriculum ideas for exploring the meaning behind the holiday in this National Education Association resource. There are collections for elementary, middle, and high school students, and each roundup features ideas for lessons, activities, projects, and a list of relevant materials.
- Memorial Day History Lessons From TeachingHistory.org: This is a rich collection of Memorial Day–themed teaching and learning resources. You’ll find lesson plans, activities, and tips on helping students explore topics like veterans, war, and its effect on the world. There are resources available for students of all grade levels.
- Engaging WWII Lesson Plans: The National World War II Museum in New Orleans produced this extensive collection of lesson plans. The lessons are arranged by topics, including STEM, the Home Front, and the War in the Pacific; they’re designed mostly for students in middle and high school. Each plan includes related media, discussion questions, and a downloadable PDF version.
- ReadWriteThink’s Memorial Day Collection: This collection is a great source of inspiration. You’ll find Memorial Day–themed activities that can be adapted to nearly every grade. Additionally, there are related lesson plans at the bottom organized by grade level, for grades 3–5, 6–8, and 9–12.
- Memorial Day Lesson Plan: Primarily for older students. This resource encourages students to examine the origins and impact of World War I. Included are links to Channel One’s multimedia resources, as well as short video clips and literature. Part two of the lesson encourages students to develop a plan for honoring veterans on Memorial Day.
- “Memorial Day Resources for Your Classroom”: This article features links to PBS-produced primary sources, and includes lesson plan ideas for the primary source collections. These are great ideas that can be adapted for middle school and high school students.
- The National Constitution Center’s Memorial Day Resources: A collection of activities and lesson plans, available at the bottom of the page, that mostly center around wartime artwork. There are lessons for grades K–4 (Civics in Literature: Memorial Day), as well as 4–8 and 9–12. One lesson idea, “Art of the American Soldier: Comparing and Contrasting Photography and Painting in War Art,” encourages students to analyze artwork from the center’s Art of the American Solider online gallery.