Teaching the events and aftermath of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 can be challenging because of the complex emotions it stirs up in both teacher and student and the sheer size of the topic. Keeping this in mind, we have provided a one-page background text for middle and high school students and a short list of resources for the classroom. Within the resource collections you will find articles, videos, lesson plans, interactive timelines, photo slideshows and other rich content to choose from to meet the needs of your own classroom.
Background for students
Thirteen years ago on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, members of the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four planes in a coordinated terrorist attack. Two planes crashed into the Twin Towers in downtown New York City, a third plane flew into the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C., and the final plane was brought down by passengers, who had become aware of the other attacks, in a field in Pennsylvania. 2,977 people died in the attacks, including civilians, military personnel in the Pentagon and the emergency fire fighters, police and medical workers who arrived at the scene.
In response to the attacks, President George W. Bush announced that any nation that supported terrorism or was found to be harboring terrorists would be considered an enemy of the United States. At that time, the government of Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban, an extremist Muslim political movement, who refused to shut down known terrorist training camps or give up suspected terrorists to the United States. Within a month, the United States invaded Afghanistan and began a war against al-Qaeda, its leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government who protected them. U.S. special forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in the spring of 2011.
The attack had a profound impact on the United States and the rest of the world. The U.S. Congress designated Sept. 11 as “Patriot Day” to remember and honor those who died. On this day, flags are set to half-staff and many observe a moment of silence at 8:46 am, the time when the first plane hit the Twin Towers.
Now, more than two decades later, another 9/11-based event took place–the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Afghanistan after two decades in that country. America’s longest war ended with the Taliban taking control of the country. Use this lesson plan to learn more about the U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan and this lesson plan to learn the challenges Afghan evacuees currently face.
Recommended resources for the classroom
PBS NewsHour Classroom: Lesson plan: 9/11 — Ways to reflect on the day’s legacy more than two decades later
National September 11 Memorial & Museum
- An in-depth FAQ about the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, with particular attention to the Twin Towers and the 9/11 Memorial that stands in their place today.
- Two interactive timelines that chronicle both the attacks and the Ground Zero recovery. Note: Both timelines incorporate videos and images from the attacks, so please view them first before sharing them with students who may be upset by the content.
Check out NewsHour’s full coverage of 9/11 over the last two decades at this link.
Take a look at Retro Report’s lesson plans on September 11th here.
For 9/11 resources on PBS Learning Media, click here.
For Share My Lesson’s lesson plans on September 11th, click here.