By Scott Sterling
Veterans Day can go unnoticed by students. They don’t get the day off of school and many don’t know what the holiday signifies. But in terms of importance, Veterans Day should be one of the most respected days of the year. Take some time out this November to help students recognize and reflect on those who have served or are currently serving in the nation’s armed forces with these lesson ideas.
The poetry of World War I
Veterans Day was first established as Armistice Day in recognition of the end of World War I, with peace being declared on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. In 1954, President Eisenhower (himself a veteran) signed a law changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day, but November 11th will always be tied to the Great War.
One of the most educational artifacts from World War I was the literature that came from it, notably the novel All Quiet on the Western Front and poetry from Wilfred Owen and other soldiers who were in the thick of the fighting and moved by what they saw. Take a few minutes or a whole period and expose your students to this valuable subset of poetry.
Many veterans went on to achieve fame in other fields, from presidents to entertainers like Elvis Presley and sports stars like baseball player Ted Williams. Students can dig up some information about a chosen famous veteran and report on their military service and their careers after discharge.
Write a veteran
Although many students have veterans in their lives, some don’t. Writing brief notes to a current or former member of the military is a great way for the students to practice important correspondence skills while expressing their gratitude for the veterans’ service. For former members of the military, ask your local Veterans Administration office to distribute the letters. For active members, consult with your local recruitment offices.
War has a price. To help bring that point home for older students, have them take an analytical look at casualty numbers from the major American wars. With some Internet sleuthing, they can sometimes drill down to the state level. They can also take a look at the monetary costs involved in the wars and how those numbers compare to the country’s other expenditures.
There are a few differences between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but the one students will point to most often is the fact that Memorial Day gives them the day off. Bringing Veterans Day to the same status is a great topic for persuasive writing. It will be rare to find a student that isn’t in favor of another holiday, but they are out there. For an extra learning experience, send the letters to your local member of Congress. Your students will probably receive a reply and maybe even a visit!
Interview a veteran
Interviewing a person unlocks other important communication skills, and no one is more worthy of having their stories heard than a veteran. Students can conduct a brief interview of either a veteran already in their lives or you can connect with a local veterans’ group. Although all veterans are worth our respect, you may want to try to connect with World War II veterans, who we are losing at an increasing rate.