Memorial Day Lesson Plan

By Annie Thornton 04.26.2017 blog

This two-day lesson plan demonstrates the importance of Memorial Day for students. It includes Channel One News videos and slideshows, as well as links to pertinent writing such as the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae and the story of the role of poppies as the Flower of Remembrance. Students will write two brief pieces explaining the impact of World War I as well as a plan for celebrating Memorial Day and honoring fallen soldiers.

Day 1


April 7, 2017 marks 100 years since America entered World War I. Channel One News explores the origins and the aftermath of the “war to end all wars.”


Students will:

  • Sequence the events that led to World War I
  • Identify the alliances that made up the two sides of WWI
  • Make connections between decisions made during the aftermath of WWI and conflicts in the world today

Opening Activity

Display this image for students:

Introductory questions:

  • Can you identify what historical event is depicted in this image?
  • Where are these soldiers from? How do you know?

Words in the News

enthusiast (noun): A person who is very excited about or interested in something.

immersive (adjective): Using complete involvement in some activity or interest.

Heard on the Air: “She is a World War I enthusiast, to say the least, who loves taking her students on an immersive journey through time.”


Watch “U.S. Enters WWI 100th Anniversary”

Original Air Date: April 7, 2107

Check for Understanding

  • What was the main cause of World War I? Why did so many nations enter the war?
  • In what way was World War I different from previous wars?


Use these discussion prompts for whole-class, think-pair-share or small group discussions.

  • How can an immersive experience add to students’ understanding of historical events?
  • What do you think students in Ms. McClaren’s class learned about WWI soldiers through their immersive experience?

View Slideshow: Origins and Aftermath of World War I

Image Credit: Imperial War Museums

World War I, which claimed the lives of 16 million people, officially ended in 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Nearly a hundred years later, many of the world’s conflicts can be traced back to that war and its immediate aftermath.

Image Credit: University of Texas' Perry-Castañeda Library map collection

During WWI, the world’s great powers took sides against one another. On one side were the Central Powers: Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. On the other side were the Allied Powers: Britain, France and Russia. When the war ended, the defeated German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were in ruins.

Image Credit: SPC Ronald Shaw Jr., U.S. Army

The Allied Powers took advantage of their victory by redrawing the world map. Britain and France carved up the lands of the Ottoman Empire without consideration for religious or ethnic differences. They created the country of Iraq by joining Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni provinces. Today, Iraq is violently splitting apart along those post-war lines.

Image Credit: Elzbieta Sekowska/Bigstock

The Treaty of Versailles required Germany to give up 10 percent of its land and pay the Allied Powers for the damages they suffered during the war. Historians believe that the humiliation and economic pain caused by these harsh terms led to the rise of the ultra-nationalist Nazis, who viewed Jews as foreigners they could blame for Germany’s decline.

Image Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park

Even before WWII, Jews fleeing anti-Semitism in Europe had been migrating to the area then known as Palestine. They believed that they would only be safe in a Jewish homeland. After the Holocaust, the Nazi’s systematic slaughter of 6 million Jews, much of the world agreed.

Image Credit: David Snyder/Bigstock

On May 14, 1948, with support from the United States, the Soviet Union and other countries, the Jews living in Palestine declared that they were forming the State of Israel. Today, Israel is still in violent conflict with the Arabs displaced by its formation.

Image Credit: Loskutnikov Maxim/Bigstock

Although Russia was one of the victorious Allied Powers, it suffered 3 million casualties — more than any other country. Dissatisfaction with the war led to the Russian Revolution of 1917, the creation of the Soviet Union and its Cold War with the United States. Today, the Soviet Union no longer exists, but experts see Russia’s current aggression against Ukraine as an extension of Cold War hostilities.

Check for Understanding

  • How did decisions made during the aftermath of WWI create future conflicts in Iraq? Germany? Israel? Russia?

Explanatory Writing Prompt

Create a timeline depicting the important events of World War I. Be sure to include the events that led up to the war, as well as events that occurred in its aftermath. Use facts from the script and the slideshow to support your response.

Share student responses.

Media Literacy Prompt

Review the front page of three newspapers from April 6 or 7, 1917.

Tacoma Times”
Arizona Daily Star
The Daily Missourian

  • Which newspaper’s front page do you think most effectively reports the breaking news that America has officially entered the war? Why?
  • Work with a partner to write your own front-page news article from April 7, 1917. Be sure to include a headline and important facts for your readers.

Closing Activity

Ask students the following question and have them share their thoughts on an exit ticket.

  • Would you consider taking part in an immersive historical experience? Why or why not?

Day 2

Opening Activity

Show students this image.

Ask students: Who can identify this flower? Who knows what is typically symbolizes?

Read The Flower of Remembrance

Check for Understanding:

  • Who are the “We” referred to in McCrae’s poem?
  • What are the “crosses, row on row” McCrae describes?
  • What is the reader asked to do in the poem’s final stanza?
  • How do you think the poem influenced Anna Guerin and Moina Michael? Explain.


Check for Understanding:

  • What do the poppies symbolize?
  • How have visitors reacted to the memorial?


  • Do you think this is a fitting tribute to memorialize those who lost their lives in battle? Why or why not?
  • What are some ways we remember or honor fallen soldiers throughout the United States?

Turn and Talk

Turn to a partner and discuss different ways we can best honor our fallen U.S. soldiers. Here are a few resources to help you get started:

Toll of U.S. War Dead

The Story Taps

Taps Performed at Arlington Cemetery

Department of Veterans Affairs Cemetery Listing

Flying the American Flag at half staff

How to fold a U.S. flag

Correct display of a U.S. flag

How to make felt poppies

Explanatory Writing Prompt

Work with your partner to develop a plan to honor U.S. soldiers who have lost their lives defending our country. Include who you’ll involve, what you’d like to do, where the plan will take place and all of the necessary details to complete your idea. Write down your memorial plan, including an explanation as to why you think this is a worthy tribute. Review your work and prepare to present it to the class.


Student pairs present their plans for honoring fallen U.S. soldiers.

Closing Activity

Take a class poll asking students which memorial plan they like the best. Encourage students to implement their top choice or choices this Memorial Day.



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