Memorial Day Lesson/Project Ideas

Most teachers in the social sciences discuss the wars that America has been a part of. It’s also important to discuss the people and places. Here in Arizona, we often remember Pat Tillman, a NFL player who left to enlist in the Army after the 9/11 attacks. Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan and is remembered here in Arizona and also around the world, as each year there is a run in his name that benefits the Tillman Foundation. “The Pat Tillman Foundation selects remarkable service members, veterans and military spouses as they look to begin their next chapter as public and private sector leaders”


Memorial Day remembers those died while serving in the US Military. For many students, they may not know anyone who has died while serving. However, many towns have memorials or information that highlight local servicemen and women.

Lesson Ideas

Have students research local memorials or persons. The idea of place can root student in the idea that although war is far away, it often affects communities here in the US and some of it is local. Maybe not your town, but perhaps the county. Your local historical museums or veteran’s organizations may be able to help. Check out this project on Hometown Heroes from Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Researching different memorials around the US and the world. This lesson on symbolism is one of my favorites from the WWI museum.

If students have a personal connection, allow the space to research and present in a way that allows them creative license. I have always been a big fan of giving goals or objectives for a project and then allowing the students to meet them in a way that allows them to play on their passions and strengths.

Project Idea

Primary sources are my favorite way to teach anything. I am incredibly lucky that although I am pretty much related to all of Denmark, my family is on the collection of history. (Legit, though. My great great grandparents both had more than 15 siblings and going up through that tree it’s even more).

My great-great uncle was killed in action on September 29th, 1918 in Argonne, France. For all my history friends, this was the battle of the Argonne Forest. He is buried in France, at the American cemetery. It’s been an interesting research project for me, as many of the primary documents still exist and I happen to be in possession of some of them. My mom got a steamer chest from our family farm in Iowa and it was full of family treasures such as this.

What strikes me most is HOW news was reported. Granted, this is a small town in Iowa, but how they described Herbert made it more personal. It is also a look at how different wars were reported on and how the people who fought in those wars were viewed. In researching my grandfather who was a Marine in Korea, I saw stark differences. To be, Korea really was the forgotten war .

The National Archives has a bevy of great information. I have found military records for both my grandfathers as well as a large amount of primary sources that can be used in a classroom. If students do not have a personal connection, they can research someone locally or someone they are interested in.


The idea of studying people and not just events can have a profound effect on students. At the end of the day, we want them to go out of our classes with tools to research, learn, and move in historical spaces.

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