Activities to Commemorate Memorial Day in the Classroom


Memorial Day presents unique learning opportunities for students at all grade levels. Officially enacted by Congress in 1971, Memorial Day is a somber national holiday held on the last Monday of May every year. (This year Memorial Day is on May 27, 2019.) It is a holiday intended to honor and remember fallen veterans of the United States.

Below are several ways you and your students can commemorate the upcoming holiday by learning more about the historical significance of and the traditions associated with Memorial Day.

From Decoration Day to Memorial Day, this short PBS Learning video gives a brief history of the holiday. Go into further depth of the history of Memorial Day with this DOGO News article, “Celebrating Memorial Day” which includes a list of relevant vocabulary terms and definitions.

Give students the opportunity to get to know the brave men and women so worthy of our honor and respect by exploring The Veterans History Project, which provides firsthand accounts (including stories, photos, interviews) of U.S. veterans dating back to World War I. Students can search the veteran’s database by state of residence to learn about their own local military heroes.

Show students how fallen military personnel have been memorialized throughout history. Begin with this 6-minute video tour featuring Arlington National Cemetery where over 400,000 people are buried, dating back to the Revolutionary War. The video highlights three main sites of Arlington: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (including the elaborate Changing of the Guard ceremony), the gravesite of John F. Kennedy, and Arlington House.

Then, give students a glimpse of one of the most visited monuments in Washington D.C., the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which includes the names of 58,000 fallen soldiers and is filled with symbolism. There is an abundance of interesting and sacred memorials in and around Washington D.C. that can be accessed virtually, but don’t stop there. Do a little research to find out if there are smaller scale monuments or memorials locally. The small Wisconsin town where I grew up is home to Memorial Park, which includes 20 impressive monuments that honor local veterans.

Like many other holidays, Memorial Day includes unique traditions. Communities across the country will be hosting annual Memorial Day parades and events - encourage your students to attend. (Vet Friends provides an online directory of Memorial Day parades nationwide.) Or give students a preview of The National Memorial Day Parade with this upbeat and touching 4-minute video. Held in Washington D.C. every year (it is also televised), the parade is a touching 3-hour salute to America’s veterans and involves several high school marching bands from across the nation.

Another Memorial Day tradition involves poppies. Every May the American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) raises millions of dollars for active-duty military, veterans, and their families by distributing red poppies. The red poppy, which represents the blood shed by fallen soldiers, was inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Lt. Col. John McCrae during World War I.

In December of 2000, President Clinton established the National Moment of Remembrance, which asks Americans to pause at 3:00 p.m. local time for one minute and reflect upon the meaning behind Memorial Day. Encourage your students to participate in this unified act of reflection and honor wherever they are on Memorial Day. Share about how NASCAR will be participating in the National Moment of Remembrance this year.

“As we contemplate the comforts and blessings of our lives and the well-being of our nation, I ask you to pause just for a moment to remember those who gave their lives to protect the values that give meaning to our lives.” – President William J. Clinton

Other suggested resources and activities:

Memorial Day provides the opportunity to teach students about the sacrifices made by brave men and women to protect the liberties that we enjoy today. How will you commemorate Memorial Day with your students? Please share your ideas.

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Jill Rockwell
Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices. Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin. 

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