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Veterans Day:

Understanding how Americans are

"United in Spirit and Determined in Purpose"


Presenter: Stephanie Stary Bacskai

Project: Unit Plan Proposal

Grade Level: Fifth

Length of Unit: Ten lessons


There are many citizens in the United States who have served this country through their involvement with one of the country’s military branches. During times of war and times of peace, we are offer asked to remember those individuals who preserve our utmost American ideal of freedom. They sacrifice their lives to protect this American belief that we live by. We are challenged as citizens to understand why we should honor veterans; what is the character disposition of a veteran and why is it worth aspiring to attain as one of our own dispositions? Once we are able to see what "sacrifice" and "honor" entails, then we can incorporate those values into our own set of ideals to live by. This social studies unit will explore the history of Veterans Day through various forms of media. By exploring various sources that convey the message and importance behind honoring veterans and ultimately participating in the community celebration of Veterans Day (Nov.10th in observance of Nov. 11th), the students will obtain a better understanding of why democracy is an ideal worth protecting and what is means to be a citizen of the United States.

Culminating Activity:

Students will be able to express the importance of citizenship by integrating what they learn and understand by completing a series of activities. These lessons within this unit prepare them for two final performances. The first and halfway performance is the entry of individual student work to the 2004 Paralyzed Veteran of America (PVA) Essay and Poster Contest. Then, the second and final performance is the creation of an individual, acrostic literary piece entitled "What the United States Means to Me". These poems will be bound and presented to the veterans from the V.F.W. 9111, Kendall Park, New Jersey who spoke during an assembly for the students at the school on November 10th, 2004. The students are aware that their journal writing exercises, their class election role-playing, letter writing and, lastly, their concept building activities (of numerous visual presentations) are all for the development of their two final performances for this unit.

Content and Essential Questions:

This Veterans Day unit encompasses the understanding that we the American people are a diverse group of people. Although we are separate individuals, we comprise one democratic body. Our commonality is that we are bound by our ideals, which are exemplified through our freedoms. These freedoms include our abilities to use our gifts and talents to create and express our ideals by whatever means that we see as fit to convey. The following three questions are essential to celebrating and honoring Veterans Day this year, as well as using the subject disciplines of history and language arts to continue growing as an individual in a democratic society: How can I as a 5th grader effectively participate in the democratic process, thus portraying the ideals of the United States protected throughout the country’s history? What are my rights and responsibilities, and what is the difference between them, so that I can be a good citizen of the United States? What can I contribute to my local community and how can I even help beyond my immediate environment to continue developing my patriotism towards this country?



The content and skills of this Veterans Day unit are worth investigating since they intrigue, interest and motivate the learners to participate in a classroom experience and a community & national celebration. The students’ needs call for a diverse exposure to research tools: the Internet, video in the form of documentary, talk radio from a past war era, speakers, and letter-writing. The students need to see that their understanding of American values and beliefs are connected and shared by others within their immediate communities (of the classroom, the 14th district of New Jersey, and the United States) as well as others who reside in other parts of the world. The subject matter is structured in a cross-curricular fashion, integrating history and social studies with that of language arts in order for the students to better engage and participate in their culminating activities. The students will meet the following objectives within this Veterans Day unit:

They will understand how to interview family members, collect information and then describe a family’s background, experiences or perspectives on war and honoring veterans.

They will use the Internet as a tool to collect general information about Veterans Day, compile and discuss their findings.

They will distinguish fictional stories about veterans from real stories about veterans.

They will examine current issues and events surrounding the war in Iraq, and relate them to past events.

They will compare primary sources of information from secondary sources of information, while identifying different symbols of the United States.

They will summarize acquired information by the following three means: written, graphic, and oral presentation.

They will discuss the rights and responsibilities of citizens in America and identify and describe the underlying values and principles of democracy.

They will show their understanding of democratic values through role-playing in a mock class election.

They will formulate proper questions based on information needs, (before attending an assembly with speakers and mailing final draft letters.)

(10)They will discuss how the democratic government creates laws for the preservation of one’s rights in America and then relate that to how veterans defend and protect these laws for the citizens of America.

The New Jersey Core Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, which were met in this Veterans Day Unit, are the following:

6.1 The history, geography, and cultures of the world---All students will learn democratic citizenship through thinking, problem solving and researching skills to more fully understand civics.

6.2 The history, geography, and cultures of the United States---All students will learn and appreciate the values and principles of democratic citizenship and the responsibilities and roles of a citizen, by studying literature, art, history and philosophy.

6.4 The foundations and principles of American constitutional democracy---All students will demonstrate acquired, historical knowledge of New Jersey and the United States to make connections between the life and events of the past to the life and events of the present and ultimately, the future.

Visual Representation: *(This Veterans Unit encompasses four strands of social studies, which are represented by the following four colors: Citizenship, Culture, Government/Community, and Technology. These social studies aspects are equally as important as each other. Once the students learn about them, they will be able to apply their understanding





Initiatory Activities:

The students will bring in any newspaper or magazine current events and photos that represent or deal with "American Valor and The War in Iraq", "American Spirit and Diversity" and "The 2004 Presidential Election". All of this information will be added to a class bulletin board as an initial and even a continual reminder to them "what it means to be a citizen of the United States". The other two main activities include (1) interviewing and (2) researching. Both of these initiatory activities will be used for a second time at the end of this unit, therefore it is important that the students practice and experience them early on.



On-going Activities:

The creation of an "American Symbols" bulletin board:

The students were able to bring in images and text containing their initial and then developing concept of what America means to them. They discussed and identified symbols of America and they researched independently at home in magazines and on the Internet. Anything posted counted as extra credit towards their Social Studies 1st marking period grade.

The research and booklet creation of a class patriotic songs:

The students researched patriotic songs that they would have like to sing at the beginning of class social studies class. These songs were compiled together to form a class book which is currently kept in the classroom.

Lessons: (O: Objective, P: Procedure, A: Assessment)

SWBAT Explore and develop an extensive word banks of synonyms associated with vocabulary that encompasses the ideology of Veterans, such as "honor", "sacrifice" and "freedom".

Hook: Discuss the following two questions: Does anyone know what it means to be a veteran?

P: (1) Explain that this is a poster and essay contest for The Paralyzed Veterans of America. Access additional details on

Read the following quote by Delatorro L. McNeal, PVA Director: "It’s important that school-aged children are educated about those individuals who have sacrificed themselves to defend our freedom and our rights…The men and women who serve in our armed forces are our neighbors, friends and family members. I believe that giving the students the opportunity to participate in PVA’s National Poster and Essay Contest will help them understand and appreciate those sacrifices and allow them to creatively express themselves."

(2) Ask the question: Does anyone know someone who is a veteran?

Prepare as a whole class on the white-board questions to ask family members regarding first-hand knowledge or relation to a United States war fought.

Closure: Ask the students what is needed to write a good essay about something that you do not know? (Looking at plenty of images and reading more about the unfamiliar topic.)

A: (Homework) Interview with parent and/or grandparent.

SWBAT Gather and write information about the history and celebrations practices of Veterans Day into journals. Discuss how this information compares and contrasts to what they discovered in their interviewing process.

Hook: Have the class sit in "Sharing Circle" format and show the photos from the two resources. Ask the students what they see? What type of mood appears in the photos? What can the students relate the photos to?

P: (Prepare Breakdown for how to approach "A Day of Remembrance".)

(1) Display prepared poster of Breakdown on the white-board. The poster includes the following information:

History of Veterans Day (Armistice Day)

Importance of Veterans Day and Service to Country and Community

(Briefly discuss) the branches of the military service and their responsibilities.

Ask the class how bravery and commitment plays a part in serving the country.

(2) What branches of the government did their family member or person that they learned about from the interview serve in?

(3) Introduce to the students that a responsibility means something you must or should do.

(4) Explain that the information gathered from the books are a secondary source and if the students spoke directly to the person who fought in the war that is a primary source of information.

* Use Resources: 1) Patriotic Holidays by Cass R. Sandak and 2) Veterans Day, Holidays by Lynda Sorensen to build background.

Closure: Show the students the cover of "The Wall’ by Eve Bunting and ask they if they think it is a secondary or primary source of information. Then, ask them if they think the book is going to be fact or fiction.

A: Journal writing and brainstorming to "Closure" question.


SWBAT Distinguish fact from fiction by comparing sources about figures and events with fictionalized characters and events. Identify sole characteristics of Veterans Day as opposed to Memorial Day.

Hook: Hold "The Wall" up next to "Fireboat" by Maria Kalman and ask the students about what they notice about both books? Which one do they think will be fictional and which one will be based on facts?

P: (1) Read both children’s books to the students. Have them jot down notes, ideas and questions that they may have.

(2) After both are done, have the students recall what happened in the both of them. They should be able to identify the different people who visited the Vietnam War Memorial in "The Wall’. Ask them where the hero(es) was(were) in "The Wall". Then, ask them who the hero(es) was(were) in "Fireboat". ("Fireboat" is a real story about John J. Harvey, a New York City fireboat that was recalled on September 11, 2001 to help save people.)

(3) Question the students on that while there were no veterans in the second book "Fireboat", what does it focus on that is similar to that of veterans? (It focuses on heroic acts and the courage of citizens.)

(4) Which story was fictional to create a story or image of how one can show their honor? ("The Wall") Explain the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. (Veterans Day honors all and living soldiers, whereas Memorial Day honors all those soldiers who died in the call of duty.)

(5) Was danger and aspect in either story? How was the mood different in both books? Explain the role of mood and how it is an important aspect in creating an essay and poster.

Closure: What are the key words that one should include in writing an essay honoring all and living soldiers of war? Write how "The Wall" is similar and different to "Fireboat".

A: (* Homework) Rough draft of typed essay for veteran contest (following introduction, body and conclusion writing format).


SWBAT View images of America and illustrate a scene answering the following question: "What honoring veterans mean to me." Discuss the connection and importance of creating poetry/essays (text) with pictures (image) and describe the underlying values and principles of democracy.

Hook: Read Katharine Lee Bates's classic verse American the Beautiful without showing the students the pictures. Ask the students to jot down some images that they think of. Then, read the poem, this time showing the paintings created by Wendall Minor. How were their two impressions different?

P: (1) Name places in American that comes easily to mind. Create a list on the white board. Ask the students to circle the ones that are worth protecting. Why did they make their selections the way that they did?

(2) What places in Minor’s book stood out to them? Why?

(3) Guide/lead the students to understand that time is a factor in defining historical moments and landscapes. Revisit "Fireboat" and hold it up---what was the defining moment and landscape like at that moment? Ask the students what they think the landscape is for soldiers fighting over in Iraq currently? (Reference the class bulletin board).

(4) How do lines like "sea to shining sea" celebrate the beauty of America, our ideals and historical moments? Have students make a star graphic organizer to show what democracy is comprised of.

(5) Have the students sketch what they would like to draw for the poster contest, showing that there are different ways to celebrate and honor what veterans fight for to protect.

Closure: Review brainstorming and collected notes in journal and notebook. Have the students look at their rough draft from last night. Have them individually select the three most visually stimulating words and/or phrases from what they learned today. Circle them and use them to assist with the second draft essay homework assignment.

A: (Homework) Democratic ideals as seen in rough pencil draft of veteran poster for contest.

SWBAT Assess the credibility of primary and secondary sources by watching a video clip and reading a letter from a veteran.

Hook: Are veterans young or old? Take opinions and write them onto the white board.

P: (1) *(Collect, check and return rough draft of veterans poster. Explain to the children that their final poster will be due after the final draft of their veterans essay is due. Have the students keep their poster in school so they do not take it home and misplace it.) Watch American Valor, a PBS Video documentary where multiple viewpoints present how veteran earn the Purple Heart (20 minutes) (*Skip newsreel footage and stay with the interviews of the recipients and the comrades who were witnesses to the acts of heroism.)

(2) Read email from the father of Joe Nazio, a 2001 graduate of TCNJ, describing his eye injury, capture and perspective of him a "hero".

(3) Ask the students if the accounts were primary or secondary sources of information. How did they know? What did they think about the letter? What was the tone of the father speaking about his son?

(4) What do the students think about the Medal of Honor? What makes it important?

(5) Ask the students to take out the rough draft poster homework from last night. Ask the students to add images to show what they watched and read about today.

(6) Ask the students to take out their second rough draft of the essay and submit to teacher. Check and allow the students to work with a partner to peer edit each other’s work.

(7) Explain that the final draft is due in two days.

Closure: Review who America’s military heroes are---brave soldiers, Marines, airmen.

A: Cooperative learning; Final essay prepared for submission for veteran contest.

* Homework: Bring in a current event (newspaper, magazine or internet) informing us about the American soldiers and other individuals who are stationed over in Iraq.


SWBAT Examine current issues, events, or themes and relate them to past events.

Hook: Take a poll to see where the students found their current event and tally it on the board. Group all the newspaper current-event gatherers together, group all the magazine current-event gatherers together, and lastly, group all the internet current-event gatherers together.

P: (1) Hang up all current event clippings on the white board. Have each student discuss what he/ she learned from the article and why he/she selected it to bring in. Do one group at a time. How does each student think that the current event that he/she chose relates to honoring veterans who protect and give their lives for America? (The clippings should be about the current fighting in Iraq, different viewpoints about the troops fighting in Iraq, and how the Muslim people are being treated here in America. If not, discuss what is brought in.)

(2) Ask the students to write on a sheet of paper five questions that he/she could ask an American soldier who is fighting, representing and protecting American ideals now. (15 minutes)

Closure: Ask the students to highlight the questions that could be asked to a veteran who fought in one of the prior wars. How could questions be reworded to address veterans of other wars? What makes questions broader and narrower to their audience?

A: Application of examining current events and issues; the formulation of questions for actual heroic people.

* Homework: Prepare ten questions for the Veterans who will be visiting the school.

SWBAT Make questions based on information needs.

Hook: Ashley, one of the students in the class, will describe the role of her dad, who is stationed over in Iraq by the FBI until February.

P: (1) Write questions for the student’s father who is stationed over in Iraq by the FBI until February, intriguing of his perspective of the war from that side of the world.

(2) Have the students in groups of four decide which questions are worth keeping and using in a class letter to the father, and which ones are not worth using. What makes an interviewing question relevant and appropriate?

(3) Each group will compile a list of no more than three questions and read them to the class. Afterwards, the class will discuss what they discovered.

(4) Next: Pose the following question to the class: What types of interviewing questions are relevant and appropriate for the veterans who will be visiting our school?

(5) Ask the students to take out their homework and highlight (individually) what they each consider to be their strongest questions for the veterans.

(6) Have them show their group members and have each group compile one list with no more than eight questions.

Closure: Each group will place their two most important, relevant and appropriate questions on the whiteboard. The class will discuss aloud if they agree or disagree. The groups will turn in their final questions.

A: Collaborative list of interviewing questions with a focus on writing, grammar and quality; and also assess homework.

* Homework: Each student will write a reflection with their revised, top five questions for the veterans directly into their notebook, (thus preparing the each of them the actual veterans’ visit on November 10th.)

SWBAT Build on images of American ideals, and place these newly acquired ideals and representations into the individual’s veterans (final) poster.

Hook: Ask the students the following: What do you think all American citizens miss and think about when they are overseas and away from their home in America?

P: (1) *(Collect students’ notebooks and check homework of final veterans interviewing questions; return to them since they will need them for class and for the veterans’ visit.) Discuss what they think Americans miss. Ask them what symbols may remind them of America.

(2) Ask the students what the Statue of Liberty means to them. What do they think the Statue of Liberty meant to their family members who came to America for the first time? What differences can the students see between what young and older Americans may think?

(3) Watch "The Statue of Liberty" PBS DVD Video. Tell the students to take any notes on patriotic symbols that are interesting, intriguing or might mean something to them.

(4)/Closure: Ask the students about their overall reaction of the documentary. Hand back the students rough draft sketches of the veterans poster. Until the end of class, have the students in their groups ask each other if they have any good suggestions of changes or additions that they can make to their individual posters. Explain that they should use what they saw in this documentary, and what they learned in the last few days to help strengthen their visual representation of why it is important to honor our veterans.

A: Final, decorated draft of veterans poster is due in two school days, (*this is homework that counts as a major test grade).

SWBAT Analyze how events are related over time.

Hook: Display the students’ final veterans posters around the room and have the students critique on an individual sheet of paper whose they think is the strongest. (They can freely move around the room and talk with their peers. Allot five minutes for this introductory activity. They should be able to explain their answer with valid reason and judgment during open forum time to discuss (whole class) what they think. Allot five minutes for time discussion time. Collect all of the students’ responses and comments.

Ask the students the following: How was communication depicted/shown in any of the posters? Is communication even worth considering as important at all? Also, is technology worth considering in important historical events? Did any student show any form of technology in his/her poster creation?

P: (1) Have students prepare to take notes answering five clue questions that the teacher will write on the board. These five questions will help them focus to the speaker who is talking.

1. What is American home to people who live here?

2. Why is the United States a better way to describe our country instead of America?

3. What did one of the people on the radio show say about the Boston Red Soxs?

4. What different speaking accents do you hear?

5. What foods are mentioned as American symbols?

(2) Listen to Orson Wells describes America during World War II on American Talk Radio, 1941.

(3) When the radio show with Orson Wells is over, ask the students what they think the answers are to the five questions. What is the overall connection between wars during the 1940’s and present day?

(4) Ask the following: How do people today get information and opinions about war? What is the same and what is different?

(5) Model for students what an acrostic poem looks like vertically. Write the following phrase on the board: "What the United States Means to Me".

(6) Tell the students to think about it and brainstorm, in free verse form what they think and feel in response to that saying. Explain that for tomorrow, they should have 2 pages of free verse, brainstorming on that saying. They should use what they learned what listening to Orson Wells.

Closure: Give the students until the end of the period to begin their homework (5 minutes).

A: Students’ note-taking of auditory investigation to the five questions.

*Homework: 2 pages of free verse, brainstorming on: "What the United States Means to Me".

SWBAT Summarize information in written, graphic, and oral formats.

Hook: Have students work with a partner, read and show what they developed last night in response to "What the United States Means to Me". The partner should highlight five historical facts or knowledge that was learned within the last weeks (since the beginning of this veterans unit). Have the students discuss what they think directly relates to why we have a responsibility to honor veterans and those who serve our country. Allot ten minutes for this introductory activity.


P: (1) Ask the students to view last night’s homework as a first attempt to being specific and clear in writing on a topic. Explain that if the partner did not find concrete information on America or veterans, then today is the last day to explore "why we honor those who sacrifice their lives for us and our country". Explain that this information

(2) Collect the students’ homework, check and return immediately to them. Have them gather their notebooks with the questions for the veterans and proceed to the conference room.

(3) Remind the students to record what the see, how the feel and what they learn from listening to the veterans. Explain that the final draft of "What the United States Means to Me" is due in two class days.

(4) Listen and take notes on three local Veterans from South Brunswick (one from the Korean War, the Vietnam War and World War II). These notes should assist with the student’s final poetic response to "What the United States Means to Me".

Closure: Show the students some examples of what proper development of whole sentences and phrases, good word choice, punctuation (*all of this is continual, on-going review). Finally, show the students examples of what makes work presentable and pleasing to look at and read.

A: Individual, oral presentations of "What the United States Means to Me".



"American Valor". PBS DVD Video. Wellspring, 2003.

Kalman, Maira. Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey. New York; G.P.

Putnam’s Sons, 2002.

Minor, Wendall. America the Beautiful, featuring Katherine Lee Bates poem. New

York, Live Oak Media, 2004.

Sandak, Cass R. Patriotic Holidays. New York; Crestwood House, 1990.

Sorensen, Lynda. Veterans Day, Holidays. Rourke Publishing, LLC, 1994.

"The Statue of Liberty". PBS DVD Video. Wellspring, 2003.

"Veterans Day." 4 October 2004.

Veterans Day National Committee, Department of Veteran Affairs. Veterans Day. "They

Who Serve" with Jennifer Love Hewitt. Washington, D.C. Compact Disc, 2004.

Wells, Orson. "Between Americans." American at War Patriotic Radio Broadcasts From

World War II. 1941.