Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Response to 9/11

U.S. History: Historical Impact

K20 Center, Samantha Crawford | Published: July 12th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject Social Studies
  • Course Course U.S. History
  • Time Frame Time Frame 2 class period(s)
  • Duration More 90 minutes


In this U.S. history lesson, students are asked to investigate effects of the 9/11 acts of terrorism and the U.S. response.

Essential Question(s)

How should a democratic nation respond to terrorist attacks?



Students will discuss what is expected of a leader when a catastrophic event happens in the United States.


Students will be introduced to the 9/11 attack through a news report and they will be asked to determine what their response would be if they were president.


Students will do a close reading of President Bush's 9/11 speech and answer analysis questions that will lead to a deeper understanding of the speech.


Students will explore the effects of September 11, 2001, and various acts and events that occurred subsequently.


The lesson contains several opportunities for assessments of what students learn from the presidential speech and research into the effects or consequences of 9/11.


  • I Think/We Think handout

  • Bush's Speech handout

  • Speech Analysis Questions handout

  • Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer

  • Research Sources handout

  • Student access to the internet and devices

  • Teacher access to Sept. 11 video


Lead a discussion with students about how an event can leave a lasting, personalmemory. Ask the students: "Is there a day (good or bad) in your life that you remember?" "What happened that day and how did you respond?" Expand the discussion into how an event can change the course of a person’s life.Ask the students: "Is there a day when something important happened that changedhow you live?"

After the discussion of personal events, guide the discussion to what response is expected from the country's leader should a catastrophic event occur in the United States. How would you expect our president to react? Use the "I Think, We Think" strategy to have students write a response to this question. Pass out copies of the I Think, We Think graphic organizer or have students divide a sheet of notebook paper in half and label the first column "I Think" and the second column "We Think." In the "I Think" column, have students write down what they think a leader should do when a catastrophic event occurs, like a bombing or terrorist act that kills many people. Then, have them partner with two other people and write down their best "We Think" (consensus) response.


Students will be introduced to the 9/11 events through the YouTube video September 11th As It Happened: The Definitive Live News Montage. The video contains the events of September 11, 2001, as they were happening live on various news outlets such as CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, BBC, and Sky News. Also included are notable excerpts from the FAA and NORAD audiotapes, a 9-1-1 call to a New York City dispatcher, and a portion of the recording from United Airlines Flight 93's cockpit voice recorder. Due to the editing process, some video clips might not represent the correct chronological order.

Warning: This news narrative is primarily meant to be informative; however, some viewers might find the content disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised. Please preview the video and decide how much you would like your class to view. Other videos also exist that might be less intense.

Provide students with the following scenario: You are the President of the United States. You are informed that two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. Within an hour, you learn of two additional planes crashing, one into the Pentagon and one in a field in Pennsylvania. With a partner, discuss what you are thinking at this point. What thoughts are going through your head as the leader of this country? How would you respond?

Have students return to their groups of three and modify their "We Think" responses for this specific situation.


Hand out copies of President Bush's 9/11 speech. Ask students to do a close reading of President Bush's speech. Close reading is a tool historians use to analyze primary/secondary sources. Close reading requires a slow and thoughtful read-through of the document. As they read, students should take notes and ask questions about what is said and what is unsaid in the document. To facilitate the close reading, use the Thinking Notes analytical reading strategy.

After students have read the speech, place students in groups of three. Have groups first discuss together what they annotated using the Thinking Notes method (stars, exclamation points, question marks). Then, call on groups in a round-robin fashion to share main ideas (stars), favorite parts (exclamation points), and any confusing parts (question marks). Clarify any misunderstandings through the class discussion.

You may choose to show the video of President Bush's speech at this time.

Pass out the speech analysis questions to each student. Have students complete these questions as a group, discussing them and working together. The questions can be discussed as a class when all groups are finished or they can be turned in for a grade.


Explain to students that many things changed in the United States after 9/11. Student groups will create a cause and effect mind map using either the graphic organizer provided or an app such as Popplet or PoppletLite. A list of possible research sources is provided to help students identify some of the consequences and effects of 9/11.

Pass out the cause and effect graphic organizer and the research sources handout. Tell students that there are seven research sources. Ask all student groups to read the first one, 9/11 Attacks: US Reaction and Citizen Response. After that, groups can choose two more resources to investigate. The resources are listed in chronological order.

Ask groups to explain three effects of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks using the graphic organizer. Ask each group to evaluate whether the effects they chose have had a positive or negative impact on the United States and its democracy. They can write their responses on the back of the graphic organizer.

After all groups have completed the assignment, create two lists or columns on the board: Positive Effects of 9/11 and Negative Effects of 9/11. Ask group members to come to the board and write one positive effect or one negative effect under the appropriate column and explain their reasoning. Once all groups have reported, look over the list as a class. Ask if any of the effects limit or violate the rights of U.S. citizens or others. For example, detaining prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without due process of law.


The annotation of the presidential speech, the speech analysis questions, and the completion of the cause and effect graphic organizer can all serve as possible assessments for this lesson.