As we were growing up, many of us had family members who had served in World War II. It was easier to understand the purpose of Remembrance Day when Grandpa would wear his medals to our school service. Our current students are a few generations removed from that war, though some have had family members serve in Korea, Afghanistan or with the United Nations Peacekeepers. It is difficult for some of them to understand the abstractness of war, so it is even more important for us to give them a realistic view of those events and the history behind them.
It can be challenging to find reading activities for students in upper elementary because the subject matter is serious, often violent and challenging to read. While it is important for students to understand Canada’s role in conflicts around the world, they are still young and sometimes learning about such serious events can be frightening.
We decided to write our own reading pieces to help students understand some of the roles of Canadians. The reading passages were designed to be easily read and comprehended while still explaining the events of Vimy Ridge and D-Day. It is impossible to detail every event, but we have often found that students are very interested in learning about what happened. We emphasize the importance of learning about these conflicts so we can prevent them in the future.
Learn about the different groups of people that lived in Canada during wartime and how their roles and lives were changed as a result: How War Changes Us. It comes with a digital version for your Google Classroom.
Why do Canadians wear poppies?
Generally, Canadians start wearing poppies around Canadian Thanksgiving until the end of Remembrance Day November 11. Traditionally they are worn on the left side over the heart, except for members of the Canadian Armed Forces who wear theirs according to uniforms.
Dr. John McCrae wrote a very famous poem, “In Flanders Fields” in which he talks about the rows and rows of white crosses that mark the graves of dead soldiers in Flanders, Belgium. As these graves mark the ground, thousands of red poppies were growing all around.
After the war, people started using the poppy as a symbol for different organizations that helped people after the war. Poppies are worn in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom usually for Remembrance Day or Armistice Day.
What Activities Can a Teacher Do to Honour Remembrance Day?
One of the best ways for students to learn the importance of observing Remembrance Day is through a teacher’s actions in the classroom. While many teachers do poppy crafts or activities (which are great for younger students) it is vital to have those difficult conversations with your students. We try to avoid making Remembrance Day into an arts and crafts type holiday and focus more on the events and people that make up the history.
We are in no way saying poppy crafts and lessons are not worthwhile, but since thousands of those activities can be found anywhere online, we’ve chosen to focus on other activities in this post.
Are you trying to organize an assembly, but you can’t sit together in a gymnasium for a ceremony? Read our post: Remembrance Day Assembly Ideas When You’re Apart.
Read Books for Remembrance Day
Check out these books you can use in your classroom to read with younger students (and older students love picture books and being read to as well). Another blog post called: Books for Remembrance Day has some great book titles that you can use in your classroom.
We collect as many books as possible with a variety of reading levels and keep them on a table reserved for Remembrance Day. Our students take their time reading through them.
We created Remembrance Day Reading and Writing Activities as a way to write content specific information at a reading level our students could easily manage without it being too graphic or disturbing for them. It’s written for Grade Four and up, but it could be used with Grade Three students if the articles were read aloud to the class. It comes with a digital version for your Google Classroom.
Explore Family Memories
We invite families to bring in pictures of family members who served in our Canadian military (or their country of origin). Families are invited to write a brief description of the person or where/when they served in the military. We display these pictures and their stories for a few months so students have a chance to get to know these people and their stories.
This activity has an added bonus of family members talking to each other about stories they maybe didn’t know before. I was in my late twenties before I knew my Grandfather’s World War Two story, but by then he had passed and I didn’t get the chance to ask the questions I had. It would have been so nice to know more to connect the little pieces of information I was able to gather.
Invite Military Members
Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have a currently serving parent who is willing to come to our school and share their current military experiences. We invite these guests back to our school regularly to get to know our students.
Look Out into the Community
We find local cenotaphs, memorials, and plaques in our city and learn about for whom they’re named. We research building and street names looking for the connections between those soldiers and our modern-day names.
Look for Historians
Invite members of the local lodge who might be able to connect you with local historians. And don’t forget about your city archives. The librarians and archivists at the archives are the experts and will be able to find you more information (that is appropriate for your students) than you could ever imagine.
We wrote a simple drama circle. Our students needed an overview of some of the contributions our Canadian soldiers have made over the years. You can find it in our store as Remembrance Day in Canada Drama Circle.
Websites and Online Information
The Canadian government has created tools available for you to use in your classroom. You will need to preview them to make sure they are right for the students in your classroom. You can access the site in English or French.
On the site mentioned above students can research different war medals. They can learn to draw them. Students can write descriptions about how each type of medal was earned. They can learn about each war the medals represent and how many of them were given out to Canadian soldiers.
The Canadian Legion also has lesson plans that can be accessed on their site. It includes a list of school activities, the history of the poppy campaigns, a bit of information about the legion and Canadian military, and important Canadian symbols. We recommend these resources for Grades 5 and up.
Create a Piece of Art Together
Collaborative art projects can be a great way to work together toward a common goal. You can download a free copy of our Pastel Poppy Corners Art Lesson. It is perfect for a beautiful display for Remembrance Day. You can find the lesson in our free Resource Library. The library is accessible to all of our ninja community members when they sign up for emails.
If you are looking for other Remembrance Day Art Projects, we have a whole blog post about some of our favourites. And we’ve added more projects in our How to Create Memorable Remembrance Day Art Projects blog post.
Write to Soldiers
Students in your class can post messages or send letters and parcels to currently serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces through their website. Students can do this individually or you can write notes as a class.
Hold an Assembly
Of course, we hold a solemn Remembrance Day assembly every year teaching students about audience etiquette, the symbolism of the poppy, and the hope for world peace. Students present information, listen to the stories of others, and create art and music for the event. In many Canadian provinces, it is part of the School Act that all schools must host a Remembrance Day assembly on the last day of school available before November 11. A moment of silence at 11:00 (or near it) must be included.
If you are still trying to be physically distanced or have students learning online, consider reading Remembrance Day Assembly Ideas When You’re Apart.
Remember All Year Long
We read and write as much as possible throughout the year. Even though Remembrance Day is just one day of the year we all need to remember the sacrifice of so many people every single day. We learn about Canada’s role in major world conflicts in language arts and social studies.
We created a set of writing prompts that are perfect to use in November. They can be used digitally or on paper to help meet the needs of your students.
Why Do We Need to Remember?
The World wars were a lifetime ago for us. Think about it. World War I was over 100 years ago and there is no direct connection to the students we teach. We are the connection. We need our students to remember the past so those mistakes will not be repeated.
Our world has become a place where information is everywhere, but not all that information is correct. We need to be honest, unbiased truth about the hardships of war for our students. We need to help them understand and remember how the world ended up in a war.
But Maybe It’s Too Much For Students?
You know your class best. If you have students who have been traumatized in the recent war around the world such as refugees or victims of violence, getting into the nitty-gritty details is probably not the best choice. That being said, it is important to remember the many soldiers who died serving us. They are the reason we go to school each day without fear and the reason we get to play outside. They are the reason we get to speak freely, go to the church or mosque, and get to speak the language we choose. That will be real for all your students.
Here is a “Why It Matters” Story from One of our Students
Disclaimer: You may need tissues.
Every year we hold a Remembrance Day assembly on the last school day before November 11. It’s actually in the School Act that every school in Alberta holds an assembly at this time. So, every school is holding a moment of silence across Alberta at 11:00 am.
Our assemblies were pretty standard. We had guest speakers from the Canadian Armed Forces. There was a poetry reading by a few students. The choir sang a song about poppies. A band student played The Last Post.
I was so happy with how quiet and respectful our students were. There were a few tears (there always is) and generally the class is very quiet even leaving the gymnasium.
On the way back to class, one student came up, gave me a big hug, and said, “Happy Remembrance Day!” She was smiling and happy.
I tried to explain that the point of Remembrance Day. It is more solemn and that using, “Happy Remembrance Day” isn’t really something we say. I told her that it was about honouring the soldiers who served in the wars. We honour the ones who currently serve in our military today so we can all be safe and free.
Then she told me about the soldiers. They were the Canadian Armed Forces. The soldiers came to her town. They brought her, her mother, and her brother to safety after her father, uncle, and cousins were murdered in their home. Their country was at war with itself.
She was given food, clothing and a teddy bear. Eventually, her family made it to Canada as refugees from Syria. So, when she sees soldiers she thanks them for rescuing her. It makes her happy that she has come to Canada.
So, Happy Remembrance Day.
How do you emphasize the importance of Remembrance Day?
Leave us your ideas in the comments below. We’re always looking for new ways to help our students understand why it matters.