Veterans Day has fortunately become pronounced in our classrooms over the last ten years. Many children have family members who have served or know veterans personally. Students are more aware of its significance and it's good to see them appreciating the reason behind the day. The lesson I present before Veterans Day begins with the importance of volunteerism-in whatever form it takes. Painting of all our veterans Armed Forces Through the Years and Plaque of The Five Branches of the Military.
Begin by clarifying the term Veteran. I had a student this year who confused it with veterinarian, even in fifth grade. Take a moment to ask if anyone has family members who are Veterans, or serving our country today. The students will be proud to share, and I encourage the class to applaud after the last child has spoken. Next, ask if anyone in the class has ever volunteered for a service project, etc. Listen to responses and ask, "How does it make you feel?"
Now they're ready to watch a thirty-three second Public Service Announcement on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, presented by Gary Sinese. I like the tone it sets, and everyone is quiet as it plays. They write some feelings and their Reactions on the Smart Board after the end. It leaves them with the question, "What will you do?" which sets up exactly what they will do in the next section.
Although you know they will be Writing Letters to Veterans of your local Veterans Affairs office, open up the discussion with, "What WILL you do to help these men and women who have bravely served our country?" The kids will have all kinds of ideas, in part spurred on by Gary Sinese's influential video. Have them create lists "What I Can Do" of which ones they could do today, right in the classroom then Share the ideas as a class on Smart Board. Assuming that "write letters or create cards" is on the list, let them know you agree that it's a great idea! If it did not make the list through student suggestion...make sure you add it.
Incorporating letter writing skills begins with reviewing the finer points of a friendly letter. They ought to include the school's address as the Heading, rather than home address. One of the benefits of writing to Veterans is the real-life connection. The students are writing to actual heroes in their community. It's a good opportunity to remind them of the importance of doing their finest work. The practice that this generates for letter writing skills is natural, but meaningful at the same time. They sometimes struggle with paragraphing. The age and/or general health of the veteran is unknown to the student, so expressing how difficult it may be for the veteran to read a letter with no paragraphs, is a good motivator in helping them remember to write them.
If a pen-pal relationship develops, which has happened in my classroom, it will be up to the parents if they'd prefer the letters to continue through school, or straight to the house. They will first need to introduce themselves in an interesting fashion- the veteran will thoroughly enjoy hearing about a young person's events. Their second paragraph will contain careful questions that avoid any discussion of combat, or the like. Things such as, "Do you have any animals? What's your favorite book/tv show/movie? What month is your birthday? These are all pleasantries. The next paragraph is for thanking the veteran for their service with some kind words. These will be very much appreciated. Sometimes, it's also great to just give the kids paper and tell them to "write a letter from the heart."
Although this is the perfect time for our students to write letters to veterans, it may not be the perfect time for them to receive the letters. Many schools across your area could possibly do the same thing. Before mailing, I'd call the local branch and ask them if they'd rather you hold off on mailing until a time when not many letters are coming in. A class full of letters! Can't Wait to Send Them!
Do not discount the other recommendations listed on the board by the kids. Instead, celebrate these ideas by asking the students to design poster advertisements for display around campus and in the classroom.
As a follow up to the lesson, the kids take out a piece of paper, write the words, "Veterans Day" in the center and circle it, than draw eight bubbles jutting out from the center: Veterans Day web visual for sentence writing. In these bubbles they will write words or phrases that are related to Veterans Day. After they've picked their words/phrases and put them into the bubbles, ask them to write a meaningful sentence for each of the words. By meaningful, they're directed to avoid a sentence such as, "War is a word." List and discuss the varied terms the class put into their bubbles. See the Veterans' Day web visual. Closing the lesson this manner is a snapshot way of sharing the content learning, and writing meaningful sentences that can be developed into narratives on another day.
Getting out books from the library about Veterans' Day is also a nice touch. This could be used to start the lesson, if the Gary Sinese video can't be shown. Either way, exposing the kids to this important day is what counts.