What Happened on 9/11?, Part I

  • Grades 6 to 12
  • Lesson Duration: One Class Period
  • Theme: Events of 9/11

Essential Question: What happened on 9/11?

Learning Goals

Students will assess their prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks.

Students will be introduced to a timeline of key events on the morning of 9/11.

Students will investigate a variety of primary source materials related to the 9/11 attacks.

Students will understand how first-person accounts and multiple perspectives deepen historical study.



    al-Qaeda: This international Islamist extremist terrorist network is responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Al-Qaeda is responsible for multiple terrorist attacks since its founding in the 1980s by Osama bin Laden and others who were involved in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Their aim has been to overthrow governments in the Middle East, and elsewhere in the Muslim world, which do not strictly enforce a narrow, fundamentalist version of Islam.

    Hijack: This means to take control by force.



    1.  Tell students that today they’ll be investigating the question, “What happened on 9/11?”  

    2.  Write the essential question (“What happened on 9/11?”) on the board and draw a T-chart with three columns. Label the columns “Things I know,” “Things I think I know,” and “Things I want to know.” Explain that the first category is for anything students are absolutely sure of, the second is for things they aren’t completely sure of, and the last is for things they are curious about.

    3.  Take student answers for 5–10 minutes, sorting them into the appropriate categories. If a student answers outside of the scope of the essential question (referencing something that came before or after 9/11), keep track of those on a separate piece of paper. Lessons in our other modules may be helpful in addressing some of the topics students raise.

    4.  Show students this short film, which outlines the key events of the morning of 9/11. Students should listen closely and make a note of anything that confirms or conflicts with the list they just made.

Video: The Events of 9/11

Timeline Video

5.  Ask students to identify any questions from the list that were answered by the film and discuss the answers. Star any points that were not addressed in the film.

6.  Divide students into small groups and ask them to address the points that were not covered in the film using the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Interactive Attack Timeline

7.  Conclude by having students share the additional information they learned, referencing where they found it in the timeline and what type of resource it was (text, image, audio clip, video clip). 

8.  Return to the original list of observations students made and ask them to articulate what new information they learned by going through this process.

9.  Tell students that in the next lesson, they’ll continue learning about 9/11 by exploring the experiences of those who were actually there.

What Happened on 9/11?, Part II

Essential Question: What happened on 9/11?