3 Must Do Veterans Day Activities for Upper Elementary

veterans day programs elementary school

When I began my teaching career, my grandfather, a WWII veteran, asked me to make sure that my students always understood the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. It seemed silly to me at the time because I grew up always knowing the difference between these two American holidays. I quickly learned that my students did not. Teaching students about Veterans Day became a passion of mine, and a day that I always looked forward to celebrating in the classroom.

Throughout the course of my career, and within the different districts that I worked in, Veterans Day was honored and celebrated quite differently. From having the day off to having a school-wide all-day celebration, and everything in between; I have done it all. 

With such varied experiences, I have found that I still rely on the same three activities to help students truly understand what Veterans Day is all about.

1. Comparing and Contrasting Veterans Day and Memorial Day

3 Must Do Veterans Day Activities for Upper ElementaryI always start discussing Veterans Day by comparing and contrasting it to Memorial Day using a large chart paper size Venn diagram. You can complete this organizer through information you share in your discussions, reading informational text on the two different holidays, or after a read aloud of the book, The Wall* , written by Even Bunting. This book tells the story of a man and his son looking for the grandfather's name on the Wall in Washington DC that honors military men and women who died in the Vietnam War. While at the Wall, the young boy sees an injured veteran. This lends itself perfectly to discussing how a Veteran is someone who is honored on Veterans Day and the grandfather who died in the war, is honored on Memorial Day.

Teacher Tip: Be sure to hold on to this Venn diagram and bring it back out again when Memorial Day comes around and revisit this conversation with your students. 

To further help students understand a day in the life of our military men and women, and the sacrifices they make, read aloud the picture book H is for Honor* the week of Veterans Day. 

Grab a free copy of the informational article and Venn diagram that I use with my students at the bottom of this post.

2. Focused Jigsaw Style Lessons

free veterans day activities
Students love to learn about our country's Military, its history, and our Veterans. One way to have focused Veterans Day lessons is to plan lessons about each military branch. Instead of doing all the lesson planning on your own, collaborate with your grade-level partner teachers. Each year, I teach a short 15-minute focused lesson about the Navy. This lesson includes a brief overview of the Navy, how Naval ships are named, and a hands-on measuring activity that has the kids working in groups using meter tape to measure the lengths of different Naval ships. (We go outside if weather permitting or take our measuring to the hallway if it is too cold.) While I am teaching this lesson, each of my colleagues is teaching their classes a short lesson on a different branch of the military. We then rotate our students through each classroom so that every student participates in a variety of focused lessons about each branch of the military. The kids love traveling to different classrooms and learning all about our military and honoring the brave work that they do. By the end of the rotation, they have had several Veterans Day lessons and learned about each branch of the military.

3. Community Service Projects

3 Must Do Veterans Day Activities for Upper ElementaryOf all the activities that I have done with students on Veterans Day, I have found that community service projects that connect students with local Veterans are the most meaningful. Some ideas that I have implemented include:
  • Sending student written letters or cards to local veterans
  • Sending student created "forever flowers" in red and white and blue like the ones pictured here
  • Hosting a Veterans Day assembly and inviting local veterans. Have students sing American songs in honor the veterans. 
Any community service idea that you come up with that connects students to veterans is a great way to show students how they can give back to the men and women who give so much to protect us. Ask students for their ideas, too! They often have the best ideas when it comes to community service projects.

Spending time learning about Veterans Day and our American military shows students how much we value and appreciate the bravery of our Armed Forces. Reach out the families of your students to find out if anyone has anyone has Veterans in their families. If they do, you might choose to have your students write letters and cards of gratitude to them, too! 

You might be interested in reading: 6 Autumn Picture Books for Upper Elementary Students

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free Veterans Day Activities for Upper Elementary

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