Memorial Day Activities for Upper Elementary
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Quick Classroom Activities for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is an official holiday that takes place on the last Monday in May. The end of May is usually a busy time of year for teachers, making it difficult to carve out time for a in-depth lesson about Memorial Day. All of the activities listed below are designed to teach students about Memorial Day using ten minutes or less of your precious instructional time.

1. Video & Questions: This short (1:30) Memorial Day video from PBS Kids explains the purpose and history of Memorial Day in a kid-friendly format. To keep students focused on the video, have them answer the questions listed below while they watch.

  • What is the purpose of Memorial Day? ( A: a day to honor soldiers who died in war while serving in the US military)
  • What was the holiday called before it was called Memorial Day? (A: Decoration Day)
  • Where and when did the first Decoration Day take place? (A: Arlington National Cemetery on May 30th, 1868)
  • In what year did Memorial Day become a federal holiday? (A: 1971)
  • What happens at 3PM on Memorial Day? (A: a national moment of remembrance to pay to tribute to the soldiers who died fighting for the freedoms that Americans enjoy)

2. Poetry Analysis: Complete a condensed poetry analysis for “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. First, explain to students that McCrae was a Canadian poet, soldier, and physician. He wrote the poem in 1915 after experiencing the tragedy of World War I. Next, have students listen as you read the poem aloud. Finally, discuss the questions listed below for each stanza. 

  • Stanza 1: Where does poem takes place?
  • Stanza 2: From whose perspective is the poem told?
  • Stanza 3: What do the poppies symbolize? 

3. Close Reading: Use this text to complete a close reading about the history and meaning of Memorial Day. Students will read the text three times, focusing on main idea, vocabulary, and text-based evidence. If you have more than ten minutes, additional activities are included with the mini-unit. 

Memorial Day Close Reading

4. Word Work: Celebrate ​Memorial Day with word games! These FREE Memorial Day Word Games can be played as a class, or students can complete them independently. 

Memorial Day Vocabulary Activities | Free

5. Symbolism: Focus on the symbolism of the red poppy with this directed drawing. Before you begin, spend a minute or two discussing the meaning of symbols students see or use in their daily life. Let students know that the red poppy is used on Memorial Day to symbolize the soldiers who died fighting for our nation. The directed drawing portion of the video ends at 4:41. With the extra couple minutes, have students complete the following sentence frame on the same paper as their poppy drawing: Red poppies are an important symbol for Memorial Day because they represent the soldiers who _______________________________________. 

6. Compare and Contrast: Work together with students to compare and contrast Memorial Day and Veterans Day. If you want to stick to ten minutes, you can complete a double-bubble graphic organizer and call it a day. If you have a bit more time, click here for printable and digital materials to complete this activity. The lesson includes vocabulary support, informational text, a compare and contrast graphic organizer, close paragraph, and rubric.

Memorial Day and Veterans Day Compare and Contrast

7. Quote Analysis: Together, as a class, read through each of the Memorial Day quotes from US presidents listed below. To complete the quote analysis, have students pick a quote, copy the quote/speaker, and explain the meaning of the quote in their own words. Students can analyze additional quotes if time allows. 

“Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay.” -Barack Obama

“Each of the patriots whom we remember on this day was first a beloved son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a spouse, friend, and neighbor.” -George H.W. Bush

“Peace is the real and right memorial for those who have died in war.” -Richard Nixon

“For love of country, they accepted death.” -James Garfield

“Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.”​ -Franklin D. Roosevelt

9. Quick-Write: A quick write is a brief written response to a question or prompt. A few Memorial Day prompts are listed below. To stay within the ten-minute time frame, have students listen to the prompt, think for one minute, and write for three minutes. 

  1. What is one way you can honor those who gave their life fighting for our nation?
  2. Is Memorial Day an important holiday? Why or why not?
  3. Explain the meaning of Memorial Day. Include the following words in your explanation: remember, thankful, died, war, freedom, honor.
8 Memorial Day Activities for Middle School
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