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Reflecting on Tragedy in the Classroom

The following NCTE INBOX Ideas piece was originally published in INBOX on August 30, 2011.


Tragedy can take many forms.  Even as the 10th anniversary of September 11 approaches, bringing memories of those lost, some in the NCTE community have had to contend with disruptive and life-threatening weather events, including earthquakes and a hurricane. How can we and should we deal with the topic of tragedy in the classroom? Find ideas in the following resources from NCTE and

Reflection can support both teachers and students in the aftermath of a disaster. Time is needed for children to reflect on their experiences and for teachers to reflect collectively on their students’ art and writing. This is shared in the Language Arts article “’Wen the Flood Km We Had to Lv’: Children’s Understandings of Disaster” (E).

Dear Teachers: Letters to Another Hero” (G) from Voices from the Middle presents 54 thank-you letters written by authors (of children's literature, young adult literature, and professional texts) to classroom teachers, from the shadow of the events of September 11th, 2001. In these letters, authors offer their thanks for teachers' efforts to face those events with children, and share thoughts about the events and about the power of literature in dark times.

The English Journal article “From Hitler to Hurricanes, Vietnam to Virginia Tech: Using Historical Nonfiction to Teach Rhetorical Context” (M-S) shares how authentic historical documents can awaken students’ interests and help them understand how purpose, audience, and context shape how such texts are interpreted.

The lesson plan “Responding to Tragedy: Then and Now” (M-S) can be used to help students reflect on their responses to any tragedy from which they now have some distance. Students read and discuss the personal responses of four different poets, focusing the relationships between language and meaning. They then compose a poem of their own that includes a section addressing their initial responses to the tragedy and their response to it in the present. Finally, they reflect on what they have learned by being exposed to the perspectives of their peers through reading their poems.

Grading the War Story” (C) from Teaching English in the Two-Year College considers the emotional and psychological complexities of responding to personal narratives when the focus is war.

The author of “Making Meaning Out of the 9/11 Tragedy: Teaching Cormier’s After the First Death” (TE) from English Leadership Quarterly saw and took the opportunity to make meaning out of the tragedy with her 10th-graders, while also meeting their needs as struggling readers.

How do you deal with tragedies of any kind in your classroom?




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