Memorial Day Activities for Your Classroom

Every year, we spend the last Monday of May commemorating and recognizing the people who have sacrificed for their country while serving in the United States military—those who put their lives on the line, and whose names we should continue to remember, even years later.

Americans often honor this day by visiting cemeteries and memorials, gathering with family for festivities, and participating in parades. Memorial Day dates back to the years following the Civil War, when it was first created as Decoration Day. It was declared an official federal holiday in 1971. (Read more about the history of Memorial Day.)

You and your students can honor those who died while defending their country. Take a look at the activities below along with the accompanying student handouts. Note that while these activities are designed for elementary and middle schoolers, teachers can adapt them for high schoolers as well.

Design a Revolutionary War Memorial

Student worksheet available for download.

Social Studies/Language Arts

Students will create a memorial to honor Revolutionary War soldiers for the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

What You Need

  • Markers and crayons
  • Paper

What to Do

  1. Tell students that they are going to design a memorial to honor the men and women who served in the Revolutionary War.
  2. Explain that there are many memorials in our nation's capital that honor presidents and the veterans of wars. (If you like, show students pictures of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.) Point out that there is as yet no memorial to honor the soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War.
  3. Ask students what they know about the Revolutionary War. Are there any scenes or moments that they remember that would be good to re-create in the memorial? Are there any people that they think should be included in the memorial? Do they want to focus on famous figures, or do they want to show average people?
  4. Give students time to draw a picture of a memorial to honor the soldiers of the Revolutionary War.

Creating a Memorial Day Poster Poem

Student worksheet available for download.

Social Studies/Language Arts

Children create a Memorial Day word web and use it to create a poem about Memorial Day.

What You Need

  • Writing paper and pencils
  • Poster paper
  • Crayons and markers
  • Cluster Word Web (PDF file available for download)

What to Do

  1. Hold a discussion about the meaning of Memorial Day and why we observe the holiday in the United States. Explain that this is a special day set aside for all Americans to remember those who have died in wars. Originally, the holiday was called Decoration Day because people decorated the graves of soldiers who died in the Civil War with flags and flowers. Today, communities across the nation hold parades and lay wreaths on monuments to honor people who died in different wars and to remember the bravery of soldiers who died fighting for their country.
  2. Have children work in pairs filling in the Cluster Word Web with ideas related to Memorial Day.
  3. Have them review the words in the web and underline the best words for their poems.
  4. Have each of the children write a first draft and share it with a partner.
  5. Ask children to revise their poems by making suggested changes and checking spelling and punctuation. Remind children that poems can be powerful if they use colorful words or if they have interesting sounds or rhymes.
  6. Have children copy and illustrate their poems on poster paper.

Teaching Options

  • After the initial discussion, some children may want to describe orally what Memorial Day means to them.
  • If there are parents or other members of the community who have served in the armed services, invite them to come and speak to the children about the meaning of Memorial Day. Children can write questions before the guests arrive. Encourage the guests to answer children's questions.
  • Consider inviting other classes to come and hear the children's poems. Teach children songs related to the Civil War, such as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as part of the program they share with other classes.

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Find more lesson plans and classroom resources oShaped.