9 Activities to Celebrate Memorial Day

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.

Memorial Day School Activities

You and your students can honor those who died while defending their country. Take a look at the Memorial Day classroom activities below along with the accompanying student handouts. Most of these activities can be adapted for various grade levels, though they are primarily geared toward elementary and middle school students.

1. Design a Revolutionary War Memorial

Students will create a memorial to honor Revolutionary War soldiers for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. First, tell students they are going to design a memorial to honor the men and women who served in the Revolutionary War. 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. 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? Finally, give students time to draw a picture of a memorial to honor the soldiers of the Revolutionary War.

  

2. Explanatory Writing Prompt

Have your students partner with a classmate to develop a plan to honor U.S. soldiers who died defending our country. They should focus on what they would like to do, who will be involved, and all necessary details to complete their idea. They should write down their plan, including details about why this would be a worthy tribute. They should then present their work to the class.

Present: Student pairs present their plans for honoring fallen U.S. soldiers.

Closing Activity: Take a class poll asking students which memorial plan they like the best. Encourage students to implement their top choice or choices this Memorial Day.

3. Explore U.S. Flag Shapes

On Memorial Day, the U.S. flag is flown at half-staff from sunrise to noon and then raised to full height until sundown. This ensures the dead are honored in the morning and living veterans are honored for the afternoon. For young learners who are learning about shapes and sorting, the U.S. flag contains 50 stars and many rectangles in different shapes for students to analyze and discuss. Display a U.S. flag, and have students identify what shapes they see. Have them engage with the shapes and their properties in different ways:

  • Which shapes are red, which shapes are white, and which shapes are blue? Which shapes contain multiple colors?
  • How many different sizes of rectangles can you find?
  • What symmetry do the shapes have? Are there any shapes that are not symmetric?
  • What larger rectangles can you make by combining smaller rectangles?
  • In what ways could you sort all of the different shapes on the flag?
  • How would you describe the stars on the flag?

Memorial Day is for remembering those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The world is more global than ever, however, and many veteran families came from countries around the world. Have students think of other countries they know and care about and take a look at their flags. What shapes do they see? What similarities and differences do those flags have with the U.S. flag?

4. Create Memorial Day Poster Poems

In this activity, children create a Memorial Day word web and use it to create a poem about Memorial Day. You'll need poster paper and crayons and markers, as well as the Cluster Word Web. First, 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.

  

Have children work in pairs filling in the Cluster Word Web with ideas related to Memorial Day. Have them review the words in the web and underline the best words for their poems. Then, have each of the children write a first draft and share it with a partner. 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. Have children copy and illustrate their poems on poster paper using crayons or markers.

5. Encourage Students to Show Support

There are many ways to support our military soldiers overseas and at home. Each student should partner with a classmate and read the list below of ways that they can support troops on Memorial Day. Together, they should choose one idea that they would consider participating in, and write a paragraph explaining their choice and why they think it’s a good idea.

  • Look at the website for Operation Homefront. You can send the troops care packages, volunteer at a local center, or raise funds in your community to support the organization.
  • Donate to Cell Phones for Soldiers, an organization that gives troops prepaid calling cards so they can contact their loved ones at home. You can donate cash or old cell phones and/or phone batteries that are then recycled and sold for money.
  • The Fisher House organization offers lodging for families of injured troops. To help, you can volunteer at your local Fisher House.
  • Make a difference at home by volunteering with a Veterans Administration hospital. It is a great way to thank a veteran for their service. For more information, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • What can troops do with their pets while they are away? This is where you come in. You can take their pets into your home through an organization called the Dogs on Deployment. Military personnel are matched with caring foster homes to look after their pets until their return.

Take a class poll to determine which plan most students would like to participate in. You can then launch a class or school-wide initiative to make the plan a reality and build support for our troops!

6. War Stories

Have students link the present to the past by interviewing an adult—whether a teacher, a parent, or somebody else—who served in a war or lived during a war. If they are speaking with somebody who served, they can ask that individual about his or her memories from the period and focus on a few key stories. For those who lived during a war, students can ask the adult to describe what they can recall from the time period. How did the war affect daily life? What did they know about the war at the time? Students can then either orally describe their main findings from their interviews with the class, or write a paragraph or essay summarizing their conversations.

7. Memorial Day Crossword Puzzle

Download and distribute this crossword puzzle to test your students' basic knowledge of Memorial Day and have them research the answers they don't know. You can use this as a foundation for a larger classroom conversation about each term and the meaning of Memorial Day in general.

  

8. Read Books About War and Memory

Another good way to celebrate Memorial Day with students is to read books about war and memory or have the students read them, depending on their age. Consider the following books published by HMH:

9. True or False?

This is a quick activity to give elementary school students a basic knowledge of what Memorial Day entails. Have your students work in pairs or small groups to determine whether the following statements are true or false. Then, review the answers as a class and use this as an opportunity to launch a conversation about honoring our nation's fallen soldiers.

  • Memorial Day is a national holiday. (Answer: True)
  • Memorial Day honors anyone who died in a war. (Answer: False)
  • “Taps,” which is played at military funerals, is played on the fife. (Answer: False)
  • Memorial Day was first called Decoration Day. (Answer: True)
  • Memorial Day was first observed on the last day of May. (Answer: False)
  • Many cities and towns hold parades on Memorial Day. (Answer: True)
  • People put flags and flowers on the graves of soldiers on Memorial Day. (Answer: True)
  • Memorial Day is a school day for most students. (Answer: False)
  • Memorial Day weekend is a popular time for picnics and outdoor parties. (Answer: True)
  • Memorial Day was first officially held in 1868. (Answer: True)

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Share Your Memorial Day Ideas for School

If you have any other Memorial Day school activities, share them with us on Twitter (@LeadAndLearn) or email us at Shaped@hmhco.com. 

Find more lesson plans and classroom resources oShaped.