9/11 Lesson & Reflection

Bagley Image

Image from Salt Lake City Tribune: http://bit.ly/oSvgpX

Today I did a reading lesson that went really well and wanted to share it with others who may be able to make use of it.

Last weekend, @Larryferlazzo posted a helpful link on Twitter to a resource on how to teach multi-level ESL classes. As a high school Spanish teacher, I always find that I get some of my best ideas from ESL teachers. I borrowed the “Jigsaw Reading” activity described about half-way down the page. Here’s what I did:


1) Located an authentic text that was comprehensible enough for my level 3 Spanish students to figure out even with quite a few unfamiliar vocabulary words (How? I used a topic with which they have a lot of prior knowledge: 9/11. Here is a link to where I found the article that I used – it’s over at the History Channel en español in the “Hoy en la historía” section, for 9/11, at the bottom of the page.

2) Split up the article into 8 sections. Labelled each section with a letter to later be able to easily go over the correct order with students. (See here) Mixed up the 8 pieces and put them in an envelope. Repeated 5 times for 5 groups.

3) Planned for what to do when some groups finished earlier than others (always inevitable with this type of activity). My solution? When a group had figured out the order I assigned them 2 of the pieces to summarize for the class in English. This way, once everyone had finished we were able to go over the whole text together in a way that was student-led instead of me just telling them the meaning.


1) Told students to think for a minute about what they already knew about 9/11 and raise their prior knowledge. Had them chat with their groups to get ideas going. Then asked several students “When you think of 9/11, what’s one word or phrase that comes to mind?” – wrote down what they said on the board (“terrorism” “world trade centers” “airplanes” etc.)

2. Told students to keep these ideas in mind as they would likely help them figure out what was going on when they got “stuck” on authentic phrasing in the article.

3. Gave each group of students (3-5 students/group worked well) 1 envelope with the following instructions:

“You have a deconstructed article about 9/11. Your task is to put it back in the correct order using what you know of the event and the wording of the pieces you’ve been given”

4. At this point, I sat back and gave them time to get to work – in order to put the pieces in order (a “literal” jigsaw of sorts) students had to read them, get the gist of what was going on, and look for cues as to the sequence of events (also draw on prior knowledge often when the text itself was inaccessible).

5. In advance I had planned what to do when they finished up (see #3 above in “before class section”) so as they finished I gave them their sections to summarize and then we went over it by 1) me revealing the order one piece at a time and 2) the student group that had been assigned that piece summarizing its meaning for the class in English.

6. At the end I just asked a few students about their own experiences on 9/11. Most of my students were in Kindergarten and didn’t remember much but some had some memories to share.


My students are learning the imperfect tense right now, which is used to talk about how things were or what people used to be like. Tomorrow, to follow up on the reading they did today, I’m going to show this image (shown at top of post) and ask them a few questions that they will write about in the imperfect:

  • ¿Cuántos años tenías en 9/11?
  • ¿Dónde estabas en el momento del atentado?
  • ¿Estabas nervioso/a? ¿Comprendías la situación?
  • ¿Qué te decían tus padres sobre el ataque?


I was really impressed with my students’ maturity with this activity. They were engaged, respectful, and seemed to take it quite seriously. A couple of elements went into making this particular article a successful one, I think, including:

  • the text was pretty comprehensible because they had so much prior knowledge about 9/11.
  • the article was fairly short and highly sequential (first the plane hit, next the towers were brought down, then the pentagon, etc.)

I will be using the activity again in the future, perhaps with modifications as the years pass and students have fewer memories of the actual date, or, maybe with a different text altogether. It was much more engaging than simply reading and answering questions about a text, and I think they may have gotten more out of it too! How do you teach reading in engaging and interactive ways?


About beckysearls

Married (DINK); High School Spanish Teacher; Lover of new technology (especially apple products!), Learner (of the life-long variety), Voracious Reader, Aspiring Writer, Tweeter, and now (or rather, a returning) Blogger!
This entry was posted in planning, reflection, world language teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 9/11 Lesson & Reflection

  1. Nancy Salazar says:

    Love this! Thank you so much for sharing. I teach Spanish 3, 4 and 5 and I can definitely see this article being of great value. Thank you for your ideas and especially for the reflection 🙂
    Have a great start to the school year 🙂

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