Impactful Remembrance Day Inquiry Ideas

Remembrance Day (or Veteran’s Day if you’re in the U.S) is a day to reflect on the history of those who fought and died for Canada as well as those who participated in efforts on the homefront. To remember, in itself, is an intrinsic feeling that helps us connect to our history. It allows us to honour, appreciate, and reflect. But sometimes it’s difficult to convey that feeling to students and help them connect to the humanity of remembrance.

Remembrance Day is a time when students can engage in activities that help them activate their critical thinking and reflection skills. It is a time for students to remember the sacrifices that so many people made, and also a time to reflect on what it means to be a veteran in Canada in today’s society. Some students might like to explore the impact that not only humans, but also animals had on the World Wars.

The following Remembrance Day inquiry ideas will give you a starting place from which to plan some impactful inquiries during Remembrance Day and the days surrounding it. Some links are affiliates. Please see our affiliate disclosure policy here.

Remembrance Day and Inquiry Learning

A good way to tie Remembrance Day with inquiry learning is to focus on a few main themes:

  • Traditions (“What traditions do we honour on Remembrance Day?”)
    Celebrations (“Why do we celebrate Remembrance Day?” or “How/why are Remembrance Day celebrations different than birthday celebrations?”)
  • Diversity (“How does Remembrance Day honour diversity?”)
    Perspective (“Why might Remembrance Day look different in other countries/communities/cultures than it does in Ontario/Canada?”)
  • Politics (“What political decisions contributed to the World Wars?” or “How do politicians play a role in Remembrance Day?”)
Photo courtesy of NSLA Memorial Foundation

Depending on the ages of your students, you can choose to pursue an inquiry topic that approaches Remembrance Day from any of the main themes listed above. Younger grades usually approach Remembrance Day from a “traditions and celebrations” standpoint, as most of the curriculum objectives for the primary and junior grades focus on those. For example, grade 2 students investigate why we remember, and how we can do that respectfully and meaningfully.

Moving into older grades means moving into more complex issues and investigations. For example, older students might start to question whether wars are a good idea at all. Of course they can’t change the past, but they can certainly examine the decisions made by political leaders during wartime. Furthermore, they can ask questions about the effectiveness of those decisions. Students tend to show an interest in things like foreign policy, pacifism, and exploring events from alternate or lesser-known perspectives.

Concept Mapping for Reflection

Before beginning any inquiry about Remembrance Day, it’s important to elicit what students already know, what it means to remember, and what comes to mind when they think of Remembrance Day. Having a discussion and drawing out students’ ideas, experiences, and knowledge about Remembrance Day is a great starting point. It helps students to hold space for the act of remembrance and understand why it’s an important concept.

Encourage students to think about the symbols associated with Remembrance Day – for example, poppies, uniforms, and crosses. Ask them why symbols matter and how they are connected to place and stories. Discuss the concept of conflict and cooperation – how is Remembrance Day connected to both of these concepts? Once students have started thinking about this, ask them about the importance of community – how does community play a role in the act of remembering? A good example to reinforce this connection is by asking students what happens when a friend, family member, or pet dies. How do people grieve and remember? Usually this is done together, through the strength of community.

Remembrance Day Inquiry Idea #1 – How can we best remember our fallen soldiers?

This inquiry idea ties into the grade 2 Ontario social studies strand: tradition and heritage. Students are asked to “describe some significant traditions and celebrations of their families, their peers, and their own communities, as well as of some other communities in Canada”. It can also tie into other grade levels where the focus is on place, community, cooperation, and conflict.

There are many ways students can complete this inquiry idea. First, introduce students to stories that are appropriate for their age level. The use of primary source documents such as letters, photos, and service documents are a good place to start. There are many on the Canadian War Museum’s website, found here. Depending on the ages of students, you may be able to let students sort through these on their own, or paraphrase stories to students. While students are reading or listening, ask them questions such as:

  • How does this story help you understand more about ____ (WWI, WWII, etc.)?
  • What inspires you about this story?
  • How can one person’s actions affect individuals and communities?
  • What responsibility do we have to Canada’s veterans?

These firsthand accounts give students insight into the experiences of soldiers at war, and also of everyday life for thousands of individuals back home. Teachers can be selective about these – for example, choosing texts that represent different themes such as love or loss. Students might be interested in accounts from different time periods – for example, some might want to read about World War I, while others are more interested in more current conflicts. Examining the role of women or political leaders can also offer a different perspective.

Of course, inviting a survivor provides the best firsthand knowledge of conflict, loss, hope, and strength. Testimony from those who fought is at the heart of learning about these events, as well as strengthening things like compassion, empathy, and understanding.

Making Connections

Once the stories have been shared, it’s good to provide students with context. Sometimes students hear a story and can’t quite contextualize the where, when, and why of the event. This is a general obstacle a lot of students face when it comes to learning history. We’ve written a guide on how to teach events that occurred simultaneously in history and how to use context to support student understanding.

From here, students can decide how to display their learning. What way do they feel is the best to honour fallen soldiers? How can we represent their memories? Students have a lot of creative freedom; they can choose to create a soldier profile, a collage, or an identity chart. Some might like to create a memory wall or remembrance board, or even send a letter to a fallen soldier to express their thanks and gratitude.

Remembrance Day Inquiry Idea #2 – What does it mean to be a veteran in Canada?

Photo courtesy of NSLA Memorial Foundation

This is a good inquiry for older students who are interested in what happens to veterans after their service has ended. For example, where they live, what their lives look like, what kind of support they receive, etc. There are a plethora of issues that stem from being involved in active service, such as mental health issues, PTSD, financial matters, and other things. It is no surprise that many former servicemen and servicewomen struggle to find and secure jobs, adequate housing, and mental health services they need. Like many other Canadians, they experience sadness, anger, disappointment, stress, and other emotional difficulties. In fact, about one-fifth of Canadian veterans experience a diagnosed mental health disorder – including depression, PTSD and anxiety – at some time during their lives (Source: Government of Canada).

Students with a deeper grasp of the complexities of war and an understanding of the mental and physical toll of active service might be interested in pursuing this option. What it means to be a veteran depends on many factors, all of which can be explored as subtopics:

  • Where you are located (within Canada or abroad)
  • What services and funding are available to help your transition back into “normal” life
  • The contributions you made while on duty
  • The impact your service had on your physical, mental, and emotional health

Offering Solutions

This inquiry welcomes students to examine the way veterans are supported in Canada. For example, what services they need, the benefits they receive, and how they are cared for. These services and benefits seek to assist veterans with their mental and physical health, finances, housing and home life, as well as finding education and work.

Some inquiry questions that veer off of the original question include “How are veterans supported in Canada?”, “How might a veteran find support after service?” or “In what ways could the federal government better support veterans?” From these smaller questions, students can research the ways in which veterans receive food, medicine, and counselling. Furthermore, they can explore things like income support, medical costs, and compensation.

Once information has been gathered, students can make an assessment about whether the government is doing enough, and in the right areas, to truly make an impact. They can then propose a plan to improve veteran care, or make recommendations for the federal government to implement. This might look like a report, infographic, action plan, or formal letter. Students can choose which method of presentation is most suitable and effective.

Other Great Resources:

Have you done a Remembrance Day inquiry like this with your students?
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