Examining terrorism against the United States
Lesson Plans by subject
September 19, 2001
Web posted at: 9:22 AM EDT (1322 GMT)
Overview: The September 11, 2001 attack on the United States is not the first time that Americans have been the target of terrorism. In this lesson, students
examine the history of terrorism against the United States at home and
abroad to produce a mini-history book.
Curriculum connections: Social studies, U.S. history, world history, geography, global connections, Current evens
- Define the concept of terrorism
- Identify and describe current and historic terrorist attacks on Americans
at home and abroad
- Publish a mini-history book documenting terrorist attacks against the
- Write an anti-terrorist manifesto
National Standards for History (National Center for History in Our Schools)
Standard 3: Students engage in historical analysis and interpretation.
Standard 4: Students conduct historical research.
CNNfyi.com article "Historical view: America has dealt with terror before"
History books, textbooks, videos, and journals
Timeline from the CNN in-depth special "Recent terrorism attacks targeting
the United States"
Article and questions only: 30 minutes
Full lesson plan: Three-five classroom periods
1) Have students reflect on and create a schematic web of associations with
the concept of "terrorism." After sharing and discussing their thoughts, ask
students: How is terrorism viewed in America? How have acts of terrorism
been conducted against Americans? Identify some of these historic or recent
events. What events or circumstances triggered these acts? How have
Americans responded to these events? Why is America not immune to
2) Direct students to read the CNNfyi article "Historical view: America has dealt with terror before," and then respond to the following questions:
- To what event is the September 11 attack on America likened? According
to David Rapoport, what makes the September 11th terrorism attack unique?
Why do you think the terrorists chose to target the World Trade Center and
the Pentagon? What impact do such events have on America¹s nationalism? What
challenges do Americans face in terms of responding to the recent terrorist
- What movement was behind President William McKinley¹s assassination? What do Anarchists believe? Why did the President of the United States not pursue
an international anti-anarchist campaign? What terrorist act did the
Anarchists undertake in 1920? What were the results of this event? Would an
anti-anarchist push have stopped this Wall Street bombing? Why or why not?
Do you think an international anti-terrorist campaign might have prevented
the September 11th attack on America? Discuss.
- Which groups of Americans have been discriminated against or have been the targets of aggression following different terrorist attacks? Why did this occur?
What are "civil liberties"? Do you think these acts violated the civil
liberties of those who were victimized? Discuss.
3) Divide students into groups representing the years 1920 to the present.
Instruct students to research acts of terrorism against America during their
designated time period. Have each group consider the following:
- Individuals or groups involved in the terrorist attack
- Reasons for the attack
- Where the attack occurred and why this location was chosen
- Casualties and aftermath of the attack (economic, structural, emotional,
- How the attack affected the United States across political, economic, and
- The historic events occurring at the time
- America¹s international post-attack and pre-attack alliances and
- Actions of the United States to investigate and capture the attackers
- America¹s response to the attack
- How the attack changed life for Americans at home and abroad.
Have students document their findings in written and visual formats.
Instruct students to finalize their research with a one-page interpretive
analysis of the event they have studied. Help students compile their work to
publish a mini-history book entitled, "The History of Terrorism Against the
United States." Present each student with a photocopy of the book. As a
class, review the book and discuss the differences and similarities among
the terrorist attacks. Then, have students assume the roles of members of a task force and challenge them to draft an American anti-terrorism manifesto.
Students can create a wall-sized world map that depicts where acts of terrorism
against the United States occurred.
Explain that while terrorism has typically been associated with foreign
nationals and their causes, there are those who argue that the United States
government, political parties, activists, etc., have also undertaken
terrorist acts in the nation and abroad. For example, events during the
Vietnam War, actions taken by the Klu Klux Klan, and the attack on Granada
have all been discussed within the context of terrorism. Have students
research events that have been viewed as terrorist acts by the U.S.,
highlighting the perspectives of national and international entities.