American Veterans: Past and Present

Research groups present an audio report on modern veteran issues in a radio show format.

By Alicia Johnson

Row of small American flags in grass

Current event discussions are a great way to help students to make meaningful connections between content and real-world issues. Since all subjects have real-world application potential, it is not difficult to make those connections apparent to our future problem-solvers of America.

Since our nation has been at war for eleven years, any story involving American veterans is current and relevant subject matter to incorporate into a class discussion. Veterans Day is a good time to take a look at veterans in America.

Get the Ball Rolling

To get the discussion started, I suggest listening to last year's airing of a Veterans Day historical report from Back Story Radio.   It is a look at the history of America's treatment of returning veterans, complete with interviews. After the broadcast, have a class discussion where students can reflect on what they heard. 

Here are some of the topics that are covered in the interview:

  • African-American veterans
  • Women veterans
  • Momism - Twentieth century overbearing mothers' effect on soldiers/veterans
  • PTSD - Post traumatic stress disorder

BEFORE LISTENING: Prior to listening to the show, ask the class who has family members or friends who serve/served in the military. Inquire as to whether or not they do anything special for their veteran on Veterans Day. To help keep pupils engaged, pass out 3 x 5 cards and to each member of the class to note one thing from the radio show they find interesting or enlightening.

DISCUSS: After listening to the show, collect the 3 x 5 cards and read some out loud as starting points for a class discussion. This is also a good time to have students talk about the actual format of the radio show. Ask them to comment on the difference between hearing a report and reading it in a newspaper or magazine. You can also consider whether taking calls added or detracted from the show. Did the background music have a positive or negative effect on the listener? 

Collaboration Opportunity

Next, separate the class into three groups. Each group will be responsible for researching an assigned topic. They will research, plan, record, and present their findings in the form of a radio interview/discussion show. MS Windows has a great recording tool, and it will take about two minutes to demonstrate how to record voices and save the file.

Presentation Specifics

I wouldn't get extremely specific as to how to format the show, this is where students' creativity takes off as they create some highly entertaining presentations. I would, however, listen to the presentations yourself before they are played for the class (creativity can sometimes be inappropriate) Also, I suggest requiring a completed audio storyboard be prepared before recording begins. Each group should also have a list of sources cited to turn in with their storyboard. Additionally, assign a time limit for presentations. I suggest between five and seven minutes.

Topic Ideas 

  • Group 1: This year several major news publications such as Time magazine and the NY Times  have reported a startling rise in veteran suicides.  Research this topic and report your findings to the class in a radio story format. Give us facts, figures, and solutions. Is America, as a nation, doing anything to combat this tragedy? Provide your group's opinion on whether or not you feel these solutions adequately address the problem. This is delicate subject matter. This group must approach the topic maturely and with professionalism.
  • Group 2: Using information researched about organizations that have been created (other than the Veterans Administration) to help our veterans with post-combat issues. Your group will introduce to the class, via a radio interview format, to two or three of these organizations. Include details such as who formed them, why, what services they provide, and where they get their funding. Offer a group opinion on at least one of the organizations with regard to whether you think they are making a difference for veterans. Support your position with facts from your research.
  • Group 3: Research the issues facing veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. As a point of comparison, your group will present, in a radio interview format, a discussion about whether veteran issues from America's past (such as those mentioned in "Backstory") are still problems that affect present-day veterans. In your report, offer suggestions as to what we can do as a nation to address veterans' struggles (problems other than suicide since Group one is handling that specific topic.) Please be prepared to support your suggestions with a fact-based response from your research.

Common Core Standards

Speaking and Listening Standards for Grades 6-12 (11/12 Grade Focus)

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1 a-d Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one on one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating a command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Here are some exciting lessons that will get you started on a memorable Veterans Day:

Wall of Peace

If you don't have a lot of time for a longer lesson associated with Veterans Day, or you require lessons that only use limited materials, and you teach a third grade class or higher, then this lesson will make your Veterans Day! Pupils will respond in writing to a prompt and commemorate the day by using their paragraphs as bricks to build a Wall of Peace.

In Flanders Fields

Another time-saving way to recognize Veterans Day for eighth to twelfth graders  is to have a special day planned that is not attached to any particular lesson. For Veterans Day, this includes a pdf version of Lt. Colonel John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Fields," as well as a second page of comprehension questions that include some deeper, more reflective questions as well. This resource will provide an opportunity to hear/read/analyze classic poetry.

Remember Our Soldiers

All ages will appreciate the opportunity to serve others. There are many ways to show appreciation to a Veteran and this resource gives several good ideas.  The "Letsaythanks" site suggested in the lesson comes up as an error, but in reality, the site is correct. They are simply not accepting letters at this time and suggest going to the website instead. Review the suggested sites or choose one of the four additional ideas that the lesson includes and provide your classes with a meaningful way to recognize Veterans Day.