Teaching About Terrorism


Terrorism is defined as “the calculated use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective” (Britannica). It is vital to teach students about terrorism not only because it is a part of our past and present but also due to the fact that it is an opportunity to teach compassion and tolerance. Also, the best way to cope with fear is to face it, understand it, and then conquer it. In order for students to cope with the idea of terrorism, it may be beneficial for them to comprehend it on a deeper level. By bringing the topic of terrorism into the classroom, educators will help students better understand terrorism as a whole, the events of the September 11 attacks and other acts of terrorism, and the anti-Muslim sentiment which is often connected to terrorism.


There are so many resources available online for teaching students about terrorism. Teaching about terrorism is important because terrorist attacks play a significant role in American history and our present-day society. The following resources will help students learn about terrorism and the history of terrorism in the United States.

Lesson Plans

  1. Roots of Terrorism Teachers Guide: PBS provides background information and classroom activities on the roots of terrorism. There are nine different activities: Roots of Hatred, Defining Terrorism, Defining an Ally, Views of bin Laden, U.N. Simulations, Making Connections, Media and Perception, Debates/Discussion Questions/Writing Prompts, and How Are You Being Represented? Each activity comes with objectives, a description, web materials, and related curriculum standards. In addition, educators have access to various background information relevant to the four FRONTLINE films located on the homepage, including key events, particular individuals, key organizations, maps of the region, country briefings, and basic facts about Islam. This guide is geared toward students in grades 9-12 and beyond and can be used in many subject areas, so take a look!
  2. Learning From the Challenges of our Times – Global Security, Terrorism, and 9/11 in the Classroom: The 4 Action Initiative has put together elementary, middle, and high school lesson plans and themes for educators to utilize in the classroom. At the beginning of this packet, guidelines for teaching the lessons and creating a safe space in the classroom are provided, which will help educators better implement these materials into their curriculums. For each set of grade levels, students will learn about human behavior, violence/aggression/terrorism, the historical context of terrorism, the September 11 attacks, consequences and challenges in a post-9/11 world, remembrance and the creation of memory, and building better futures after tragedy. This resource offers educators an abundance of materials to work with when teaching their students about terrorism and 9/11!
  3. Investigating Terrorism – 3 Lessons: The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility offers three different lessons on investigating terrorism which “ask students to consider a range of opinions about what ‘terrorism’ is and what is behind terrorist acts such as the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.” The main goal of these lessons are to give students the necessary knowledge to understand why certain groups of people hate the United States to such an extent that they would carry out terrorist attacks, such as those of 9/11.


  1. Nasty, Brutish and Long – America’s War on Terrorism: Brookings provides an article detailing America’s War on Terrorism. The author explains the first phase of this “war” against global terrorism, how the Bush administration maintained the International Coalition, Washington’s step to improve homeland security, the Anti-Americanism abroad in the Arab and Islamic world, and the key lessons and critical mistakes to take away from the Cold War that can be applied to the fight against terrorism, as it can be considered as the “New Cold War.”
  2. Refusal to Call Charleston Shootings “Terrorism” Again Shows It’s a Meaningless Propaganda Term: The Intercept has published an article which analyzes the term “terrorism,” referring to it as propaganda because it is “intended to justify violence by the West and Israel while delegitimizing the violence of its enemies.” This piece gives students an alternate point of view on terrorism, as terrorist attacks are often only considered to be “terrorism” when the perpetrator is a Muslim launching an attack on Westerners. Islamophobia existed before 9/11, but the attacks exacerbated this irrational fear and is likely part of the reason why violence carried out by Muslims is immediately looked at differently. In order for students to understand terrorism, they should also be aware of its biases.

Informational Sites

  1. Terrorism: Britannica offers information on terrorism, specifically the multiple definitions of terrorism, the different types of terrorism, and the history of terrorism. For educators who are looking for their students to get a detailed overview on this topic before participating in a class activity, this page has everything you should need to teach your students about terrorism!
  2. Understanding Terrorism: The American Psychological Association provides a brief article on understanding terrorism, specifically what leads certain people to terrorism and how the U.S. is trying to use these insights to thwart it. Overall, students will learn about the lure of terror, the role of cultural values in terrorism, and the study of de-radicalization (preventive counterterrorism measures).
  3. Islamophobia – Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West: This article will help students better understand anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, which is referred to as Islamophobia. When discussing terrorism in the classroom, it is important to also talk about Islamophobia because Muslim-American terrorism garners a significant amount of attention from the public and therefore seems more prevalent than it truly is, fueling anti-Muslim sentiment. 


Teaching students about terrorism is a difficult task because the topic is a very sensitive and frightening one. There are two important points to consider when bringing this subject into the classroom. First, educators should be mindful of students’ reactions to the lesson, as talking about terrorist attacks may be triggering for certain students. NASP and the University of Kansas offer helpful tips to educators on helping children cope with terrorism that may prove useful! One way to ease fears is to also show students the bravery, strength, and unity that often results from these types of attacks, including the emergency responders who arrive at the scene, civilians lining up to donate blood, etc. Lastly, educators should avoid stereotyping terrorists, specifically avoid assuming that they are always Muslim. People of all races and religions are equally capable of this type of violence, so be sure to make it clear that Muslim perpetrators are not required in order to consider an act “terrorism.”

Additional Resources

  1. Lesson Plan – What Counts as Terrorism?: This lesson plan will help students understand what counts as terrorism. Included in the lesson are an opening quick-write prompt, objectives, an essential question and lesson context, key vocabulary, a set of directions, various materials, a reflection, and a homework assignment.
  2. Information on Infamous Terrorist Attacks in America – The September 11 attacks and the Boston Marathon Bombing are two of the most infamous and devastating terrorist attacks in American History, and History.com offers all the information educators should need to teach students about these tragic events and their historical significance.
    • September 11 Attacks: History.com provides information on the World Trade Center, Osama bin Laden, the Pentagon Attack, the Twin Towers Collapse, Flight 93, the victims of 9/11, America’s response, the Department of Homeland Security, the economic impact, the Victim Compensation Fund, and the 9/11 Anniversary and Memorial. 
    • Boston Marathon Bombing: History.com offers information on the Boston Marathon, pressure-cooker bombs, the Tsarnaev Brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the bombing suspects, and the Boston Marathon Bombing Trial.