Memorial Day--The Gettysburg Address

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Social Studies, United States History

Grade 3- 5


Students will learn about Memorial Day and memorize the Gettysburg Address, a traditional highlight of Memorial Day programs.


Memorial Day is the day on which Americans honor those who have died for their country. It is celebrated on May 30th, or on the last Monday in May in order to make a three-day weekend. (On the calendar you may see "Traditional Memorial Day" on May 30th and "Memorial Day Observed" on the last Monday.) It is a legal holiday in most states. And, even though it falls in May, it is usually considered to be the mark of the beginning of summer.
Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day because it was the day women in the South chose to decorate the graves of men who had died in the Civil War. These women honored the dead of both armies, Union and Confederate. It is thought that Cassandra Oliver Moncure, a Virginia woman of French ancestry, started the movement.
In the northern states, the Grand Army of the Republic, which was an organization of veterans of the Union Army during the Civil War, was in charge of Memorial Day celebrations. The American Legion took over this responsibility after World War I. Today they sell small artificial red poppies around Memorial Day to raise money to help disabled veterans.
Military parades are held on Memorial Day and special programs take place at Gettysburg and at Arlington National Cemetery. A highlight of these programs is often the reading of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Making It Work
Ask your students if any have gone to a cemetery to decorate a grave. Was it a military cemetery? Was it the grave of someone who died in a war? Allow students to share experiences.
Ask students who come from different homelands to tell about ceremonies that honor the people who died in wars in the countries where they used to live. They may have first-hand experiences or they may wish to interview an older relative to get this information. Students may be interested in building an oral history of their family by tape-recording these interviews. (Make sure they get permission before recording an interview, even with a family member.)
If there are no representatives of other backgrounds in your classroom, have students do some research in the library to find out how other countries honor those who died in wars. Students can write reports or give oral reports to the class.
Read Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to your students. Encourage them to memorize it. (See the activity sheet.)

Extension Idea
Find out about the American Legion and its use of red poppies. Often the American Legion holds competitions concerning patriotism, and poppies are a common theme. Find out if there is one such competition in your area.


  • Gettysburg Address activity sheet

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