7 age-appropriate ideas for helping students grasp the war in Ukraine

Several organizations have developed—and are continuing to update—model lesson plans for teaching about Russia's invasion.

Russian teachers have been ordered not to call Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine a “war,” but educators across the U.S. are looking for ways to help students understand the conflict and also process their fears.

The San Diego County Office of Education, Brown University and The New York Times have both developed—and are continuing to update—model lesson plans for teaching about the Ukraine invasion. The San Diego County plan guides teachers in leading civil discourse and provides links to several other resources.

The New York Times lesson plan explores the roots of the conflict and offers questions for writing and discussion. Brown University’s “The Ukraine Crisis” features videos, maps and political cartoons, and links to international news coverage.

Here are several more examples of how teachers are discussing the war with students, from elementary school to the higher grades:

1. Spotting disinformation

Many teachers of younger students are hesitant to go into graphic detail about the violence or share images of bloodshed from TV or the internet. Teachers can discuss why countries invade, the effects of the war on the people of Ukraine and how international borders have changed throughout history, Eric Harp, an AP history teacher in Oklahoma, told News9.com.

He also recommends helping students spot disinformation and fake news stories while remaining informed since knowledge about current events can help alleviate fear and anxiety. “Students and young people are going to see things on the news,” Harp told News9. “They’re going to see things on TikTok, they’re going to see things on Instagram. I think if we give them the real-time information, and the education, it can make them feel a little bit more informed and better about the situation.”

2. Updating history lessons

Educators like Pat Birch, a high school history teacher in Boardman, Ohio, are drawing parallels between the Ukraine invasion and historical events such as World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. Meanwhile, other students in the school are keen to keep informed in case the fighting spreads and begins to impact the U.S. more directly, WKBN.com reported.

“There’s definitely the connection there between the beginning of the Cold War and what’s going on right now,” Birch told WKBN.

At rural Chickasha Public Schools in Oklahoma, curriculum director Milton Bowens has started with “teaching the teachers” how to discuss the invasion. “I encourage teachers to just be a healthy facilitator of the of the conversation,” Bowens told KOCO.com.

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He tells teachers it’s more important to find reliable sources and to be engaging rather than to be an expert on a crisis that is evolving and changing. “Really just tried to provide a space that’s not too emotionally charged … so that students learn how to process some of these heavy things that happen in life,” he told KOCO.

3. Leading emotional discussions

Middle school students at Spokane International Academy in Washington are reading stories about the war every day and then discuss the details with one another, including their fears about a global nuclear war. Their teacher, Spencer Grainger, told KXLY.com that he then answers any questions that arise. “That gives me a chance to clarify misconceptions or to add a little more context to what’s happening,” he told the station, adding that students from both Russia and Ukraine are enrolled at his school. “I tell them they don’t need to be afraid on a daily basis and that we need to learn from what’s happening in the situation to see how dialogue and how international cooperation to help deescalate the conflict.”

4. Not focusing on war

Micah Fries, a 5th-grade teacher in Haysville, Kansas, is not covering the violence but rather using the invasion to teach his students about the geography of Eastern Europe and vocabulary words such as “alliance,” “NATO” and “sanction,” KWCH.com reported.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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