You are here: American University School of Education In America: Remember, Secondary (6-12) Mini-Unit

Secondary (6-12) Mini-Unit

mini-unit - -12 - 90mins

Created by Dr. Lauren M. Shea and
Jody Hagen-Smith

Thank you for thinking about students’ emotional learning in the time of the pandemic and in its aftermath. In America: Remember aims to recognize American’s grief and loss as a result of the pandemic and in its aftermath. This lesson, including educational materials and resources, was designed for you to achieve the following goals: 1) to support secondary students’ social and emotional development, 2) to strengthen secondary students’ connection to U.S. history, and 3) to promote the use of art to participate in our communities. Links to all materials, resources, and alignment to Common Core State Standards are provided below. You can also download a PDF version of this lesson here.

Secondary Mini-Unit Lesson Plan


Foster ways for students to interact with and express themselves through In America: Remember, an art exhibition commemorating the lives lost from the COVID-19 pandemic.


    • Chart paper
    • Markers
    • Embedded links 
    • Picture supports: Google Slides (optional)
    • Printed copies of examples of art (optional)

Use a Quick Write to activate students’ prior knowledge. Ask students to think about what they know about the COVID-19 pandemic (See Slides 2-3). Provide 2-3 minutes for students to write down their thoughts. Then, have students turn to a partner and share their thinking. 

*Note: For this sensitive topic, it’s important for teachers to keep a neutral and accepting stance. This conversation may trigger strong feelings and reactions from your students. If needed, use Mental Health America’s mental health resource for support on facilitating this topic. 

    • “What do you know and/or remember about COVID-19 and the pandemic?”
    • “Jot down everything you know about COVID-19 and the pandemic.”

After students have had time to share with their partner, ask several pairs to share their thoughts with the whole group. Document students’ contributions.

Ask the students to use the same document to write down all the feelings or expressive words associated with COVID-19 and the pandemic

    • “When you think about COVID-19 and the pandemic, what feelings do you have?”
    • “Jot down all the feelings you are feeling as a result of the pandemic.”

Tell students feelings are neither right nor wrong. Different people have different feelings. Feelings come and go. We all can have multiple feelings at the same time. 

You may choose to use visuals or real objects to support multiple language learners throughout the lesson. Display new or challenging vocabulary terms on a word wall. You might want to provide sentence frames to provide language support, such as “When I think about ______ , it makes me feel _____ because ____.” (See Slide 4

Pose the following question and record student responses. Mark the personal ways with a “P”. 

    • “What are some examples of ways that your life changed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic?”

While writing, ask students to identify which of those personal ways were also community-level impacts (school, masks, etc.). Mark them with a “C” for community. Then, code the impact at the national level with “N” and the impact on the world with “W”.

    • “Does this way also impact the community, nation, or the world? If so, how?”
    • “Who have been our personal, community, national, and global heroes throughout this pandemic? Why?”

Transition the discussion to the impact of the virus more broadly. 

    • “There are many ways this virus is impacting us, our community, and the world.”
    • “Scientists are studying all the ways that we are being impacted.”

Use an Expert Panel variation of a Jigsaw activity to quantify the impact of COVID-19 in the US. Provide students with a copy of (or access to) “4 Numbers That Make the Pandemic’s Massive Death Toll Sink In” published in The Atlantic on January 5, 2021. Ask students to read the entire article to gain context. Then divide the students into four small groups. Assign each of the groups to focus on one of the four ways of quantifying the impact of the pandemic. Each group should become an “expert” on its assigned section and will present the information to the class (See Slide 5). As each expert group presents to the class, provide additional context.

    • “What are the key ideas in your section to measure the impact of the pandemic?”
    • “What do the numbers in your section tell us?”


Group 1: “On average, each person in the U.S. who has died from COVID-19 was deprived of about 13 years of life.”

This section of the article discusses how much life, on average, people lose when dying from COVID-19.

Provide additional context: In his preprint article, Dr. Stephen J. Elledge calculated the number of person-years of life lost as a result of 194,000 premature deaths due to SARS-CoV-2 infection as of early October, 2020. At that time, his work estimated that 2,500,000 person-years of life had been lost in the pandemic in the US alone, averaging over 13.25 years per person with differences noted between males and females.

Group 2: “For the first time since World War II, U.S. life expectancy at birth could drop by a full year.”

This section of the article reviews how the pandemic changed the life expectancy rate in the United States.

Provide additional context: In July 2021, the United States’ life expectancy rate was reported to fall by a year and a half (see CDC report here). "Life expectancy has been increasing gradually every year for the past several decades," Elizabeth Arias, a CDC researcher who worked on the report, told Reuters. ‘The decline between 2019 and 2020 was so large that it took us back to the levels we were in 2003. Sort of like we lost a decade.’ Deaths from COVID-19 contributed to nearly three-fourths, or 74%, of the decline and drug overdoses were also a major contributor, the CDC said” (Reuters, 2021).

Group 3: “About one in 800 Black Americans has died from COVID-19, while one in 1,325 white Americans has.”

This section of the article points out that a disproportionate number of Indigenous, Pacific Islander, Latino, and Black people have died due to COVID-19 compared to their white and Asian counterparts.

Provide additional context: The data from July 2021 shows the risk for COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death By race/ethnicity (see the CDC data table here). “Race and ethnicity are risk markers for other underlying conditions that affect health, including socioeconomic status, access to health care, and exposure to the virus related to occupation, e.g., frontline, essential, and critical infrastructure workers.” (CDC, 2021).

The data from March 2021, presented in bar and line graphs shows the mortality rate by race and ethnicity (see the AMP data graphs here). 

Group 4: “Roughly 3.1 million Americans have lost a close relative to COVID-19.”

This section of the article reviews the number of people in the United States who have lost a grandparent, parent, spouse, sibling, or child to COVID-19.

Provide additional context: Dr. Ashton Verdery tracks the reach of COVID-19 in terms of bereavement. In a co-authored recent article (Verdery, Smith-Greenaway, Margolis, & Daw, 2020), the authors state, COVID-19 has created a mortality shock throughout the world, and it may yield a second wave of population health concerns tied to bereavement and social support reductions.” The analysis, using their “bereavement multiplier,” shows that for every COVID-19 death, approximately nine surviving Americans will lose a grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or child. (See “Ask An Expert” below)

Follow the presentations with a short, whole-class summative discussion.

    • “How do these numbers validate the idea that everyone in the world has been impacted by the pandemic?”
    • “Which of these numbers surprised you? Why?
    • “How can we validate the source of this research?”
    • “What additional questions do you have?”

If age-appropriate, choose to share one of the dynamic resources to show the current number of deaths from the COVID-19 virus. 

    • “What information does this show us?” 
    • “What can we infer from the data?”

Remind students that almost every person on the planet has been affected by the pandemic in some way. Prompt students to think about ways that were not previously discussed. Check in with students, asking about the feelings they have after the conversation. “When I think about ______ , it makes me feel _____ because ____.” 

Play “Ask An Expert,” an interview with Dr. Ashton Verdery, Associate Professor of Sociology & Demography at The Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Verdery is one of the co-authors of a paper cited in the article “4 Numbers That Make the Pandemic’s Massive Death Toll Sink In” and studies another way people are impacted by the pandemic: the bereavement burden. Pose the following questions after watching the video:

    • “What does Dr. Verdery study?”
    • “What data was used to evaluate the impact of bereavement on the US?”
    • “What are other studied ways that people are impacted by this pandemic?”
    • “What are some ways that Dr. Verdery suggests supporting those who have lost a friend or family member to Covid?”
    • “Why do you think it might be helpful to talk about our feelings with a trusted adult or find community with others who have similar experiences?”

You may ask students to write one or more questions they would like to ask other experts about the COVID-19 pandemic on a sticky note. These sticky notes can be collected and used in follow-up lessons or research and writing activities.

Return to the chart of student responses to the question “What were some ways that your life changed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic?” and pose the following question and record student responses. 

    • “What were some examples of ways that the lives of others changed because of the COVID-19 Pandemic?”

Review some of the feelings students have shared from sections 1 and 2. Encourage students to consider their personal reactions and emotions as well as others who are experiencing the pandemic differently. Remind students that feeling with others is called “empathy”. 

Tell students there was a feeling that has overwhelmed the whole world, called grief. Ask the students what they know about the concept of grief. Facilitate an interactive discussion about grief. If needed, use this grief resource for support on facilitating this topic. 

*Reminder: You may have individuals in your class who experienced deep grief and loss throughout the pandemic. Their experience is vastly different. Please be sensitive to those individuals’ needs and seek support from experts at your school in this area. Furthermore, some individuals may have experienced an earlier loss and are also at risk of being triggered by this conversation (as current discussions of loss can often harken back to earlier experiences). It’s important to be mindful and considerate of these individuals as well.

    • “What is grief? 
    • “How does grief feel?”
    • “What are some ways we can take care of ourselves when we experience grief?
    • “How do we care for others who are experiencing grief?”
    • “How does experiencing “collective grief” impact our feelings?

Explain that there are many ways for people to share emotions. Recognizing and sharing our feelings are an important part of growing up. Even very strong, persistent feelings (like grief) get easier over time. It’s helpful to have ways to comfort yourself or distract yourself from them. But allowing yourself to have and express the feelings helps them subside over time. 

    • “Why is it important to recognize and talk about our feelings?” 

Art is one way to express your feelings and bring attention to important issues.

    • “Another way to express our feelings is to create art.”

Tell students they will experience a few pieces of art in various forms. Using the discussion technique of a Gallery Walk, display several examples of art (See Slides 6-10: For example, Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With, the Vietnam Memorial, the AIDS quilt, etc.) that were created to evoke strong emotions, and in some cases, bring attention to social issues. 

    • “Art can move people to take action.”

Assign small groups of students to view one of the art examples. Each group should start at a different station. At each art example, students will discuss and record on the chart paper (1) what they noticed about the art and (2) their emotional reaction to the artwork. 

    • “What message is the artist trying to convey?”
    • “What emotions do you feel when you experience this piece of art?”
    • “What aspects of the artwork make you feel that way?”
    • “Why do you think the artist created this piece of art?”

Direct the groups to rotate to the next piece of art. If time allows, rotate again. 

Collectively, discuss the responses to the art.

    • “What feelings did you have in common?”
    • “How did the artwork prompt this feeling?”
    • “What other ways can artwork invite responses or participation?”

Share with the students that there is an art exhibition in Washington DC to honor and remember the lives lost due to the COVID-19 virus.

    • “One artist wanted to create art that represented the collective grief our nation has felt through the COVID-19 pandemic.”
    • “Why do you think it’s important to remember those who have died from COVID-19?” 
    • “Let’s hear from the artist about what it means and why she created it.” 

Play Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s short video to hear about why and how she created this art.

    • “Why did Ms. Firstenberg create the flag art installation?”
    • “Ms. Firstenberg says she’s a visual artist. What is a visual artist?”
    • “What does each flag represent?”
    • “Why did Ms. Firstenberg decide to use flags for her art?”
    • “What is one important message Ms. Firstenberg wants to convey through her art?”

Take time to look at the In America: Remember website. Review photos of the art exhibit and explore the website’s features and interactive nature. Show how families can “dedicate a flag” to memorialize their lost loved one through participation in the art.

    • “How does this art make you feel?”  
    • “How does this art unify us?”  
    • “What could you imagine this art feels like to others?”  
    • “How does this art help memorialize individuals or communities?”

Ask students for their ideas and thoughts. Do they have any other questions?

Remind students they are all artists and can express their emotions through art. 

    • “How can you use art to portray the impact of COVID-19 on you or your community?”
    • “Are there ways you could make art to memorialize individuals?”
    • “How can you use art to bring attention to or amplify an important issue?”
    • “How can you use art to inspire others?”
    • “How can you use art to change or bring hope to the world?”

Offer students an opportunity to participate in The Pandemic Through My Eyes: Art from the Next Generation, an art project for students to express their emotions, thoughts, and ideas about the pandemic. Invite students to create art to reflect and share diverse ideas and voices in response to the exhibit. Students can create music, poetry, drawings, sculpture, or any other form of art to express feelings. Sharing the art with the class can help create a sense of collective grief, and ultimately healing. We also encourage sharing the art with your community.

Artwork will be showcased, without identifiers, on The Pandemic Through My Eyes: Art From The Next Generation map.

Aligned Standards
With Gratitude

*Note: You may have children in your class who experienced deep grief and loss throughout the pandemic. Their experience is vastly different. Please be sensitive to those children’s needs and seek support from experts at your school. Furthermore, some children may have experienced an earlier loss and are also at risk of being triggered by this conversation, as current discussions of loss can often harken back to earlier experiences. It’s important to be mindful and considerate of these children as well. Do not force a child to talk about a death or a traumatic experience if they don’t want to. This may be more harmful than helpful (National Child Traumatic Stress Network).

  • Social and Emotional Learning
    • Standard 1: Self-awareness
    • Standard 4: Social awareness
    • Standard 6: Social engagement
  • English Language Arts & History/Social Studies: CCSS, CCRA
    • Speaking and Listening:
      • Comprehension and Collaboration
        • 1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
        • 2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
      • Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
        • 4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
        • 5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
      • Language:
        • Vocabulary Acquisition and Use
          • 6. Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.
      • Reading:
        • Key Ideas and Details
          • 1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
          • 2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
        • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
          • 7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
        • Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity
          • 10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Our thanks to Julie Sara Boyd; Bonnie Berry; Ashton Verdery, PhD; Mia Foley, PhD; Stephen J. F. Holland, Psy.D.; Juli; Pam Fessler; Jonathan Shea; and Curtis Smith.

Additional In America: Remember Lesson and Mini-Unit Plans

Elementary Lesson

Elementary Mini-Unit

Secondary Lesson

All Educational Resources