April 24-30, 2012, The Star Spangled Banner


This will be an easy post for me: we did the same lesson in grades 1-5 this week.  Our field day will be coming up in a couple of weeks.  Our Phys Ed teacher sets up all kinds of games and activities on the playground and out in the field.  The whole school goes out and rotates through the activities.  Before we begin, though, we have opening ceremonies.  We sing the school pledge, say the pledge to the flag and sing the Star Spangled Banner.

The national anthem is nothing new to the 2nd through 5th graders.  Still, I like to make a big deal out of it at least once a year.  I use the book “Oh Say Can You See“.

Oh Say Can You See

I begin by asking the students what a star-spangled banner is.  If they can’t answer right away we break it down.  A banner is a flag.  A star-spangled banner is an American flag, spangled with stars.

The book is a wealth of patriotic pictures, information and discussion starters.

Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light

The first photograph is a picture of THE Star Spangled Banner….the very flag that the song was written about.  The book has little flaps with “secret messages” underneath the flap.  The message for theism photo says that the original Star Spangled Banner, which is now 200 years old, resides in the museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.  My school is in Pennsylvania, so this opens a discussion about how many of the students have been to D.C., and how fortunate we are to live so close to many historic monuments.  The picture shows some extensive holes in the flag.  They’re there, not because the banner is 200 years old or flew in the midst of a battle,  but because there was a time when, for some inexplicable reason, people felt that it would be ok to snip  off a piece of the original Star Spangled Banner and take it home as a souvenir.  Since that time the flag has been placed under glass.  We can still look at it, but no one is allowed to touch it.

Next is a picture of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the poem.  The secret message under his picture tells that he wrote it on the back of a letter – the only piece of paper that he had on hand.  This was because he was on a boat, seen in the next picture.  The secret message says that it was called “The Surprise”.

This is a perfect time for me to give a brief synopsis of the events leading up to Francis Scott Key’s inspiration for “The Star Spangled Banner”.

“He was on a boat, watching a battle on the shore, at Fort McHenry.  The year was 1812.  He knew that as long as the  flag was flying over the fort the Americans still held it, and had not surrendered.  But then it started to get dark, and he couldn’t see it anymore…..  UNLESS an aerial bomb went off.  Have you ever been to the fireworks on the 4th of July and seen an aerial bomb?  It’s not one of the real pretty ones.  It’s just a bright light, followed by a boom so loud that you can feel it in your chest.  The whole sky lights up, and for a few seconds you can see everything around you.  Whenever one of those went off at Fort McHenry in 1812, Francis Scott Key would look to see if “our flag was still there”.  Do those words sound familiar?  They should, because it was this experience that inspired him to write the words of “The Star Spangled Banner”.

There is a picture of Betsy Ross, with a brief comment about her possible connection to the flag, and also one of our current American flag, explaining the 13 stripes and original 13 stars.  The kids always know the reason that there are now 50 stars.

I sing the first phrase while  pointing to the words, turn the page and do the same with the second phrase.  I stop to translate it for them.

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming

“This is a question.  First of all, when are dawn and twilight?”

They rarely get that one right on the first try, but once we’ve established that dawn is sunrise and twilight is sunset, we can figure out that the question is: “Say, now that the sun is coming up, can you see what we proudly saluted last night as the sun was going down?”

There are more pictures on this page.  I go through all of the Washington D.C. pictures first.  Each has a secret message about the photo under the flap.  Some students in each class have been to D.C., so each picture generates quite a bit of discussion, and I learn things as well.  For example, I learned that since the earthquake last August, no one is allowed inside the Washington Monument, and in fact, the entire perimeter is off-limits.  Apparently there is now a crack in the monument, and for safety’s sake people must keep their distance.  We felt the earthquake all the way up in PA, so of course we had to take a moment to discuss where they were at the time and the circumstances they encountered. The information under the picture of the White House is especially interesting to them.

Also on this page are pictures of the Liberty Bell, (Philadelphia), and the Statue of Liberty, (NYC).  None of these monuments is more than 4 hours away from us, and some are considerably closer.  We’re very fortunate to live near  some of our greatest national monuments.

I go back to the first phrase now, and connect it to the second.  We discuss the meanings of the words “Perilous” and “ramparts”.  Translation: Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the dangerous fight, streamed over the barricades.”  (A barricade, or rampart, is a bunch of piled up stuff that you can hide behind to stay safe).

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

The information around the edges of these pages pertains to the origins and use of fireworks on Independence Day.  I call attention once again to the connection between the words and the actual situation in which Francis Scott Key found himself: waiting for an aerial bomb to go off so that he could see whether the flag was still there.

The last page opens to show a representation of the 300 million people in the United States at the time the book was published.

O day, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Since I have a number of bilingual students in our school, I mention how very fortunate the person is who can speak and understand more than one language.  In the past I’ve found that students are sometime embarrassed by their ability to speak a language other than English.  I make a point of asking in each class if there are any students who can speak more than one language.  When they see all of the students who are eager to tell me that they can count to ten in Spanish, they feel better and are able to take pride in their ability to speak Spanish, Arabic, Greek, Swahili or Kikuyu.  (One of the languages spoken in Kenya).

The last thing we do before standing to face the flag is a review of flag etiquette.  1.  Stand.  2.  Remove your hat.  Hold it over your heart, at your side or under your arm.  3.  If you’re a scout, you may salute. All others may place their hand over their heart or at their side. 4.  If someone is singing the anthem, listen quietly and respectfully.  We never talk during the Star Spangled Banner.  5.  If the anthem is being played it becomes your job to sing it.

I assign one person to hold the flag.  The rest of us face it and sing “The Star Spangled Banner”.

It is the one song I can always get everyone to sing.


Jane Rivera, April 30, 2012, All Rights Reserved