Lesson Plan

The Survivor Tree: Symbol of Strength

An American elm tree just yards away from the explosion of the Oklahoma City bombing shouldn’t have survived the blast; however, this amazing tree not only survived, but it still thrives still today at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. The Survivor Tree has come to stand for a symbol of hope and resilience for an entire community. 

Lesson Summary

Students will watch a short video or read an excerpt about the Survivor Tree, create a Survivor Tree out of a paper bag, and compose a personal mission statement about resilience that they will write on the bottom of their tree.

  • Essential Questions: How is the Survivor Tree a symbol for resilience? Why is the Survivor Tree such a popular symbol for resilience in Oklahoma City? What are other symbols of hope that are present in our lives?
  • Time frame: 1 class period
  • Subjects: Oklahoma History, Art, Language Arts
Materials Needed
  1. Ask, “What is a symbol?” Facilitate a class discussion to allow students to share their answers. Cite examples of symbolism seen in literature, movies, or culture.
  2. Watch the video “Survivor Tree” or read Survivor Tree: Witness to Tragedy, Symbol of Strength.
  1. The Survivor Tree is a symbol of strength and resilience for a community that suffered tragedy. The inscription around the tree reads, “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.” Instruct students to write their own statement of resiliency.
  2. Paper bag tree instructions:
    • Open the paper bag so that it can stand by itself. Carefully hold the bottom of the bag and twist just above the seam/fold several times.
    • Use scissors to cut strips (about ¼ inch) from the top of the bag down to the twisted section.
    • Gather three strips at a time and twist together to form the branches. Continue twisting three strips until you run out of strips to twist. If you end up with an uneven amount, twist four together or two together at the end.
    • Tear or cut small pieces of colorful tissue paper and glue a few on here and there as leaves for the branches.
  1. Instruct students to write their statement of resiliency around the bottom of the tree.

Oklahoma Academic Standards for Social Studies; Oklahoma History Content Standard 5:10; grades 9-12:
Cite specific textual and visual evidence to analyze the causes and effects of the domestic terrorist attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, including the responses of Oklahomans to the event, the concept of the Oklahoma Standard and the creation of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.

Visual Art Standard 3.1; grades 6-8:
Create original visual artworks using a variety of materials (media), techniques (skills), and sources for ideas.

Visual Art Standard 4.4; grades 6-8:
Make learning connections between visual art and other disciplines, such as mathematics, science, English Language Arts, social studies, and media arts.

Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts Standard 3 R 4; grades 6-11
Students will evaluate literary devices to support interpretations of literary texts (symbolism).

National Council for the Social Studies 4.g; grades 6-12:
Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of individual development and identity, so the learner can analyze a particular event to identify reasons individuals might respond to it in different ways.

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