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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Education Module 

By Emily Rheault, Education Manager
Arlington National Cemetery

As part of the centennial commemoration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) released a special Tomb of the Unknown Soldier education module. This module explores themes and topics related to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier through digital materials created for audiences of all ages. This module was the fourth education module released as part of Arlington National Cemetery’s (ANC) first Education Program, launched in 2020.

“Who’s Buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?” lesson plan. All ANC Education Program lessons align with national standards.“Who’s Buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?” lesson plan. All ANC Education Program lessons align with national standards.The development of ANC’s Education Program is being led by Blake Learning Solutions (BLS), a private instructional design company contracted by ANC for this project. In 2019, BLS conducted meetings with ANC historians, leaders, and staff to understand their goals, challenges, audiences, stakeholders, and opportunities. BLS’ team of educators and historians also conducted an extensive review of books, articles, and primary sources relating to the cemetery. From this analysis, BLS identified vision and mission statements, goals, and guiding principles for the ANC Education Program. For example, the program explores ANC as a microcosm of American history and diversity and strives to reach five key audiences. These audiences include families visiting the cemetery, lifelong learners, and elementary, middle, and high school students and teachers. The team also worked with ANC to create a list of themes and modules to develop over the next five years, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier module includes cemetery walking tours for adults and school groups visiting the cemetery, a digital, primary source-based exploration of the Tomb across its history, and K-12 lesson plans for teachers to use in their classrooms. All the materials in this module, and in every ANC Education module, were developed using primary and secondary historical sources and according to museum and educational best practices. The materials also meet Section 508 compliance standards.

After discussing which topics to focus on in this module, the BLS team and ANC History Office settled on three key areas. First, the centrality of World War I to the story of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Second, the history of unidentified and unknown service members. And third, the evolving symbolism and public understanding of the Tomb. 

During the walking tour, users visit 14 stops throughout the cemetery that tell the story of the Tomb. These stops include: the Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns, the first memorial at Arlington to be dedicated to soldiers who had died in battle and whose remains could not be identified; the grave of architect Lorimer Rich, who designed the Tomb with sculptor Thomas H. Jones; the Mother of the Unknown Soldier Memorial Tree; and the grave of Sergeant Edward F. Younger, who selected the World War I Unknown Soldier. The walking tour also includes questions that encourage visitors to reflect on symbolism of the Tomb and what it means to them. A simplified version of this tour is available for visiting school groups and families with children.

lesson clueA clue from the “Who’s Buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?” lesson plan.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier education module also includes four lesson plans. In the elementary and middle school lesson, titled “Who’s Buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier?” students examine primary sources to explore who might be buried at the Tomb and why he is buried there. Students then reflect on what the Tomb means to other Americans and to them. In the high school lesson, titled “The Unknown Soldier and National Community,” students explore efforts to define and unite the American national community by reading and discussing primary source documents related to the dedication of the Tomb in 1921. Finally, a short, PowerPoint-guided lesson explains the origin and purpose of Memorial Day.

For lifelong learners who may not be able to visit the cemetery, the education module includes two documents to help people explore the Tomb’s history from home. The first resource outlines the first one hundred years of the Tomb through historical photographs. In this document, users can explore identification and repatriation efforts during the Spanish American War; learn about the selection and journey of each Unknown Soldier from overseas to Arlington; and discover how the national and international public has visited the Tomb throughout is existence. The second document is a recommended reading list of primary and secondary sources for individuals who want to learn more.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier education module engages the public – from elementary school students through senior citizens – with the history and meanings of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It encourages them to consider that history from a personal standpoint. We encourage you to utilize this module from wherever you live, and we hope to see some of you using the walking tour at the cemetery soon!

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier education module can be accessed here.

 LLLA page from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lifelong learners photograph exploration.

 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier walking tour map. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier walking tour map.