Darfur: Does History Repeat Itself?

By Mary Blow on March 22, 2011
  • Grades: 6–8

Last week, I wrote about the classroom resources I use in my Holocaust unit, “Children of the Holocaust.” During literature circles for this unit, my students read a historical fiction novel and discuss character development. Adding a nonfiction component to literature circles provides the opportunity for text-to-text and text-to-world connections. The group discussions help them to better understand nonfiction. In this post, I'll take you through the lesson we do in my class connecting the Holocaust to a current event through nonfiction. Included in this post is a classroom video showing how this lesson was integrated into the "Children of the Holocaust" unit.

Photo: Refugee in Sudan collecting garbage. Copyright Claudiad/iStockphoto.


Prereading Activities

When reading literature from different countries, it is important to identify the locations or settings for the students. With technology, it is easier to illustrate the various settings as we travel the globe. I used iMovie to create a video that summarizes our work in the unit, shows our progress, and identifies the settings. Our last stop is in Africa, and there we connected the Holocaust events in Europe to current events in Darfur, Sudan. In the video, we return home, and at that stop, I pose the discussion question, our new essential question for the day: "Respond to Eli Wiesel's quote, 'The opposite of hate is not love, it's indifference.'" In literature circle groups, my students discuss whether or not their character would agree or disagree with this quote and explain why or why not. The students then engage in group discussions and create a written short answer response in preparation for the state assessments that are just weeks away.



MB031511__shutter_17D7A8_Sudan-map_SK The map to the right illustrates the civil wars in Sudan and the bordering countries that are mentioned in the article. In order to comprehend the conflicts depicted in the article, it's necessary to understand the boundaries in the region. Guided questions accompanying this map are included on the student handout.

We then watch the online video, “Staring Genocide in the Face,” by Jerry Fowler, a former staff director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). The hook to the lesson provides a historical overview of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. The USHMM also has a library of resources, “Preventing Genocide: Learn More & Take Action,” covering genocides that have taken place since the Holocaust, including those in Bosnia, Burundi, Chechnya, DR Congo, and Rwanda.

Image right copyright Peteri/iStockphoto.



Next, I quickly review dictionary skills and remind students of how valuable the thesaurus was in the Holocaust unit when we sought the character traits that best described our characters. I give groups a word or two to look up in the dictionary and/or thesaurus. They define the word using their knowledge of Greek or Latin root words, or they list synonyms, words they already know, so they are building upon prior knowledge. Each group teaches the word to the class playing charades. They display the word and act it out, so the class can guess the meaning. Vocabulary words for this unit might include:

  • harrowing
  • militiamen
  • refugee
  • circuitous
  • odyssey
  • ethnic
  • regime
  • genocide



Upfront_magazine In the past, I have used a New York Times Upfront article addressing the genocide in Sudan, “Darfur: The Genocide Continues.” This year, I decided to change the nonfiction article to connect to a child's view of the Holocaust. We are reading “Lost Boy Found,” an article about Joseph Malual Thuc, a Lost Boy, a refugee who survived the civil wars in Sudan (Upfront, 21 October 2006). In the article, Joseph explains why he believes it is his “duty to bear witness to what had happened to him and other Lost Boys.”

This change in articles illustrates my quest to continually collect resources that connect to themes. Joseph’s story is told through the eyes of a child, too. It reveals how Joseph's experience has changed him, and it gives our class the opportunity to discuss our role as active and responsive citizens. It's a perfect companion resource.


Digital Literacy

The_Lost_Boys_Image Teaching with online articles offers my students the opportunity to transfer print reading skills to digital literature. I teach them to survey the page: title, subtitles, headers, and pictures.  Students read the online article and answer the guided reading questions on the student handout. They summarize after each subheading and engage in a think-group-share reading activity. The students read the article, fill in the handout, and meet in literature circles to discuss their answers. If they disagree with an answer, they refer back to the article. (Download the student handout to the right, as a PDF or Word doc, to use in your classroom. I created it for state test review.)

When they are finished, they hand in one student handout to be graded for the group. This ensures that all students participate, and it cuts down on my grading. At the end, each student writes a journal entry from the point of view of a character in the novel responding to the current events in Sudan. 


Genocide Resources

For more information on the conflicts in Sudan and resources to help you teach it, see:



Thoughtful teaching here! Your students are very lucky to have you:)

Hi, Garden Designer! I am glad that you liked the nonfiction connections. ~ Mary

The group negotiations help to better understand nonfiction. In this post, there is a lesson in class connecting the Holocaust to current events through nonfiction. In the literature circles activity, students read chronological events in historical fiction novels and discuss character development.

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