Children of the Holocaust
- Grades: 6–8
I recently received my February 28, 2011, issue of Time magazine. On the cover was a picture of youths from around the world with the subtitle, “The Generation Changing the World.” In my classroom, we are transitioning from the protests in the Middle East to the Holocaust. After introducing the literature circle books for the unit, I held up the Time issue and Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy and posed the question, “Why would Hitler fear the youth?” The question set my students on fire. The biggest problem of the day was tracking all the books that started flying out of my room. The resources below will help you create an English language arts and social studies integrated unit on the Holocaust.
My multigenre unit Children of the Holocaust, which views the Holocaust through the eyes of the children, was created using the Understanding by Design framework by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. My goal with the unit is to teach character development while fostering an appreciation for cultural differences. As with all my units, I integrate multiple genres and use a plethora of resources that meet the diverse needs of my students. You will notice that I do not teach Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl or Night by Elie Wiesel, two nonfiction works of Holocaust literature. This is not an oversight: In middle school I introduce the Holocaust using historical fiction, and reserve these works of nonfiction for the 8th grade English teacher.
To begin the unit, I invited a guest speaker into my classroom. Olivia is a former student, a youth who is modeling the importance of remembering and preserving her ancestors' story. She was one of my first students to get caught up in the Holocaust reading frenzy, and it contributed to her becoming a self-motivated learner. Two years after leaving my class, she and her father traveled to Poland to visit family, survivors of the Holocaust. They also toured historical Holocaust sites, documenting their travels. Olivia shared her photos and family memoirs with my class, conveying her enthusiasm to my students and shedding light on a haunting part of our world history.
Literature circles are one way I meet the diverse needs and interests of my students. Literature circles motivate students to read analytically and to engage in rich discussions because they have choices. I begin literature circles with book talks, dividing the books into three categories: resistance groups, ghettos, and concentration camps. The selection engages both genders while supporting my students’ diverse reading abilities. You can download the Children of the Holocaust Literature Circles list I created on Scholastic’s List Exchange. These books are my anchor texts, which means that everything in my unit connects to these books in some way.
If a student struggles with the reading level, I provide audio support. Most often, once they become accustomed to the author’s style of writing and the pronunciation of foreign words, they unplug. Students I thought would want the audio support rejected it, preferring to read independently.
Literature Circle Assessments
I use various types of assessments, including literature circle discussions. I set up online discussion forums where groups from each of my five sections reading the same book can meet. Last year, I used Lefora, a free Web 2.0 tool. This year, I am using a free version of Blackboard called CourseSites; with the online learning management system, I can make discussion forum assignments.
Students also complete a character trait activity described in last week's post “Analyzing Characters With Walter.” At the end of the unit, all 110 of my students come together to create a Holocaust Memorial Wall using symbolism, art, journals, and poetry to illustrate their understanding of character development. The images at the right demonstrate my students' understanding and creativity. Download the Holocuast Memorial Wall Directions here.
Making text-to-text connections between fiction and nonfiction is a constant goal in my classroom. Below are a few online articles that discuss genocides that occurred after the Holocaust. This is the perfect time to integrate digital literacy skills. Student groups read online articles and post responses, offering at least three text details to defend their opinions. For print resources, there is a "Nonfiction Literature Circle Response Sheet" from Scholastic to help guide the group discussions.
- "Never Again, For Real" (The New York Times Upfront, 16 March 2009) (Higher Level)
- "Darfur: The Genocide Continues" (The New York Times Upfront, 15 January 2007)
- "The Genocide in Darfur" (The New York Times Upfront, 09 January 2006)
- "Africa: 50 Years of Independence" (Jr. Scholastic, 20 September 2011)
It would be interesting to see the connections students make while comparing and contrasting the rulers involved in the current uprisings in the Middle East with what they know about WWII Germany. The New York Times Upfront magazine published an article “1933: Hitler Comes to Power” (10 March 2008), which would help to analyze the traits of world leaders.
A few years ago, I visited the Florida Holocaust Museum where I met Charles Jaynes, who manages the museum's Holocaust Teaching Trunk program. Each year, Charles sends me a Holocaust Teaching Trunk, which is a gold mine of resources for teachers and students, as you can see from the picture at right. Other Holocaust museums sponsor similar programs. Google the keywords “Holocaust museums + teacher trunks” to locate nearby museums that offer this service.
The fabulous United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) Teacher Fellowship Program educates veteran educators on best practices for teaching this delicate topic. In addition, the wonderful world of technology now allows us to take students on virtual tours of museums. The USHMM, for example, offers a wealth of resources online, including Voices From the Lodz Ghetto, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto , The Rescue of the Jews of Denmark, and other online exhibits. Olivia shared these links as well as links to the Auschwitz Scrapbook, the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, and A Virtual Tour of Auschwitz/Birkenau during her presentation.
The Holocaust Museum Houston is sponsoring “The Butterfly Project,” an effort to collect 1.5 million butterflies, a symbolic representation of the number of Jewish children who died during the Holocaust. This ties in perfectly with my unit. The project, inspired by the poem “The Butterfly” by Pavel Friedman, connects a symbol of hope and the need to remember. It's a positive conclusion after being submerged in such a dark topic. Other poems that connect to the Holocaust theme include “If” by Rudyard Kipling (on Poem Hunter) and “First They Came for the Socialists . . . ” by Pastor Martin Niemöller (on the USHMM site). Holocaust poems are also available on the Manitoba education department site.
I try to alternate long writing pieces with creative experiences that allow students to showcase their knowledge using multiple intelligences. In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is on May 1 this year, we discuss how historical events change characters and people. Using the books we read, we identify forms of communication that serve as the voice for the Jewish people who did not survive: journals, illustrations, music, poetry, etc. The "Holocaust Remembrance Wall Handout” outlines the project options and provides guidelines for the students. I share student writing samples and art from the Chapman University Holocaust Art & Writing Contest and the children’s barrack murals at Birkenau.
Another great activity is to have students compare and contrast a print version of a book to a dramatized version. The following movies are based on middle school novels:
- The Devil’s Arithmetic (1999) starring Kirsten Dunst and Brittany Murphy
- Miracle at Midnight (1998) starring Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow (based on Number the Stars)
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008) starring Sheila Hancock and David Thewlis
State Test Prep
After we finish group discussions, I incorporate state test review. My students write an extended response from the point of view of the fictional character including details from any two sources, fiction or nonfiction. Often, they respond to open-ended questions. If possible, I give my students two prompts and allow them to pick the one they like best. Two possible prompts are:
- Elie Wiesel once said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Would your character agree or disagree? Use text details from the novel and the nonfiction article to support your answer.
- Anne Frank, a victim of the Holocaust, once wrote in her diary, “Despite everything, I believe people are good at heart.” Would your character agree or disagree? Use text details from the novel and the nonfiction article to support your answer.
I strongly encourage you to preview all Holocaust resources before giving students free reign, especially at the 6th grade level. As educators, it is important that we do not romanticize the Holocaust; however, it is also important that we provide age-appropriate materials.
One source of these materials is Scholastic's Research Tools Article Archive. Scholastic also provides an Anne Frank SMART Board Lesson, a section of interviews and other materials called We Remember Anne Frank, the article "Books for Teaching the Holocaust," and Junior Scholastic Quizlet flashcards for "Children of the Holocaust." In addition, the USHMM has a fabulous library of survivor testimonies that middle school students find engaging.
Angie, one of our fellow bloggers, would like to share the following resource. It is the online Auschwitz Album. This is absolutely fabulous! I clicked on the multimedia photo link at the bottom, and it was similar to going to a museum and listening to the curator tell the stories behind the pitures.
Enjoy the resources, and please feel free to share your own wonderful ideas.