Lesson Ideas to Enrich Student Inquiry into the Holocaust
Inquiry-based lesson ideas that enrich students' understanding of World War II and the Holocaust
- Grades: 3–5
- Unit Plan:
This inquiry-based unit sparks interest in boys and girls alike. Further lessons springboard into lessons on author's purpose, current events, strong vocabulary, and the role a bystander plays in conflict. The possibilities are endless.
- Identify the author's purpose
- Identify different perspectives from a variety of historical situations
- Inquire into WWII and the Holocaust
- Complete individual projects related to their interest
- Participate in literature discussions
- Examine current events and report in writing
Some of the lesson ideas listed below are ongoing, while others are meant for a day or two. The order in which the lessons are taught will depend on the overarching goal of the unit. My team focuses on the human spirit and how it helps people to overcome diversity and conflict. All lessons then lead to the understanding of your main idea.
Step 1: Projects for the Duration of the Unit
Historical Fiction Literature Circles (ongoing): Book choices should be displayed on the day you teach lesson one and kept out until the groups are chosen. Give a book talk on each of the choices. Students prioritize their choices, and you choose the groups. See this book list for suggested books. For more information on teaching literature circles consult Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in the Child-Centered Classroom.
Current Events (ongoing): Students collect newspaper and online examples of government power and abuse. Display these on a bulletin board.
Inquiry Projects (ongoing): Students brainstorm ideas for inquiry projects. The following are some ideas for the teacher to add to the list: Amnesty International, human rights bills, civil rights laws, Anne Frank, culture and bias in the media, United Nations, etc.
Step 2: Individual Lessons that Enrich Student Understanding of WWII
Vocabulary: Preteach the following vocabulary with graphic organizers and start a word wall: Axis Powers, Allied Powers, Nazi, genocide.These words may come up in the literature circle books.
Ghettos: Explain the historical meaning of the word and teach about the Warsaw Ghetto. Make a connection between the ghettos of World War II and the ghettos of today. Use a graphic organizer (such as a double bubble or a Venn diagram) where students can compare and contrast the two.
Pearl Harbor: Teach a direct instruction lesson on the events of Pearl Harbor. This online activity can help.
Navajo Code Talkers: Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language — a code that the Japanese never broke. Have students research this on the Internet.
Bystanders: The bystander plays an important role in conflict. Students often experience this when they see a peer being teased. Participating in role plays about real-life situations students can encounter will encourage them to take peaceful action rather than stand by and allow bad things to happen. Extension: Because of its stand in World War II, Switzerland has become a common metaphor for someone who remains neutral. Explain this significance to the war and its relevance in reference today.
Supporting All Learners
Differentiate the inquiry projects not only by content (through student choice) but also by product. This will allow students to present their learning in a way that is appropriate for their learning style or academic level. Support for your learners in their inquiry projects from colleagues in the Special Education, English Language Learner, and the Gifted and Talented departments can increase student understanding.
At the end of the unit, invite the families in to look at the students' inquiry projects.
- Students read historical fiction about WWII and participate in a literature circle.
- Students complete a research project on a topic related to WWII and the Holocaust.
- Students collect current events and report on them to the class.
What could you have done differently in order to increase student understanding?
What went well?
Were there any questions the students generated that you will want to use as guiding questions the next time you teach the unit?
Student-created rubrics are an excellent way to assess the major projects. If you use portfolio assessments, having students take photos of their projects and reflect on the unit as a whole serves as an end-of-the-unit reflection.