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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Three Holocaust Resources You Can Use Tomorrow

Teaching and learning about the Holocaust, and about the society that allowed these crimes to occur, is crucial to build awareness about current episodes of hatred in our own communities. We must learn to stand up for human rights for all people. We need to act against hatred in our society before intolerance approaches the level evident during the Holocaust. As the philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” 

Educator’s Resource Toolkit on Lessons from the Holocaust

A week rarely passes that a teacher doesn't reach out to me requesting more resources for teaching about the Holocaust, especially in connection with powerful novels such as Prisoner B-3087 or Night. With that in mind, I recommend three extremely thought-provoking yet accessible resources which you can use in your classroom tomorrow.

The first is an Educator’s Resource Toolkit on Lessons from the Holocaust created by the Center For Literacy Studies at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Although the entire resource weighs in at a daunting 127 pages, you'll quickly see that individual pieces of this packet can be utilized effectively in the classroom. My sixth graders were able to read and understand the text with little difficulty, needing prompting and additional help with only those terms you might expect (scapegoat, collaborator, propaganda, inevitable, etc.).

The first selection of the packet titled “Over Twelve Years of Fear” provides students with a well-organized historical context of the period from 1933 to 1945. My class uses this reading as a paired activity following a more general introduction. Students read each page together and then take notes using the Keywords Strategy. Simply explained, the Keywords Strategy requires that students select three to seven terms from the page that they feel are crucial to the reader’s understanding of that page. These three to seven terms are then used to compose a summary sentence for that page. Since the entire reading is roughly twelve pages long, you could stop frequently to either review a page as a group, or do a pairs squared check-in. I prefer individual monitoring and checking (over students’ shoulders), however, as students “in the flow” of the activity seem to prefer this to being interrupted. 

Another portion of this packet which emphasizes interaction with text is the "Sentence Structure Exercise" which begins on page B23. Students read a paragraph (which is already familiar to them in terms of content) and then dissect that paragraph, placing facts in a chart according to who, what, why, when, and where. The resulting notes in that table can then be read across horizontally to give a single-sentence summary of that passage. This activity emphasizes the note-taking strategy previously used in “Over Twelve Years of Fear,” while additionally emphasizing the need to be factually complete when writing summaries.

Are these activities time-consuming? Yes. But in my opinion, students need a strong background in this period in order to better understand any novel which they read. Teachers who need to continually stop mid-reading to provide context are doing their students, and themselves, a disservice.

Take time to look through the entire toolkit as it contains many wonderful resources for student learning across all disciplines. You will find, for example, several activities which could be incorporated into Math class. For all teachers involved, I suggest reading the Methodological Considerations from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, thoughtfully included in the packet as Appendix A.

I would additionally recommend that teachers seek out first-hand accounts of survivors and other Witnesses. One such piece is “A Factory of Death” by Jeff Jacoby, originally published at I copied and reformatted that particular piece to allow students to take notes more easily and engage with those notes via a subsequent class discussion. In a previous post I discussed the ways in which you can add line numbering to a Google doc; this is key to keeping everyone on the same line as classroom discussions develop.

Students were directed to read “A Factory of Death” from beginning to end, without pause. At the end of the article, students are then instructed to “Read through the article again, and annotate (comment on) the specific tools, techniques, or text features the author uses to build his argument.” For some students, this was a reflection on the corroborating facts of the article; for other students, their notes reflected an appreciation for the language which the author used, including word choice and metaphor.

When students arrived with the completed annotation in hand for our class discussion, I gave them the new instruction to underline every fact or line in the account which confirmed a fact we previously read elsewhere. This helped them see that a personal account can confirm historical records while at the same time elaborating upon them. During this short time underlining, several students added additional notes of discovery from their third reading.

As a follow-up, students read the New York Times piece “Out of Auschwitz” in order to discuss the legacy of this tragedy. If students aren’t asking, “What can we learn from this?” then we’ve likely failed them as teachers and as human beings.


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