Recent Posts

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Writing to Remember: Responding to Holocaust Readings

This week I received two emails from teachers asking what writing assignments I incorporated when teaching about the Holocaust. Although it largely depends upon the classes taught, I typically ask students to complete four writing assignments which are directly or indirectly connected to our Holocaust unit.

Citizenship Credits

The first piece of writing students tackle, even before discussions of the Holocaust begin, is an argumentative piece called Citizenship Credits. That assignment is described in this post; you can download the prompt from there, or from below.

Whose Rules?

As students read the latter portion of The Devil's Arithmetic, they take notes on the camp rules and Rivka's rules using a two column chart created in their notebooks. Students record both the rules they discover, as well as the page numbers upon which they appear.  They later use these notes for a second piece: a comparison-contrast essay. They use this very simple model or this very simple model to structure their essay, but their writing is, of course, much more complex, as all points need to be text supported and elaborated upon. (For students needing some further direct instruction in comparing and contrasting, you may find portions of this ReadWriteThink interactive to be helpful).

Should Sixth Graders Study the Holocaust?

Once we've completed the novel, I challenge my students with this essay topic: "Should Sixth Graders Study the Holocaust?" The fact is, many parents and educators believe they should not. Students consult many online sources for support, including a speech by Jane Yolen which includes the "Alphabet of Evil," and a collection of quotes I've compiled. Some teachers may disagree with providing resources for their students, but after viewing many online sources which turned out to be inappropriate, biased, or simply hateful, I chose to provide students with some excerpts which I had personally vetted). A huge emphasis here is on recognizing and refuting opposing points of view.

Improving the World

A last writing piece which students produce nearly a month after our Holocaust unit is based upon an Anne Frank quote: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." In their responses, students provide examples of ways that others have improved the world, and ways in which they, in their present role as student, can do the same. This link shows how we organize the essay, and also provides many possible openings as well as ways in which to revisit those openings in the closing paragraph.

Hope these suggestions help. What responses to Holocaust studies have your students written?