Tag Archives: Social Studies

Lessons from the Past: Building a Multi-genre Humanities Unit on the Holocaust

I am currently working with two social studies teachers to create a unit of study on the Holocaust. This collaborative unit will tap into the new 3C Framework  for Social Studies Standards and the Common Core Learning Standards for Literacy to promote critical thinking, close reading and students creating their own multigenre text.  

This 6-8 week unit on World War II incorporates multigenre texts (book excerpts, poetry, plays, letters, primary documents, speeches, political cartoons, and additional art work), project based activities, and co-teaching among ELA and Social Studies teachers. Over the course of the unit students will write their own multigenre text as a formative assessment based on some aspect of World War II. This unit of study will be a skills based unit that requires students to look at aspects of humanity within war and conflict.

Below are five learning stations that highlight the voices and testimony of Holocaust survivors and victims.

Station One: Concentration Camp Life

1. Read the story of Holocaust survivor Erma Sonnenberg Menkel (http://www.ou.org/holidays/the-three-weeks/saw-anne-frank-die/)

What did you learn after reading this article?

What happened to Anne Frank after she was taken out of the secret annex?

2. Watch the survivor video testimonies of Norbert Wolheim (http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_oi.php?ModuleId=10007143&MediaId=5721) and Alice Lok Cahana (http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_oi.php?MediaId=1081)

How were their stories similar or different from Erma’s?

Would you have done the same things they did if you were in their position(s)?

3. Choose to complete 20 Words Activity or Found Poem

Station Two: Reading Diaries of Teenagers Who Lived in the Ghetto

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1. Read excerpts from diaries, written by teenagers, about their life in the ghettos, and their physical and emotional conditions there.

The story of Yitskhok Rudashevski from Vilna Ghetto began writing his diary when he approached his fifteenth birthday. He wrote about his academic pursuits and of how he sees himself contributing to the intellectual and literary life of the Ghetto.

On September 1943, the liquidation of the ghetto began. He and his family went into hiding; later on, the family was found and taken to Ponar, where they were shot to death. His friend, who survived, returned to the hiding place where she discovered the diary.

2. Complete the Think Dots Activity: Each person at your table will take turns rolling the dice and complete the learning task from the corresponding dot.

Station Three: Poetry & The Holocaust

1.Read the poem three times. Then answer the following questions:

What are some words in the poem that brings images to your mind?

What do you think is the theme (message) of the poem? What line or lines from the poem gave you that indication?

What is the poet’s purpose for the reader (How did the poet stir you?)

Emotional- Does the poet wants the reader to become emotional about the message? (angry, sad, happy, peaceful, complacent, courage, fear, etc.) What is your evidence?- Share a line.

Reflective: Think about the message in terms of your own life, be inspired. Share a line and make a connection.

Homesick

(from I never saw another butterfly)

I’ve lived in the ghetto here for more than a year,

In Terezin, in the black town now,

And when I remember my old home so dear, I can love it more than I did, somehow.

Ah, home, home,

Why did they tear me away?

Here the weak die easy as feather And when they die, they die forever.

I’d like to go back home again,

It makes me think of sweet spring flowers. Before, when I used to live at home,

It never seemed so dear and fair.

I remember now those golden days…

But maybe I’ll be going there soon again.

People walk along the street,

You see at once on each you meet That there’s ghetto here,

A place of evil and of fear.

There’s little to eat and much to want, Where bit by bit, it’s horror to live. But no one must give up!

The world turns and times change.

Yet we all hope the time will come When we’ll go home again.

Now I know how dear it is

And often I remember it.

Station Four: Art and the Holocaust
What does the text say?Read the picture carefully. What do you notice? (Literal Understanding)

About the artist: Samual Bak is one of many artists that choose to express in their artwork their feelings and thoughts about the Holocaust. Samuel Bak is a survivor of the Holocaust and for many years he painted subject surrounding the Holocaust. The painting The ghetto, as Samuel Bak explains it is “An inclined surface with no horizon and no possibility of escape. Indeed, when we were thrown into the ghetto like human garbage, it felt like being in a deep hole. This hole is in the shape of the Star of David, the emblem of the ghetto. Near it lies our badge of identification.”
What does the text mean? What is the artist’s purpose in taking this photo? Who did Samual Bak hope would see his artwork? Why?

Station Five: Terrible Things

When a child is born, it has no prejudices.

Bias is learned, and someone

Has to model the behavior.

  1. Read aloud in your group Eve Bunting’s picture book Terrible Things.
  2. Discuss with your small group your thoughts and reactions.
  3. Write a reflective response drawing connections to the picture book and the following passage by Holocaust survivor and author Eli Wiesel:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.  

Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never. (Night, 32)

4. The question that is always asked in why do we learn what we do in school, with that question looming in many student’s mind,  Why study the Holocaust, something that happened more than 50 years ago? What are the important lessons that you take away from the testimonies of people who were witnesses, allies, targets, and rebels during this time.  

 

 

 

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Hidden History

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In the Author’s Note of Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea she writes,

Every nation has hidden history, countless stories preserved only by those who experienced them. Stories of war are often read and discussed worldwide by readers whose nations stood on opposite sides during battle. History divided us, but through reading we can be united in story, study, and remembrance. Books join us together as a global reading community, but more important, a global human community striving to learn from the past.

What determines how we remember history and which elements are preserved and penetrate the collective consciousness? If historical novels stir your interest, pursue the facts, history, memoirs, and personal testimonies available. There are the shoulders that historical fiction sits upon. When the survivors are gone we must not let the truth disappear with them.

Please give them a voice.

Sepetys’ work of historical fiction is a collection of vignettes told in alternating voices of young adults who are refugees trying to escape their war torn countries during World War II and hoping to board the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that will take them to safety. Caught between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia’s Red Army, many of these young people left their homes and families behind on a quest for freedom and safety.

During World War II the Wilhelm Gustloff was carrying more than 10,000 refugees, five thousand who were children,  when on January 30th, 1945, a Soviet submarine torpedoed the ship, sinking with majority of the passengers on board. That is more than the lives lost on the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet I did not know any of this until I read Sepetys’ book. In fact, she writes that “in the year 1945 alone, over 25,000 people lost their lives in the Baltic Sea due to ships being bombed and sunk.”

I want to hone in on the idea of “Hidden History.” What is the history that gets told and taught in our schools. This concept sparked two different projects for a history/humanities class.

Hidden History Project –  Students research and uncover a piece of “hidden history.” Students can write about or create a video about some aspect of history that has been lost (like a piece of art or artifact), uncover a mystery, or share the story of a survivor or witness.

For example, National Geographic’s video on the mysterious Amber Room, considered the Eighth Wonder of the World, was lost during WWII when it was looted by the Nazis. The Amber Room, a world-famous chamber decorated in amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors, originally constructed in the 18th century in Prussia.

Historical Testimonies – When I taught a middle school drama class I asked students to interview a family member one or two generations older than the students and then turn the interview into a monologue to present to the whole class. This assignment has two parts. First students select a family member to interview and brainstorm a list of questions to ask the person about an important time in their life — See the Great Questions from StoryCorps. The second part of the assignment would be for students to read through and edit the interview responses to create a monologue that tells a memory moment of this particular family member. Students can dress up and bring in an artifact of the person when presenting the monologue.

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Voices from History: Ideas for a Historical Blog Assignment

In order to help students ask questions and be critical thinking citizens, teachers need to offer assignments (and reading material) that helps students see multiple points of view about people and history. Blogging allows for creative writing, especially in social studies. We want students to step into periods of history and understand different perspectives, experiences, and events.  At the same time tap into the Common Core Writing Standards:

  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3a Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  • Common Core State Standard.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3b Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

 

The assignment described below was used with a unit on colonialism but this assignment can be adapted for any unit in history.  

Here is a Colonial Blog assignment that requires students to take on the identity of an imaginary colonist and write three blog entires explaining their reactions to specific events that angered the colonists. The focus of this assignment is to understand what caused the colonists to revolt against the English. 

First, students are to imagine a character that was living in a colony in 1760. Using data given in class, students select a country of origin, home colony, a religion, a profession, and a name. Students invent a name, age, and family circumstances. The assignment requires students to write a brief biography of their character. This includes: demographic information, family’s history, and a description of life in the colony. 

For the first blog entry, in character, the student is to write about how one of the British acts have affected you. Describe which rights have been violated and how this act changes your life. Tell how you will respond to this act. The following are the British acts during this period: Proclamation, Stamp Act, Boston Massacre, Line of 1763, Quartering Act, Boston Tea Party, Sugar Act, Townshend Act, Intolerable Acts. The blog entries are expected to be based on the history of these events and be descriptive. 

The next blog assignment requires students to read the posted blog entries from other students and write a response. Comment on the experience of a fellow colonists. Give advise, sympathize, or ask a question. Tell what happened after your previous response. Tell how one of the British acts has affected you. Describe what is going on in your life, which rights have been violated, and how this act changes your life. Explain how you will respond to this act. 

The final blog assignment has students read the posted blog entries of the other colonists and write a response. Tell what happened after your previous blog entry and how another British act affected you. Describe what is going on in your life and that of your family, which rights have been violated, and how this act changes your life. Explain how you plan to respond to this act. 

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