Monday, January 4, 2010

Using one story to reach your students

A few years ago I had the privilege to travel to Poland and Israel with a group of teachers to study the Holocaust. I have a daughter in elementary school and she knew I was going to be gone and that I was going to study history but she never really asked any more than that. While I was in Israel I picked up a book titled I Wanted to Fly Like a Butterfly written by Naomi Morgenstern. It was child’s recollection of the Holocaust. A few months after I returned my daughter finally asked what I learned about while on my trip. How do you talk about a topic like this with young children? How do you educate them without giving them too much information?

I sat down with my daughter and read her the book I had picked up on my travels. We are not Jewish so I had to explain a few things as we read like synagogues and Yom Kippur, but she was curious about the life of this little girl not much younger than herself. My daughter listened to the story and then came all of the questions. Some I answered and some I didn’t.

This book is written at a level a young person can understand. We learn about Hannah and what her life was like in Poland before the war. We learn about Jews wearing the Star of David, being banished from schools, and living in hiding. While Hannah and her mother survive the war, there is a brief discussion of the loss of her father and other family members. This book is only 36 pages long and has lots of real life family photos and child-like illustrations.

What I loved about this book is its ability to be used at many grade levels. Younger students (grades 7-8) can focus on the individual and what she goes through. Younger students can also focus on the story of the family unit. Older students (grades 9-12) can focus on the Jewish community in the book and the impact the Holocaust had on them. High school students can even read this book and see how it fits into the larger framework of the Holocaust.

This book can easily be read aloud to a class in a standard class period. Depending on the grade level, however, some prior vocabulary work might be needed. Students could easily complete a sequence ladder or story frame while reading this book in order to visualize the steps that Hannah is going through. Older students could complete a history frame in order to understand Hannah’s experience in the grand scheme of the Holocaust. Hannah also includes her current address at the end of the book. She invites young people to write to her so she can hear their thoughts on the book or she will answer questions if students have them.

Click here for a lesson plan to go along with this book, chapter by chapter at the Yad Vashem website.

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