Thursday, December 8, 2011

Short Research Topic Lesson Plan

In teaching the Holocaust to any grade, especially Middle School, it can be tough to deal with such a sad topic for any period of time. I have found that, rightfully so, the kids get very down about it and get burned out easily. While that is one of the key elements of teaching the Holocaust, letting it be sad and depressing, I think it is also important to teach about some of the positive aspects of it as well, to balance it and to let the kids see the humanity that did come out of such a devastating situation. In order to do this, and to meet the objectives for doing a research project, I had my students choose 2 people who are on the Righteous Among the Nations List and do a short research essay about them.

Because this was their first research paper for me, I kept it limited and fairly simple. We focused on writing a thesis statement and putting things into their own words. I only allowed them to use two websites:

We began with taking notes. From the Yad Vashem website, they had to take notes on The Righteous in general. What kinds of people were they? Why did they help? What forms of help were common? Then they went on to the JFR website and browsed through the actual Righteous and their information. They were to choose two people who they found inspiring, but whom they had not already learned about in class (the Frank helpers and Sugihara). For each person they chose, they were to take notes on them specifically. Who did they help? How? Why?

Finally, they put their notes into an essay form, with three basic parts.

  • Intro paragraph, including basic information about The Righteous and ending with a thesis statement about their two rescuers.
  • At least one paragraph about each rescuer, including their opinion of the rescuer and their actions.
  • A concluding paragraph, putting it all together. They had to include their opinions about why they thought people helped and how these Righteous could be an inspiration to them and their generation.

I, personally, did not even have them type this. I didn’t make it a major project. After studying the Holocaust for about 4 weeks at that point, they weren’t in the mindset for a large project. Instead, I wanted them to get some inspiration at the end of such a heavy topic. Reading the essays, I was not only impressed with how well they wrote thesis statements and summarized in their own words (meeting curriculum objectives), but they really did seem to be inspired. They saw a light in this dark topic and could see how something that happened so long ago, in their minds, could be applicable to them. I had not done much research myself on the various Righteous and I learned so much from reading their essays. This project took about 4 days in class, and they had a weekend to finish it up, but I think it really made an impact on them.

Classroom Handouts
Thesis Statement
Heroes of the Holocaust
Grade Sheet
Sample Paper


  1. Jennifer, do you have any example papers you could share? I'd love to use your lesson plan! Thanks. Heather McClellan

  2. Jennifer provided us with a sample paper and it is now included under classroom handouts.