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studying genocide: activity ideas

Activity Ideas | Related Resources

  1. Teaching the Holocaust to Younger Students

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subject: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts

    Increasingly, educators are incorporating Holocaust studies into younger grades, although many disagree over what specific grade levels are appropriate.

    Read this excellent article from the Center on Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for guidelines and strategies on teaching the Holocaust in elementary classrooms.

    There are many fine stories about children during the Holocaust. Choose one of the novels appropriate for younger children: (summaries courtesy of the Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust web site):

    The Lily Cupboard by Shulamith Ley Oppenheim
    Miriam, a young Jewish child, is sent away by her parents to live with a Gentile family in the country. She must hide in the family's cupboard when the Nazis come looking for Jews. The simple story is accompanied by warm, colorful illustrations and a strong text.

    Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
    In Denmark in 1943, the lives of all Jews are in jeopardy. Ten-year-old Annemarie's best friend, Ellen, is Jewish. Annemarie's family undertakes the dangerous mission of smuggling Ellen and her family to Sweden aboard the fishing boat that belongs to Annemarie's uncle. But when Anemarie's mother is injured, and the special package that was to be delivered to Annemarie's uncle on the fishing boat is found beside the porch, it is up to Annemarie to deliver the package safely. Along the way, she must contend with German soldiers as well as her own fear.

    The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
    One night Monique discovers her mother has been hiding a Jewish family in the basement when she wakes and finds a strange girl sitting at the foot of her bed. Monique and Sevrine become friends. After the girls are seen playing together, Monique's mother decides to leave the village before the Nazis come looking for Sevrine's family.

    Conduct a teacher-led listening period. At the end of each day's reading, ask students to jot down thoughts or feelings in a journal. Then when the book is finished, ask students to write a letter to Miriam or Annemarie, and use their notes to help them remember the story and questions they might have wanted to ask or things they might have wanted to tell the main character.

    As an extension, have students investigate other writings and drawings in I Never Saw Another Butterfly : Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944, edited by Hana Volavkova. Students might compare the experiences of two or more authors, or create a scene in which the authors meet and share experiences.

    Online Resources

    Holocaust Teacher Resource Center:

    Elementary Social Studies: Guidelines for Teaching about the Holocaust:
    http://www1.sdhc.k12.fl.us/~socialstudies.elementary/ ...

    Center on Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota -- Debate: Should there be Holocaust Education for K-4 Students? No:
    http://www.chgs.umn.edu/Educational_Resources/Curriculum/ ...

    Center on Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota -- Debate: Should there be Holocaust Education for K-4 Students? Yes:

    Print Resources

    Teaching the Diary of Anne Frank by Susan Moger

    More Recommended Resources

  2. What is Genocide?

    Grade Levels: 6-8
    Subjects: Social Studies

    Write the word "Genocide" on the board. Ask students if they know what it means. The term was first used by Rafael Lempkin in 1944 in his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. The word is a hybrid consisting of the Greek word "genos," meaning race, nation or tribe, and the Latin suffix, "cide," meaning killing.

    Using the online resources below, have students understand, by either a writing assignment or class discussion, what constitutes a genocide, according to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in 1951.

    Have students make a list of genocides from the past century. As a reference, use the web site for the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

    Online Resources

    P.O.V.: "Discovering Dominga":

    Frontline: "Valentina's Nightmare":

    Prevent Genocide International: What is Genocide?:

    U.S. Institute of Peace: The Genocide Convention at 50:

    PBS Lesson Plans

    Frontline: "Ghosts of Rwanda":

    Print Resources

    The Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power
    Teaching About Genocide: Issues, Approaches, and Resources by Samuel Totten

    More Recommended Resources

  3. How Does Genocide Happen?

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts

    Genocide studies often concentrate on the atrocities that occurred. Students may have an awareness of what happened in Nazi Germany, Camobodia, Bosnia, or Rwanda, but they should also develop an understanding of the political, economic, and social causes that let to these events. Creating a timeline of events will help students identify, illustrate, explain, and interpret the causes and progression of events that led to these and other genocides.

    To help them get started, direct students to Genocide Watch. Here they will find definitions and descriptions of the eight stages of genocide.

    Students should work in small groups to create a life-size timeline on large poster paper or newsprint sheets. Each large blank sheet should represent one year, and that year will be written in large bold print on the top. Have students work in their groups to decorate their year sheet with pictures (photographs or drawings), slogans, artwork, poems, copies or re-created newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia. Encourage students to research the important events of that year and think it terms of people and their ideas, the government, the economy and societal factors that illustrate each stage in the progress toward genocide. When student groups are finished with their posters, hang them on a wall in the classroom or hallway, in consecutive years to create the timeline of each genocide.

    Online Resources

    Frontline: "The Triumph of Evil":

    P.O.V.: "The Flute Player":

    NOW: "The Politics of Sudan":

    Genocide Watch:

    BBC: The Rwandan Genocide:

    The Committee on Conscience: Darfur:
    http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/alert/darfur/ ...

    PBS Lesson Plans

    Frontline/World: Coping with Genocide in Cambodia:

    Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State -- Surprise Beginnings:

    P.O.V.: Confronting Genocide:

    More Recommended Resources

  4. Darfur and the International Community

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subject: Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts

    After the Holocaust, the international community promised "never again" -- the world would not stand by and allow genocide to occur. Too often, however, world leaders have not lived up to this obligation.

    Since 2003, the Darfur region of western Sudan has been the site of killing and displacement that many believe rises to the level of "genocide." The international response, most agree, has been rather muted. This is due in part to the fact that the United Nations in 2005 declined to categorize the crisis as a "genocide."

    For background on Sudan and the controversy over the role of the international community, have your students review the following resources:

    Then, have students read the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in 1951.

    Based on the evidence, ask students if the crisis in Darfur should be legally termed "genocide." Why or why not? Working as a class, decide what kind of response the United States and the world should undertake, if any, to alleviate the situation.

    Online Resources

    Darfur Information Center:

    BBC: Sudan's Darfur Conflict:

    U.S. Department of State: Documenting Atrocities in Darfur:

    Print Resources

    Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide by Gerald Prunier

    More Recommended Resources

Published: April 2006