Museum Fellowship Lesson Plans

  Book burning
Students and SA unload "un-German" books.
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.

Introduction to the History of the Holocaust
Sheila Hansen
Spearfish Middle School
Spearfish, South Dakota




This lesson utilizes the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's electronic resource The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students to engage middle-level learners in a brief, structured, and essential introduction to the complex history of the Holocaust. Designed to be the first lesson in a Holocaust unit, there is an expectation of spiraling, where an appreciation and understanding of the core topic areas strengthen the foundation for all subsequent study.


  1. Students will understand that the provided topic areas are essential background for understanding the history of the Holocaust.
  2. Students will practice individual accountability and cooperative learning through jigsaw collaboration.
  3. Students will strengthen essential core of knowledge, skills, and competencies using grade specific content standards and regard for Bloomís Taxonomy, such as but not limited to the following:
  • determine the relevance of information (analysis)
  • synthesize information to support analysis of a topic (synthesis and application)
  • describe ideas and outlooks within a specific period, looking at such features as ideas, customs, and outlooks of a people (analysis)
  • combine new information with existing knowledge to form interpretations (synthesis)
  • write to clearly convey meaning (synthesis)
  • write to transfer and apply knowledge in a subject area and/or from one context to another (application)
  • use information ethically by paraphrasing and properly documenting source (application) 
  • apply information learned in one subject area to a class project (application)
  • use listening skills in group settings to share responsibility for a team project (analysis)
  • produce clear, focused and organized oral presentations based on audience needs and the intended purpose of the presentation (application).
  1. (Optional add-on activity) Students will work with primary source materials (applicable photographs and artifact facsimiles) to:
  • compare how different sources (or media) present the same situation or event (analysis).
  • describe how photographers make meaning (analysis).
  • analyze how the photographs preserve, highlight and symbolize the history of humanity (analysis)
  • view photographs for details and evidence of historical events (analysis).
  • question in a probing, thoughtful, evidentiary manner (analysis).

Time Required

2-4 class periods (flexible depending on available time frame for overall Holocaust unit and desired outcomes in a standards-based classroom)

Grade Level

Grades 8-9 

Curriculum Fit

English, Holocaust Studies

Procedure / Strategy

Use The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students  to provide historical context for a study of the Holocaust. 36 individual topics are divided into 5 thematic categories (Nazi Rule, Jews in Germany, The Final Solution, Nazi Camp System, and Rescue and Resistance). With merely 350 or so words in each, these topics are a clear, focused, and manageable introduction for middle school students.

Day 1

  1. Teacher assigns 2-3 of the individual topics per student, depending on how many students are in a class; if more than one topic is assigned per student, those topics should be within the same thematic category. 
  2. Students independently read each topic several times. From their readings, students develop a list of 5+ words of particular importance from each topic. On butcher paper or tag board displayed throughout Holocaust unit, the class should compile a master list of important words and their definitions. These words should be returned to as the unit progresses; starring or otherwise making notations when a word is used draws attention to and aids in the retention of the core terminology of the Holocaust. Teacher guided.
  3. Students take notes (I have my students write a source card and note cards).Students then rewrite the topicís content: extrapolating main ideas, quoting, summarizing, and parenthetically documenting their information. Students hand in original text, note cards, and correctly formatted summaries. Teacher assessment: rubric and/or student conference
  4. Students write and hand in 2-3 questions per topic that could be used as test questions. (Teacher can use these questions as a study guide for a test or as a test itself.)

Day 2 

  1. Teacher groups students with topics that are in same thematic category (Nazi Rule, for example, is a thematic category that contains 8 individual topic areas). 
  2. Students share topic summaries within group. Each group then writes an overall summary of the thematic category, including important points from each individual topic area. Teacher assessment: rubric and/or group conference
Day 3

Each group presents to the class, each member presenting his/her topic area(s) in order. To promote active listening and since I have already assessed all the thematic summaries prior to presentation, I create and distribute a study guide to fill out as students listen to each othersí group summaries. (Teacher can quiz or test on study guide material as desired.)

Day 4 (Optional Add-on Activity)

  1. Teacher distributes to each thematic group enlarged photos/artifact facsimiles (with captions) taken from the various topics in that thematic group. Students read captions and discuss how each photo/artifact fits into individual topic areas and the thematic group. Teacher participation and observation.
  2. Groups face class, members state their individual topic or thematic category, hold up their photos/artifacts, briefly describe contents, and give an opportunity for class members to determine relevance. Photos (as terms were earlier) can be placed around the classroom for reference as the unit progresses. (Following this activity would be a great time to introduce to students the concept of primary documents and the steps for examining photographs in a critical manner. I am a strong proponent of using photo evidence with students.)

Materials / Resources

  • Index cards for source card and note-taking (optional).
  • Butcher paper that can hang in the classroom throughout unit.
  • The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students contains 36 individual topics. If computers are available, students may access the Website; if not, teachers may print each of the core topic areas, topical photos, and accompanying artifacts and glossary of terms. High quality printing and lamination are desired so as to create a "kit" to use in subsequent years.
  • To access strategies for examining photographs, use Chapter 4, "Using Primary Documents" of Teaching and Studying the Holocaust (Totten and Feinberg, editors)., pp.93-95, or use the University of Florida's Instructional Technology site for excellent questions in regards to photographic evaluation. 

Evaluation / Assessment

In this lesson I formally assess and assign grades for the following:

  • each student's success in preliminary research of individual topics. Using a rubric, I evaluate a) the relevance, clarity, and accuracy of information b) degree of topic coverage c) ethical use of information (i.e. ability to correctly paraphrase, quote, and use a source citation in proper MLA format) d) proper usage of conventions of language.
  • students' success in small group work. Again, by use of rubric, I evaluate each group's thematic summary. This should demonstrate that the members can effectively organize their summary by synthesizing information from multiple sources and using the 6 Traits Writing model, not to mention utilizing active listening and sharing responsibility for a group project.
  • group presentations to the class. By use of rubric, I evaluate pacing, enunciation, and appropriate phrasing, effective use of non-verbal communication skills: eye contact, posture, gestures, and use appropriate grammar and sentence structure.

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