The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 1 - Page 36


Teaching the events of World History in a one year course is a daunting task. Many history teachers find that in order to teach the entire curriculum, there are many topics for which we are unable to give adequate time for our students to investigate. During a particular school year, I had a group of sophomore World History students who did not seem to care about anything we had discussed. Their eyes seemed to glaze over when learning about the religious turmoil in the Middle East, the atrocities of slavery in Africa, the devastation of drug cartels in South America, and even the horrors of trench warfare in Europe. They also seemed equally unaffected by all of the amazing stories of triumph throughout the world. I felt as though nothing we discussed was making any kind of impact in their lives.

As a class, we were about to begin learning about the Holocaust and I was desperate for these students to show an interest in something other than themselves. As I was brainstorming ways to approach the topic, I remembered visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. Guests who visit the museum are given a booklet that represents someone who lived during the Holocaust. As guests make their way through the museum, they read about the person who went through the Holocaust. When guests leave the museum, they find out if the person they have been reading about survived the Holocaust. It was truly a profound experience for me. Living in the Midwest, I knew I was unable to take my students to the Holocaust Museum, but I wanted to bring a bit of that experience to them.

To begin the five day unit, I had students perform the first parts of the KWL strategy (Vacca, Vacca & Mraz, 2014). This is a great way to activate students’ background knowledge, and also to build new knowledge because students are encouraged to share information with each other and with the entire class. Instead of viewing history as a chain of old events, I want my students to use critical thinking skills and ask questions in order to stimulate further research.

I told my students they were going to have a chance to meet someone who had lived during the Holocaust. I downloaded Holocaust victim ID cards (Allison, 2015), laminated them, and I gave a different one to each student. I also gave each student a modified version of the “Guidesheet for Historical Character Journals” (Vacca et al., 2014, p. 293). This guidesheet helps students focus on learning details about the person they had been assigned to. The guidesheet not only helped to guide the students’ reading, but it also helped students realize the person they were reading about was real. I informed the students that their ID cards may not answer all of the questions on the guidesheet, and they would need to provide some information based on what they could infer. The students’ interest was piqued because they realized that they did not know if their person lived or died. I told them they would eventually learn the truth, but not until the last day of our study.

To begin the second day, I had my students return to their ID cards and guidesheets. I asked students from around the room to tell the class a little bit about their person. This allowed the students to realize that although many of those involved in the Holocaust were Jewish, there were other people groups from many different countries who were also affected. After each student had been given a chance to tell us about their person, I told them I wanted them to write a diary entry as if they were that person. The first diary entry was to be a day in their life before they were put into a concentration camp. Students were allowed to type and print out their diary entries. In the space at the bottom of the page, they drew a picture that represented something they wrote about in their diary.

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Creating Engaged and Empathetic World History Students:

Using Primary and Secondary Sources to make the Holocaust Relevant to Today’s Teens

By: Miranda Livingston