Leveled Genre Study: Holocaust Literature

I’ve left school every day this past week with a pit in my stomach and tears in my eyes.

I’m teaching Holocaust literature.
It’s incredibly important for my students to learn, but it’s also incredibly difficult for me to teach.  What happened during the Holocaust is horrific on its own, but as someone with Eastern European and Jewish roots, it’s especially hard  for me to stomach.


Background knowledge.

I’m running a genre study around this work, but it looks a little different in my Honors class than it does in my CP classes.

But that’s what the workshop model is all about:  Our end goal is the same, but all students are able to take the path that works best for them.

To start, we watched one of John Green’s Crash Course clips and took quick notes on what was going on during WWII aside from the Holocaust.


Thanks to The History Channel, many of my students already have a bit of background knowledge on Hilter’s actions during WWII.  Because of this, I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time with long, drawn-out background documents.

Instead, I split a 12-page informational passage into 12 pieces and we ran a jigsaw.  Each student read and summarized a section, and then read that section aloud to the class.  While they were reading, the rest of us (me too!) took notes that would be reused on the summative later.

This note-taking was hard, and my students hated it because it was hard.  I insisted that instead of asking their classmates to repeat sentences, they had to ask specific questions of the author.  So instead of saying, “Wait.  What?”  they asked questions like, “You said that there were a certain number of Jews who escaped.  What was that number again?”

(I actually recorded one of my classes during the note-taking session because I was so impressed, but I promised I wouldn’t publish it!)

The Literature

discussion space

Our discussion space. 

In my Honors class, we’re running our  genre study  with novels.  My students chose between Elie Wiesel’s Night and Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, and while we read and discuss, they’re pulling pithy quotes that they’ll reuse on their summative assessment later.  


Our discussions are tough, specifically with Night.  While Wiesel’s book is beautifully written, it’s also horrifically detailed, and we leave our discussion feeling sick and sad.

Originally, I had planned to use these same novels in a genre study in my CP classes too, but since we’ve spent so much (valuable!) time in writing workshop over the last few months, time has gotten away from us.

So in my CP classes, we’re sampling a variety of literature.   Our amazing librarian Pam Harland compiled some resources for us, and we started with this bank of diaries, letters, and memoirs from Yad Vashem.  Because giving my students choice is at the center of everything we do in my classroom, students chose whichever passages they wanted to work with.  They read, summarized, pulled quotes, and then shared their findings with the class.

Next week, my CP students will choose excerpts from either Night or Diary of a Young Girl to work with, and then, finally, they’ll work with poetry of their choice.

My Honors summative assessment is a little different than my CP assessment, but our end goal is the same.  At the end of this month, all of  my students will conduct research into current cases of genocide in the world.  They’ll compile their reading analysis and research together in an answer to our essential question in a summative performance assessment of their choice.

This is an incredibly difficult subject for me to teach, but teaching it though a genre study has been extremely valuable for my students.  Their ability to choose (and abandon) texts has helped them become emotionally invested in the texts, which is what we want when we teach Holocaust literature…so history doesn’t repeat itself.  


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s