Voices of the Holocaust | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2019 G8:M3

Voices of the Holocaust

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What was the Holocaust and how did it occur? Why do we remember it? How did victims and survivors respond, and how can we honor their voices? How did upstanders respond, and what can we learn from their voices? In this module, students learn about a terrible time period in history, remember the voices of victims, survivors, and upstanders, and at the same time, they develop their ability to determine and track themes, understand the development of characters, identify and track the development of central ideas, and write narratives to honor the memories of those who served as upstanders during the Holocaust.

In the beginning of Unit 1, students discover the topic by examining multiple artifacts and encountering the guiding questions of the module and the culminating performance task. Students read an informational text providing an overview of the Holocaust to build their background knowledge on the scope and gravity of the Holocaust. They are introduced to their anchor text, Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, a graphic novel, and closely read the first chapter to understand how dialogue and tone reveal aspects of characters. As students continue to read the text, they track character, plot, and emerging themes. This work prepares students for the Mid-Unit 1 Assessment. In the second half of Unit 1, students continue to read Maus I and track plot and emerging themes. This work prepares students for the end of unit assessment. At the end of Unit 1, students write a summary of the entire anchor text, Maus I, including a statement of a major theme developed throughout the text.

In Unit 2, students analyze a model literary analysis, an expository essay that compares and contrasts the structures and themes of a poem and a novel. Students then closely read a new poem, "Often a Minute" by Magdalena Klein, in order to write their own essay comparing the structure and theme of this poem to their anchor text, Maus I. Students spend two days planning their essay and two days drafting and revising their essay based on peer feedback. For their mid-unit assessment, students are presented with a new poem and answer selected and constructed response questions to compare and contrast its structure and theme with that of Maus I. In the second half of Unit 2, students read excerpts from memoirs written by victims and survivors of the Holocaust and also participate in mini lessons and practice verb conjugation, voice, and mood. This work prepares students for the end of unit assessment. At the end of Unit 2, students answer selected and constructed response questions about verb conjugation, voice, and mood.

In Unit 3, students read informational accounts of upstanders during the Holocaust. Students write reflections about how these individuals took action. Students also participate in mini lessons and practice how to use punctuation such as commas, ellipses, and dashes. This work prepares students for their mid-unit assessment, in which they are presented with a reflection paragraph from an informational text and answer selected and constructed response questions about the use of punctuation and verb voice and mood. In the second half of Unit 3, students create a graphic panel as a representation of one of the summaries they wrote and observe one another's work in order to scaffold towards their performance task. Students discuss common traits of upstanders that they saw across the texts they read and analyze a model narrative of a fictional interview with an imaginary upstander. Students plan a narrative of their own by creating a profile of a fictional upstander, creating interview questions and answers, and planning an "explode the moment" with sensory details and figurative language to slow down the pacing of a key moment of the narrative. This prepares students for their end of unit assessment, in which they draft their narrative.

To prepare for their performance task, students peer review one another's narrative and provide feedback and then analyze a model performance task that includes a graphic panel to visually represent elements of the narrative and a reflection on the narrative and panel. Students then plan their own panel and reflection, draft these elements, and prepare to present. For their performance task, students present their graphic panel to an audience and answer questions about their work.

Notes from the Designer

Maus I is a deeply moving and beautifully portrayed story of a son's conversation with his father about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. It is important to note that Maus I contains references to sensitive topics in the context of the atrocities of the Holocaust including anti-Semitism, prisoners of war, and prisoner of war camps. Students also read memoirs and accounts of victims, survivors, and upstanders during the Holocaust. The events presented must be carefully and sensitively discussed to give students context as they read these stories. Teaching notes throughout the lessons provide recommendations for difficult topics with suggestions of how to support students who may be sensitive to the events described. Preview the text in advance and speak with students and families in advance, especially those who may have sensitivity and/or personal connections to topics discussed.

Guiding Questions and Big Ideas

What was the Holocaust, and how did it occur? Why do we remember it?

  • The Holocaust was the systematic persecution of 6 million Jewish people by the Nazi regime during World War II.
  • We remember the Holocaust because painful experiences shape us and teach us so that history does not repeat itself.

How did victims and survivors respond, and how can we honor their voices?

  • Victims and survivors maintained hope and a will to live and faced unspeakable challenges in order to try to survive and to protect those they loved.
  • Victims and survivors maintained their dignity, respect, and humanity throughout unimaginable pain and hardship.
  • Victims and survivors shared their voices through poetry, memoirs, and other tellings of their stories that help us remember and learn from this terrible chapter of history.

How did upstanders respond, and what can we learn from their voices?

  • Even in the midst of unimaginable pain and hardship, people during the Holocaust made choices to stand up for others and themselves.
  • There were risks involved in resisting the Nazis, hiding Jewish people and other victims, or supporting the transit of victims, but many were willing to risk the severe consequences in order to stand up for others.
  • Through the choices they made in the Holocaust, upstanders continue to inspire people to make the world a better place.
  • There are big and small ways to stand up for your beliefs.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English language arts standards and to be taught during the literacy block. But the module intentionally incorporates Social Studies content that may align to additional teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below.

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

  • D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.
  • D2.His.4.6-8. Analyze multiple factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.
  • D2.Civ.13.6-8. Analyze the purposes, implementation, and consequences of public policies in multiple settings.
  • D2.Civ.1.6-8. Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of citizens, political parties, interest groups, and the media in a variety of governmental and nongovernmental contexts.

Technology and Multimedia

  • Online word processing tool: Complete note-catchers. Students complete their note-catchers and write their essays and narratives online.
  • Speech-to-text/text-to-speech tool: Aid students in reading, writing, and note-taking. Students listen to audio (or text-to-speech) versions of texts to assist with fluency and comprehension. They also use speech-to-text technology to assist with writing and note-taking.
    • Many newer devices already have this capability; there are also free apps for this purpose, such as Vocaroo and Chirbit.

Refer to each Unit Overview for more details, including information about what to prepare in advance.

Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


  • Invite community members who may have ancestors who were victims or survivors of the Holocaust to come and share their stories.


  • Invite community members who may be experts on this period of history to come and share their knowledge.
  • Invite experts on other genocides to come and share their knowledge.
  • Invite specialists in the graphic novel format to come and share their expertise.


  • Students might travel to a local history museum to learn more about the Holocaust and/or other genocides.
  • Students might visit local universities and meet with students who are studying this time period or professors who teach about it.


  • Students might volunteer to record stories from community members who have historical links to the Holocaust.


  • Students might further research topics related to the Holocaust such as the Hitler youth, uprisings, and the liberations.
  • Students might research other genocides in history or those happening today.
  • Students might write reflections on how students today can be upstanders in their own communities.


Each unit file includes supporting materials for teachers and students, including guidance for supporting English language learners throughout this unit.


Each unit in the 6-8 Language Arts Curriculum has two standards-based assessments built in, one mid-unit assessment and one end of unit assessment. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize students' understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

Performance Task

Create and Present a Graphic Panel Depiction of a Fictional Holocaust Upstander

This performance task gives students the opportunity to present the graphic panels they create. Throughout Unit 1 of this module, students learn about the Holocaust and explore the graphic novel Maus I, which tells the story of a Holocaust survivor. In Unit 2 of this module, students explore poems and memoirs that highlight the different voices of victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Throughout Unit 3, students read the accounts of upstanders who took action during the Holocaust. Students then create a fictional profile of an imaginary upstander and write a narrative of a fictional interview. For their performance task, students create graphic panels to represent a key moment of their narrative and write a reflection on the work they have created. Students present their panels to an audience and answer  questions about their work.

Texts and Resources to Buy

Texts and resources that need to be procured. Please download the Required Trade Books and Resources Procurement List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
Maus I
by Art Spiegelman
one per student
ISBN: 9780394747231


Each module is approximately 6-8 weeks of instruction, broken into 3 units. The Module-at-a-Glance charts, available on the grade level landing pages, provide a big picture view of the module, breaking down the module into a week-by-week outline. It shows how the module unfolds, the focus of each week of instruction, and where the six assessments and the performance task occur.

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