Fighting Injustice by Studying Lessons of the Past

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Seven 45-minute sessions
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Learning from past mistakes can help prevent one from repeating those mistakes. The purpose of this lesson is to educate students about the past and prepare them to become concerned and active students. Students study the experience of European Jewish citizens during the Holocaust. Through a reading of a novel set during the Holocaust period, students gain a better understanding of the social injustices and atrocities that occurred. Students then research the experience of the Cherokees during the Trail of Tears and the Japanese Americans during World War II. To compare these three events, students use an online Venn diagram tool. Students write about their reactions to these events in journals and discuss them during class. Critical thinking is encouraged to allow students to come to their own conclusions about these events.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Readers combine their own knowledge with the text to formulate knowledgeable conclusions.

  • Skimming a text guide before reading allows students to predict the information they will encounter.
  • Discourse knowledge refers to students' understanding of the language organization that determines meaning; it includes knowledge of a variety of genres and types of writing.

  • Discourse knowledge must often be taught explicitly to students.

  • Students learn discourse knowledge when they are taught to notice patterns of organization, or relationships among sentences, paragraphs, and chapters in the texts they read.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting (Jewish Publication Society, 1996)
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Student journals
  • Chart paper




1. Familiarize yourself with the Holocaust, the Trail of Tears, and the Japanese–American Internment using the websites listed in the Resources section.

2. Obtain and read Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting. Although this book is written on a fourth-grade level, the use of personification in the story fosters the development of critical thinking skills in middle school students. Instead of concentrating on vocabulary, students are able to focus on the author’s message. Bunting poignantly uses animals to demonstrate how fear and indifference lead to the destruction of the forest denizens.

3. Assemble a collection of books about the Holocaust for students to read. A selection of suggested readings has been provided on the Holocaust Book and Movie List. If possible, get more than one copy of each book so that multiple students can use the same text. Prepare a brief book talk for each book you have available.

4. If you do not have computers with Internet access available in your classroom, reserve three 45-minute sessions in your school’s computer lab for Sessions 4 through 6. Add all of the websites listed in the Resources section to the Favorites list on the computers students will be using except A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust.

5. Make one copy of the Trail of Tears Web Guide and the Japanese–American Internment Web Guide for each student in your class.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Gain knowledge about different historical periods using a variety of texts and reading strategies (e.g., read-aloud, skimming, and reflective reading)

  • Develop critical thinking skills by exploring and comparing three different examples of social injustice using a graphic organizer

  • Express their opinions and reactions during group discussions and debates about social injustice

  • Make text-to-text and text-to-self comparisons by writing about what they read in journals and worksheets

Session 1

1. Write the phrase “terrible things” on the board. Elicit comments from students about what they would consider terrible things. Students may respond with words like war, bombs, terrorism, hate, fear, prejudice, and death. List their responses on the board and then allow a 15-minute discussion for students to discuss the “terrible things” that they have seen or heard. Ask them to think about whether or not “terrible things” can be avoided.

2. Ask students to define the word allegory and discuss. You want them to understand that an allegory is an extended metaphor where objects or characters stand for something else. Allegories usually have a larger message or moral.

3. Read aloud the story Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting.

4. Ask students why they think this story is an allegory. What do the animals stand for? Why don’t the animals in the story help one another? Have students brainstorm with a partner and discuss possible reasons with the class.

5. Ask students to select an animal mentioned in the story. Could that animal have done anything to stop the “terrible things” from happening? What are some possible things that the animal could have done to help the others who were being taken away? Allow students to respond in their journals. After 10 minutes, have students share their journal response with their partners. Then have volunteers share responses with the class.

Homework (Due at the beginning of Session 2): Have students respond to the following prompts in their journals:

  • Why do people sometimes hurt each other? How do they justify doing so?

  • How can you connect the animals in the story to your life?

Session 2

1. Begin the session by reviewing the things you discussed during Session 1. Ask volunteers to share the journal entries they completed for homework.

2. Discuss what kinds of “terrible things” are happening in the world. Students may be reticent to offer examples; if so, you should begin the conversation, encouraging students to follow your lead.

3. Allow students to write in their journals about things they have not yet verbalized. Allow 15 minutes for students to write silently. Then have students share entries with a partner and then ask for volunteers to share entries with the class.

4. Introduce the books you have assembled (see Preparation, Step 3 and the Holocaust Book and Movie List) and tell students they each need to select one to read. While they make their choices, you should circulate, offer suggestions, and encourage students to select books at an appropriate level.

Homework: Each student should read at least the first chapter of the book he or she chose and write a brief journal reflection.

Session 3

1. Write the following questions on the board or an overhead. Review the questions as a class, and have students respond to them in their journals:

a. Which is more important, freedom or safety?

b. Would you be willing to turn in a friend or a relative to the police if he or she had not committed a crime but the government asked you to?

c. What things in your life would you refuse to give up even if your life was threatened?

d. What items are necessary for your survival?

e. Would you speak up if you saw someone being treated in a manner that you felt was inhumane? Why or why not?

2. Discuss each of these questions individually. Listen to students’ responses and then ask them to think about how the main character in the book they are reading would answer these questions.

3. Have students write each of the questions listed in Step 1 at the head of the next five pages in their journals. Explain that while they read their books they should write down specific examples from the story that demonstrate how the main character would answer the questions.

4. Ask students if the know of any other times in history when people might have been forced to make decisions like those in the questions. Allow students to brainstorm for a few minutes with a partner.

5. Bring the students back together and discuss their examples, writing them on a sheet of chart paper. If students do not identify the Trail of Tears and the Japanese–American Internment during World War II, introduce these as examples, giving them a brief overview of what they are. Tell students that they will be exploring these events and thinking about how they are similar to and different from the Holocaust.

Homework: Students should continue reading their books about the Holocaust and writing in their journals.



Session 4

Note: If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, Sessions 4–6 should take place in your school’s computer lab.

1. Tell students that they will be investigating the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Distribute and review the Trail of Tears Web Guide.

2. Allow 30 minutes for students to explore the websites you have bookmarked and complete the handout.

3. Bring students together and ask them to share their responses to the questions. Questions for discussion include:

  • How did the fact that the American government sanctioned the forced removal of the Cherokee make you feel?

  • Why do you think more Americans didn’t support the Cherokee?

  • Do you think the need for land justified the removal of the Cherokee? Why or why not?

  • How was the treatment of the Cherokee by the Americans similar to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis? How was it different?

Session 5

1. As a class, discuss why tragedies like the Holocaust and the Cherokee Trail of Tears happen. Allow 10 minutes for discussion.

2. Ask students to predict what happened during the internment of the Japanese–Americans and why they think it happened.

3. Tell students that they will be taking a look at the Japanese-American Internment camps. Allow 30 minutes for students to explore the websites you have bookmarked and complete the Japanese–American Internment Web Guide.

4. Discuss students’ responses. Make sure to discuss the predictions students made and whether they were accurate.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 6): Students should finish reading their books. They should also write in their journals about whether or not they believe social injustice is still a problem in the world today, discussing examples they find in the news.

Session 6

1. Have students access the Holocaust Studies at Aish.com website and select one of the following articles to read:

They should take notes in their journals while they read.

2. Have students use the Venn Diagram to compare what they learned about the Holocaust, Cherokee Trail of Tears, and the Japanese–American Internment camps. They should refer to their journals, and to the two Web guides they completed during the previous two sessions.

3. Discuss what all three atrocities had in common and what was different. Also, have students discuss what they have learned and how their perspectives have changed as a consequence of gaining this knowledge.

Session 7

1. Have students answer the following questions in their journals: Do you think we, as a global community, have learned from our mistakes in the past? Why or why not? Give students 10 minutes to write.

2. Have students share their responses with a partner. Ask volunteers to share responses with the entire class.

3. Have students share examples from the books they read in which the characters resist injustice (see the journal assignment from Session 3). Ask students if they have had similar opportunities to fight injustice in their own lives.

4. As a class, brainstorm what students can realistically do to help make the world a better place for all people and to help prevent social injustice. List ideas on chart paper to display in class.


  • Have students write an essay about social injustice as it exists today. Or have them further explore one of the historical periods you researched during this lesson and compare what happened to current events. They can use the online Essay Map to plan and outline their papers.

  • Teach the lesson “The Trail of Tears and the Forced Relocation of the Cherokee Nation” offered by the National Park Service.

  • Show one of the movies from the Holocaust Book and Movie List. (Note: It is advisable to preview the movie yourself and obtain parental permission before showing the film to students.)

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Evaluate students’ participation during group discussions to assess the development of critical thinking skills. Consider how well students are able to compare the three historical examples and also how well they are able to compare the examples with current events and even their own experiences.

  • Assess students’ abilities to assimilate and write about what they are learning by reviewing their journals and their completed Trail of Tears Web Guides and Japanese–American Internment Web Guides.

  • Check the completed Venn Diagrams to make sure students have successfully compared the three different historical examples you have explored.

  • Evaluate independent reading by monitoring students’ journal writing. You may also invite students to share a short oral review of the book they are reading with the class.

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