Investigating the Holocaust: A Collaborative Inquiry Project

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Eight 50-minute sessions
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In this unit, students explore a variety of resources—texts, images, sounds, photos, and other artifacts—to learn more about the Holocaust. Beginning with journal writings and a picture book to introduce the central issues, the unit focuses on student-centered inquiry. Students explore a range of print and non-print resources through extensive online inquiry activities. Progressing from individual work to a group learning project, the unit culminates in publishing the group's findings in topic-based newspapers.

The lesson includes complete lists of picture books, read-aloud books, reference texts, and online sites and collections that allow teachers to customize the activities to fit the available resources and students' specific research interests.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

This Holocaust inquiry project is based on the idea that as students progress though the inquiry cycle, teachers need to tap a variety of methods to reach all the different learners and their multiple ways of learning about the world. As Harste explains, "we must envision and create curriculum that places inquiry and sign systems . . . at the center of the learning process, rather than in the peripheral position of curricular frills" (3). By asking students to explore texts, images, sounds, photos, and other artifacts, this inquiry project provides students the kind of learning opportunity that leads to more complex literacy skills.

Further Reading

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.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 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).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 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




Student Objectives

Students will

  • read a range of Holocaust resources, from different genres and media.

  • use a variety of resources to gather and synthesize knowledge about the Holocaust.

  • work collaboratively to investigate questions about a specific topic.

  • present information orally and in a group newspaper.

The Week Preceding the Unit

  1. Each day, ask students to write a response to one of the prompts on the Journal Entries list, so that students have responded to all five prompts by the end of the week.

  2. Discuss responses as desired, but do not mention the connection to the Holocaust unit so that students are not tempted to make comparisons or guess the “right” response in connection to the forthcoming project.

Session One: Introduction to the Holocaust

  1. Begin this session by having the students discuss what it means to be a child, recalling entries that they’ve written in the journals over the course of the previous week as relevant. Guiding questions for the discussion might include:

    • What do you remember most about your childhood?

    • Did you have a special place?

    • What kinds of things were you afraid of?

    • What helped you feel safe?
  2. Read Chana Byers Abells’s The Children We Remember.

  3. After you read, facilitate a brief discussion by asking students to compare the lives of the Jewish children during the Holocaust to their own lives today. Encourage students to consider both the details from the images and the statements from the text.

  4. Tell students that you will be sharing another text about the Holocaust. Read “First They Came for the Socialists” by German Lutheran Pastor Niemoller.

  5. Write “innocent bystander” on the board and ask students to freewrite, connecting the words “innocent bystander” to the content of the poem.

  6. Have a few students share their writing and have a discussion on roles we play in intense situations. (You may bring up bullying or crime as examples.)

  7. Connect the class discussion to the journal entries from the previous week on bullying and standing up for others.

  8. If desired, present background information on the Holocaust, using the background notes or similar information from a class text.

Session Two: Online Inquiry

  1. Divide students into small groups and ask each group to compile a list of things that they know and things that they want to find out about the Holocaust, using the K-W-L Chart.

  2. Then ask students to explore the Holocaust Websites and to use Internet search engines to pursue answers to their questions.

  3. Remind students to record their new learning in the last column of the K-W-L Chart.

  4. As students work, circulate through the classroom, answering questions and providing help.

Session Three: Focused Online Inquiry

  1. Answer any questions students have from the previous session.

  2. Direct students to the Online Holocaust Inquiry page and explain the options for each of the sites.

  3. Depending upon your class time, ask students to pursue their research on the Holocaust by completing one or more of the activities listed.

  4. Encourage students to explore additional options and activities as well. Welcome additional projects or customizing of the ideas to fit students' interests.

  5. Allow students the remainder of the class session to pursue their questions.

  6. As students work, circulate through the classroom, answering questions and providing help.

  7. With approximately five minutes remaining in the session, pass out the rubric and explain that students will present one of their projects to the class during the next session.

  8. Answer any questions about the oral presentations.

Session Four: Oral Presentations

  1. Allow students several minutes at the beginning of the session to prepare their presentations.

  2. Spend the remainder of the class session asking students to each present one of their projects to the class.

  3. Use the rubric to assess oral presentations.

  4. For homework, ask students to reflect on their research and the projects that have been presented in their journals or writer’s notebooks. Responses should focus on issues that sparked students’ interest and questions that still linger in their minds about the Holocaust.

Session Five: Focused Group Inquiry

  1. Begin the session by asking students to share the questions and interests they recorded in their homework writing.

  2. As students share ideas, record the ideas on the board or chart paper.

  3. After students have offered their reflections, explain that students will have a chance to work in small groups to investigate a Holocaust topic in more detail and that they will publish their findings in a focused newspaper or similar format.

  4. Read back over the list of topics and issues recorded during the session, and ask students if they have any additional topics that they want to add to the list (e.g., Jewish laws, propaganda, Hitler youth, Kristallnacht, Non-Jewish Holocaust victims, Ghettos, concentration camps, liberators, and the aftermath).

  5. Ask students to choose one of the available topics and arrange them into groups based on their choices.

  6. Pass out a piece of chart paper to each group, or ask students to work in their notebooks.

  7. On the chart paper or in their notebooks, each group of students should write their topic at the top.

  8. Ask groups to brainstorm questions to guide their research, listing the questions on their chart paper or in their notebooks.

  9. If students need an example to guide their brainstorming, share the following example, for the group exploring the role of the liberators in the Holocaust:

    • What resistance occurred inside the camps themselves? Outside the camps?

    • Who were some of the rescuers of Jewish people (individuals, groups, and countries)?

    • Who are the “righteous gentiles”? Who are same famous ones?

    • What was the affect on liberators?
  10. Assist any groups that have a difficult time devising questions.

  11. Once students have collected their initial research questions, share the additional resources that are available for their inquiry project, including items from the Text Resources for Groups list.

  12. Explain that students should create a bibliography of the sources that they explore as they work, providing instruction from the Purdue Online Writing Lab as necessary.

  13. Using both print and online sources, students can spend the remaining time researching their topic.

  14. Encourage students to find at least one visual and one primary source as they complete their research.

  15. If appropriate, take advantage of the opportunity for a minilesson on the difference between primary and secondary sources.

Session Six: Continued Group Inquiry

  1. Remind students of the resources that are available for their inquiry project and answer any questions that they have.

  2. Explain that students will be producing their focused newspaper during the next session, so they should use the current session to complete their research and begin planning their presentation of the information that they’ve found.

  3. Allow students the remainder of the class session to pursue their questions.

  4. As students work, circulate through the classroom, answering questions and providing help.

Sessions Seven and Eight: Publication

  1. Explain that during the next two sessions, groups will create a newspaper filled with articles focusing on their specific topic.

  2. Ask students to prepare a group newspaper and a complete bibliography of the resources that they used to gather information.

  3. Ask each group member to write at least one article about their topic.

  4. Pass out the Newspaper Rubric and explain the requirements of the final project.

  5. To help students with planning, suggest that they spend one session creating their drafts and the second session working on layout and publishing their work.

  6. Demonstrate the Printing Press, which students will use to publish their group newspaper.

  7. Explain that group members will work together on revision, edit, layout, and publishing their newspaper.

  8. Ask students to print a copy of their newspaper for everyone in the class.

  9. Allow for a sharing time for students to present and distribute copies of their newspapers.


  • Read Terrible Things: An Allegory for the Holocaust by Eve Bunting, or a similar book, to conclude the unit, discussing the book and making comparisons to other things they have seen and read throughout the unit. You can find additional texts on the Holocaust Book and Movie List.

  • Supplement the lesson plan with The Holocaust: Studying Lessons of the Past, a ReadWriteThink lesson plan further using the book Terrible Things.

  • Have your students read or listen to additional stories from Holocaust survivors .

  • Ask students to turn their attention to a social action project, which extends the lessons:

    1. Visit the Jewish Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive and select one or more movies to play for the class.

    2. Maintain silence in the room.

    3. When the movie ends, write the words “What now?” on the board as a prompt.

    4. Ask the students to reflect on the question, “Now that I know what I know about the Holocaust, what now?” in their journals or notebooks.

    5. Once students have had adequate time to gather their ideas, ask students to share their reflections with the class.

    6. Based on the suggestions that students have made, choose one or more projects that students can complete to extend the project and their exploration of the Holocaust further. If desired, students can visit Tolerance.org for more information about fighting bigotry and intolerance on many topics.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Evaluate students’ participation during group discussions to assess the development of critical thinking skills, during discussion, group projects, research, and writing.

  • Evaluate the oral delivery of group presentations, using the rubric.

  • Evaluate group newspapers using the Newspaper Rubric.