Life is Beautiful: Teaching the Holocaust through Film with Complementary Texts
- Preview |
- Standards |
- Resources & Preparation |
- Instructional Plan |
- Related Resources |
After students have read a book about the Holocaust, such as The Diary of Anne Frank or Night by Elie Wiesel, students will view Life is Beautiful and complete discussion questions that challenge their ability to analyze literature using film. When the film is complete, students will write a letter to the director conveying their opinion of the film.
From Theory to Practice
In Reading in the Dark: Using Film as a Tool in the English Classroom, John Golden writes, "[W]e know, or strongly suspect, that the skills [students] use to decode the visual image are the same skills they use for a written text, and our goal, therefore, is to use that immediate interest in and uncanny ability with film and make it work for us" (xiii). In this lesson, an entire film is used to support a complimentary text that has the same themes.
Using a high-interest and entertaining film, it will allow the students to engage in the post reading activity and further support the skills that they would use if using only the print text. There are many benefits to teaching an entire film with corresponding texts. The film can introduce students to film technique, narrative structure, and allow them to examine a variety of genres. Furthermore, young adults tend to be visually oriented in these contemporary times. Teaching an entire film to a class has sometimes been looked down upon as a waste of time or inefficient. However, if done correctly, teaching an entire film can offer students an opportunity to learn about prediction, characterization, themes and setting.
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.
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).
- 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.
- 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
- 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).
This organization’s website features resources for teachers that focus on strengthening students’ ability to interact with 21st century media.
The Museum website has many resources for teachers striving to help students learn the history of the Holocaust and reflect upon the moral and ethical questions raised by that history.
This website offers a comprehensive list of Holocaust resources.
This website has information on the time period, events, characters, and context of the film.
- Have the students read a book about the Holocaust, such as The Diary of Anne Frank or Night. See the Suggested Holocaust Literature.
- Students may need a little background on World War II and the concentration camps if they have no prior knowledge. It would also be important to discuss Italy’s role in the war. The students could visit the following websites and complete the World War Two Background Questions (see the answers here). To make access easier for students, bookmark these websites on the appropriate computers.
- If your students struggle with reading subtitles, practice the skill before viewing the movie. Choose any scene from a foreign film (perhaps a high-interest martial arts film that the students would enjoy like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), play a few minutes of it, and ask the students only to look at the pictures and listen to the sounds. Rewind the scene, play it again, and ask them to concentrate only on the words that are written below the images. Play the scene one final time as they watch for all the elements of the film.
- Make the appropriate amount of copies of the Life is Beautiful Discussion Questions, Exit Slips, and Letter to the Director Rubric.
- Send home a Movie Permission Slip or the forms required by your local school to families announcing details about the movie before showing it in class.
- Make appropriate arrangements to have computer access for all students when they begin the closing activity and appropriate equipment to view the film. Be sure to test out the Letter Generator and websites before you begin the lesson.
- analyze the film in terms of historical connections and setting.
- make connections between the film and a print source.
- form and deliver their opinion about the techniques the film use in portraying the Holocaust.
- make predictions about film events before and during viewing.
- respond to questions and discussion with relevant and focused comments.
- retell information from a film.
- Before viewing the film; be sure to review your behavior expectations while watching the film.
- Provide the students with an oral overview or summary of the film. The time period, events, characters, and context. For more information about these topics visit the Internet Movie Database website.
- Hand out and explain the Life is Beautiful Discussion Questions.
- Begin showing the film from the beginning to 0:35:32.
- Once the film portion is complete allow the class the remainder of the class period to work on the discussion questions. Have the students work individually or in groups.
- As students are working, move around the room answering questions.
- Before students exit the class, have them fill out an Exit Slip and turn them in. Have the students answer “Predict what we will learn next in this unit and why.”
- Choose 4 to 6 Exit Slips from Session One to discuss with the class. Try to choose a variety of responses. If desired, have the class vote on which prediction seems most probable.
- Continue watching the film from 0:35:32 to 1:00:54, which is about 25 minutes.
- Once today’s film portion is complete allow the class the remainder of the class period to work on the discussion questions. Have the students work individually or in groups writing their answers in a notebook.
- As students are working, circulate around the room answering questions.
- To begin Session Three facilitate a discussion based on questions 1 through 7 of the Life is Beautiful Discussion Questions. Allow the students to make corrections to their answers and add additional notes.
- Before continuing on with the film, ask the students if they need any clarification with the characters, plot, or setting.
- During the third session show the film from 1:00:54 to 1:26:40, about 26 minutes.
- When the film is completed have the class answer questions 8 through 10 from the Life is Beautiful Discussion Questions as a group. As the students are answering the questions display their responses for the entire class to see. Have the class come to a consensus on the best answers and write them in their notebooks.
- Continue watching the film from 1:26:40 to the end, about 27 minutes.
- Once this session’s film portion is complete allow the class the remainder of the class period to work on the discussion questions. Have the students work individually or in groups.
- As students are working, walk around the room answering questions.
- Before students exit the class, have them fill out an Exit Slip and turn them in. Have the students answer the prompt “I would like to learn about...”.
- Begin the final session by talking with the students about their reactions, thoughts, and feelings about the film. Some suggested questions are listed below:
- What did you think about the film?
- Which character did you like the most? Why?
- What did you not like about the film?
- Was the mood of the film appropriate for the topic?
- Use one word to describe the film.
- Based on the Holocaust literature we have read (The Diary of Anne Frank, Night or from the Suggested Holocaust Literature), what connections can be made between the film and our reading? What events, scenes, or situations are similar or different?
- Based on the Holocaust literature we have read, what is similar or different about the mood or tone of the pieces?
- Facilitate a class discussion using the Life is Beautiful Discussion Questions.
- Using the Letter Generator, explain to students that they will be writing a letter to the director of the film. In this letter the students should discuss how this film trivializes the atrocities of the Holocaust, or they can write a letter defending its sometimes humorous portrayal.
- Distribute and explain the Letter to the Director Rubric and allow time for students' questions.
- Allow time for students to work on their letters using the interactive. Once finished have the students share their letters to the class or post them on a bulletin board or display area.
- Choose a scene from this film and a similar scene from Schindler’s List or another Holocaust film. What is similar and different between them? Why is this? What is different about the purposes of the two films? Other popular Holocaust films include The Pianist, Fateless, Playing for Time, The Greyzone, and The Counterfeiters.
- Write a letter from an adult Joshua’s point of view to his late father thanking him for what he did.
- Have a discussion with the students about how this film fits into the fable genre. What are the magical moments, and what are the realistic moments? What lesson or moral does it teach us?
- Have the students create a movie poster for a sequel or prequel to the film.
- Write short diary entries from the perspective of the father, mother, or son.
- Write an acceptance speech from the perspective of Roberto Benigni (the writer, director and star of the film) after winning the Oscar for best actor in a leading role.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Look for details that indicate comprehension of the film in students’ written response (Film Questions) as well as in classroom discussion (Session Five). Additionally, look for evidence of connections being made between the film and the original reading (Session Five)
- Use the Letter to the Director Rubric to assess students’ ability to form and support their opinions about the film.
- Check students' Exit Slips following Sessions One and Four for comprehension of the film.