Grade Level: K through 4
Holocaust Education in the K-4 Classroom
According to Piaget (1969), young children should be expected to have difficulty with time-related concepts. It is widely believed though, that concepts about time and a sense of the passage of time are critical to the young child's understanding of history. Closely related are the concepts of continuity and change, which are especially important in the study of history. These concepts do have a legitimate place in the early childhood classroom. Children in primary grades can develop conceptual understanding and learning processes about time that are important for future acquisition of history concepts.
Recent research on elementary students' historical knowledge and understanding points toward more appropriate ways of teaching the subject to children. This research identifies several consistent patterns in the way students think about history, as well as the areas they know the most (and the least) about (SE, January 1997). Teachers should use the results of this research to construct cognitively sound history instruction--instruction that builds on what students already know and addresses the gaps and misunderstandings in their knowledge. Students learn a great deal about history outside of school. This knowledge comes from experiences outside of school with historic buildings and sites, artifacts, stories told by relatives, and images presented in the media. Sharing objects, such as family heirlooms or an object from each year of the child's life, can be important. By beginning with student's experiences they have meaning and significance.
For history learning to occur, young children need ample opportunities to develop concepts related to time, the passage of time, and continuity and change. Classrooms that are rich in involving children in thinking, speaking, listening, and writing about these important concepts help to create the sense of time needed. These experiences provide excellent opportunities for involving children in a variety of integrated learning experiences and constructing knowledge about complex and abstract concepts.
Just what is history? What does it mean to study and learn it? In the broadest sense, history is everything that has happened. History is the story of humankind and the traces people left as a result of their existence. Teachers must always provide the experiences, referents, and analogies which allow students to connect their present learning with previous learning and experience. This bridge building is important to all learning, but of crucial importance in teaching history to the young child.
- KWL chart--columns that list what students Knew, Wanted to Know and Learned. This allows for understanding of concepts and misconceptions.
- Build on sources of historical knowledge. Students learn about history from people, visual images and tangible objects not found in textbooks.
- Use of photographs, old objects, visiting places in the community build a sense of history. In the intermediate grades use of trade books and other written sources of information that include large numbers or pictures or a first-hand account. By drawing on familiar kinds of sources, the classroom becomes an extension to history learning.
- Include timelines that students develop that show images of people from different geographical areas, or different economic situations, and compare periods of history to current situations.
- Reading historical narratives teach students to regard stories about the past critically. Elementary students have very little understanding of the way historians use evidence in order to create historical accounts.
- Use of open-ended questioning with fiction, non-fiction and narratives. Some examples of open-ended questions that work particularly well are:
- What else do you learn about a particular main character?
- How does the character feel about___?
- What is (a particular character) concerned about?
- Describe the relationship between___.
- What has the author done to build suspense in this chapter?
- What do you predict will happen in the next chapter?
- What does the author do to make you want to continue reading?
- What do you think the author is trying to tell us about___?
- What do you think the focus of the next chapter will be?
- What do you think it means when___.?
- What would happen if___?
- Did we find the answer to our questions?
- What questions do we still need to find out about?
- What else did you learn that you did not know?
- What was the most surprising or interesting thing you learned?
- What have you learned by reading this that you did not know before?
- Vocabulary prompts: Choose three words (or another small number) that you would like to know the meaning of. For each word, write the line number and page number it is found on, how it is used (partial or complete quote) and what you think the word means. As you are reading, note the way the author uses descriptive words and phrases. Choose some that appeal to you (with page numbers) that you might choose to use in your own writing. What are some of the words the author uses that give insight into a character's personality? What particular words that the author used gave you a vivid picture of the setting?
- Writing Prompts--some suggested prompts include:
- As you are in the process of reading, write down some thoughts that are going through your head.
- Were you reminded of something in your own life as you were reading? Tell about it.
- What were you thinking or wondering about as you read this chapter?
- What was your overall reaction to what you just read?
- What questions came to your mind as you were reading?
It is strongly recommended that the term Holocaust is not introduced prior to fifth grade. Between fifth and eighth grades, it is recommended that the students study about the events and history that lead up to the final solution. Leave the camps and final solution for high school. There is so much to explore and learn prior to teaching about attrocities. Anne Frank is best utilized and understood in eighth grade.
Learning about the Holocaust is often a powerful experience for young people. They need opportunities to reflect upon what they are learning and to express their feelings. They also need opportunities to clarify misconceptions and to seek additional information. The following suggestions can be used according to their appropriateness for the various age groups.
- Do not forget to begin with the end in mind.
- Do not glorify the perpetrator, but focus on the resourcefulness, creativity, and humanness of mankind during the worst of times.
- Provide a sense of hope to all students.
A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.