Teaching from a Student's Perspective

By Jen Barrese and Tami Thompson
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York

In eighth grade at Cold Spring Harbor, students spend a portion of the year learning about the Holocaust. In social studies class they learn about it from an historical point of view, and in English they read personal accounts of Holocaust survivors. For the first time, peer education was used to enforce these lessons. Prior to the eighth graders reading of The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender, we spent two days discussing with them the Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Firl and Zlata's Diary. Below is the lesson plan that we initiated during this time period:

  1. Provide background information on Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and Zlata's Diary.
  2. Help students relate to the experiences and events surrounding Anne Frank and Zlata.
  3. Involve students in discussions about specific diary entries.
  4. Have the eighth grade students complete a project that relates to what they have learned or how they feel about the two diaries. (See methods.)


Pre-lesson (two days ahead): Hand out a packet providing background information on the Holocaust, reinforcing what students have already learned in social studies class.

Day 1:
  1. Introduce ourselves and explain about the Holocaust/Genocide Project computer telecommunications project.
  2. Ask if any of the students have read either diary, and find out what they thought about either.
  3. Briefly summarize the life of Anne Frank and the time she spent in hiding.
  4. Read outloud some key passages from Anne Frank's diary.
  5. Pick eight people randomly from the class and hand them an orange to divide among themselves to help them relate to how the eight people in Anne's annex dealt with lack of food.
  6. Discuss how Anne must have felt when she was given an orange compared to how they felt when they were given an orange.
  7. Briefly summarize the situation in Bosnia and the life of Zlata.
  8. Read outloud some key passages from Zlata's diary.
  9. Give out the following choices for a project, and let the students choose what they would like to do.

  1. Write a poem in reaction or response to what you have read or learned about.
  2. Write a letter to Zlata from Anne, or to Anne from Zlata.
  3. Write a letter from yourself to either Anne or Zlata.
  4. Choose one of the following quotes of either Anne or Zlata and write how you feel about it or what it means to you.

Anne Frank -- July 15, 1944: "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."

Anne Frank -- July 8, 1942: "Memories mean more to me than dresses."

Zlata Filipovic: "I don't believe in God, but I believe in destiny. I think everything is written somewhere. Destiny finds you."

Day 2:
  1. Have students sit in a circle so that they may feel more comfortable. Join them in the circle.
  2. Have students volunteer to read out loud what they wrote for homework.
  3. Involve the class in a discussion about what everyone wrote, and share your own opinion.
  4. Have students pass in their homework.
  5. Tell students to take out a piece of paper and write on it what they learned during this lesson, what they liked about it, what they didn't like, and what could be improved.
  6. Collect these sheets, and thank the students.


This lesson proved to be a great success. The students loved it. We all learned a lot. On the first day, after briefly explaining what had happened during the Holocaust, one boy raised his hand and said, "But this could never happen here, in the United States, and it could never happen now during the 20th century." We were happy to find that after our two day lesson the boy wrote to us saying, "I learned a lot in these two days. Most importantly, I learned that this sort of thing can happen nowadays, and that it does happen. But I learned that through education we can prevent it from happening. Thank you for teaching us." As long as one person admitted this, we knew the whole class felt it, and we were proud that we had actually accomplished what we set out to do.

We were very impressed with the projects the students completed. Several eighth graders chose to write poems.

Anne and Zlata

Their lives resembled a flower
which came up without any cower.
Their plan was to bloom with such
a great power,
but this plan was ruined. For
when a storm arose, these flowers
were torn from their place
and left without much space.

Paul Vermylen


As the dark of your cellar burns you in isolation.
Your mind a house of memories.
The gun shots beyond your walls and dying screams
Does this remind you of better days?
A child falls, and on blood streaked walkways,
the soldiers move on.

Massimo Pennisi


A barrier to a soul once-free
Dark-clouded future
A poison pervading a mind
No food
A slaughter, each second a minute, each minute an hour
No dreams
A mute on a resonant life
No hopes
A fire; extinguished
No family
A loving circle; torn
No love, no care, no smiles, no help
A victim.

Hana Mizuno

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