• Unit Lesson Plan

The Diary of Anne Frank in the Historical Context of the Holocaust

Unit Lesson Plan


The Anne Frank Wall project is the final student activity in a long unit dealing with Anne Frank's life and the Holocaust. The guiding question that introduces this overall unit is the question students must answer at the unit's end with a personal essay:

"How will learning about her life change the way you live yours?"

This is the poster I put up on the front whiteboard and leave up during the whole unit.

I explain that they will hand in a 5-paragraph essay** answering this question after we finish watching the 1996 Oscar-winning documentary Anne Frank Remembered which takes up where her diary leaves off.

**click here to read some student essay responses

World War II Speeches

I begin the study of Anne Frank by having students choose and research one of about 40 topics relating to WWII. They outline their subject, dress as the teacher (i.e., 'professionally'), and give a 5-10 minute presentation using a poster or visual aid they've made. The rest of the class takes notes, which they can use later for an open-notes exam on the subjects presented.

Examples of student posters

Choosing the speech topic

When I first discuss the WWII activity, I explain a little about each of the topic choices and the students mark their top five choices on the topic form. They may add a topic they would like to speak about if it's not on the form. Students have spoken about their grandparents' stories. Click here or on the picture below to read a copy of the childhood account of Helga Burchfield--a student's grandmother. She writes about growing up as a child in Kassel, Germany during the war. Others have chosen unique topics such as the Battle of Midway, the Volkswagen car, the Spanish Civil War, and the Norwegian resistance movement among others. I choose the topic for each student's speech from these forms.

Helga Burchfield's memoirs of growing up in Nazi Germany

Informing the parents

I then send home a parent letter with each student that explains the WWII speech activity, how students will be graded, what their topic is, and estimated date they'll give their speech.

Student research

Students spend about 8 days in our library using books and internet sources to research their topics. They must have at least three sources, two of which derive from printed material. Our library has about 25 computers with internet access and, when three classes (i.e., about 90 students) are present, we have very limited online access. This research time gives me the opportunity to work individually with students as they take notes which they shape into speech outlines on notecards. They must turn in a bibliography as well, so I hand out the MLA's excellent list of accepted bibliography formats for various sources.

During this time I bring in 'realia' (how I hate faddish edu-speak) such as the scrapbook my mother made during my father's time overseas (click here to read more about it and see pictures) and my father-in-law's photo album from his military experience. I also put up laminated pages from my dad's Yank magazine on the bulletin board so students get a sense of how the average soldier was informed about the war and the homefront. Students are encouraged to find 'realia' and bring it in to share as well.

from my mom's scrapbook

a bulletin board of my dad's Yanks magazines

my father-in-law in France

The speeches

We average about 5 speeches or less per day, so speeches take about 1 1/2 weeks. I put the posters up on the walls as the speeches are given so by the end, the students are 'surrounded' by WWII. I try to organize the posters in a roughly thematic way by putting Axis-related topics on one side of the room and Allies-related topics on the other side. I use a grading sheet (click here for an MS Word version, or here for a webpage version ) during the speeches so that I can judge the quality of the speech while it's fresh in my mind. I pass back these sheets to students after recording the grades in each category. While each speech is being given, all other students should take notes, since they can use these notes to help a test on the speeches which I give after all presentations have finished. I like to give students something interesting to talk about each night at the dinner table, so I also give an extra credit test that many enjoy giving to their parents at dinner. Click here (in Adobe Acrobat Reader's .pdf format) to view one year's extra credit test.

Note: After they've spoken, they hand in their notecards (the speech cannot be written out), their bibliography, and their visual aid.

Reading The Diary of Anne Frank

I pass out the diary at the very beginning of the unit and ask students to read it and finish it by the time they have finished watching the 1959 movie about her life. We use older versions (19 classes have used them before us, so they're in pretty poor condition) which do not have the newly discovered entries. To focus students on certain recurring themes and ideas found in her writing, I've used a worksheet that you can click here to view as a webpage or here to view as an Adobe Acrobat Reader (.pdf) file

Click here to read student comments from reading the diary.

The 1959 Film Version of The Diary of Anne Frank

After the WWII speeches have finished and students have been given an "open-note" test on the speeches, they then watch the 1959 film version of her diary. During this time, they also must read her diary for homework. After watching the film, we discuss differences between the film's portrayal of events and her diary's.

Reading the film: film's 'alternate vocabulary'

Before this, I teach them the 'alternate vocabulary' of film (e.g. inciting incident, establishing shot, character vs. characterization, plot turns, character arc). This helps them see the craft of film-making at a deeper level so that they can appreciate movies more fully since they are the main way we all consume stories today. Further, they can use this alternate vocabulary in high school when they write literary analysis papers. It helps differentiate their paper from others.

Much of the theory I discuss comes from Robert McKee's book Story. For example, they're taught his statement "How they choose is who they are" so they can see that character's choices drive the plot just as. in real life, our choices shape who we become.

They do not get much of a chance to watch passively. I pause the film from time to time to discuss salient points. For example, I ask them to think as they watch the film about why George Stevens chose a shot of seagulls flying as a backdrop for the opening credits. I tell them that I'll ask them what they think the seagulls represent or symbolize after the film is over. Then, I make them view the establishing shot of the film--the very first scene which establishes the world that we will enter. I've already taught the concept of tragedy (and the wonderful story of the word's origin, "goat song", in ancient Greek). Thus, we know in this first scene that we'll be watching a tragedy because we see the 'end' at the beginning. Because we realize that only Mr. Frank will survive, each successive scene of alternating harmony and conflict among the eight in hiding takes on added poignancy. The end of war in this scene becomes a scene of loss and not of triumph.

However, as McKee points out, each scene must have some kind of emotional shift--from positive to negative or vice-versa. Note that this scene ends positively with Mr. Frank's discovery of Anne's diary and her voiceover bridging to the scene of the Frank family's arrival at the annex.

To keep the pausing of the film to a minimum, I often write notes on the board during the film so that I can discuss these notes with them the next day before viewing that day's segment of the film. It's a good way to re-cap the film's direction and prepare them for that days' viewing.

Testing on the 1959 film version

After they have finished watching the film, I test them on basic facts and points we've discussed about the film. Again, this test is open-notes, so they are encouraged to take notes during the discussions.

The documentary film Anne Frank Remembered

Since the film ends with the capture of those in hiding, I use the excellent 1996 Oscar-winning documentary Anne Frank Remembered to help them learn about the rest of her life.

Again, during the film, I write notes on the board about certain facts that I want them to remember. For example, I want them to know that the eight in hiding left on the very last train that left for Auschwitz during the war. In other words, if they could have remained in hiding for three weeks longer, they would not have been sent there. They should remember that Peter Van Pelz died a few days before the camp his was in was liberated. I tell them that the first of the eight who died in the camps died because they couldn't adjust to the harsh reality of the camps. We then discuss who they think this could be. Invariably almost all students choose Hermann Van Pelz. This gives the tragedy of his death a deeper meaning when they learn just how soon he died after arrival at Auschwitz.

After seeing this film, I test them on critical facts from the movie that we have discussed in class.

The Anne Frank Wall project (Overview)

  • Click here for the detailed lesson plan on the Anne Frank Wall

I found it was necessary to teach what happened to the eight who went into hiding after Anne Frank's diary ends. Yet, I found that the weight of this tragedy lingered after we discussed each person's fate. I think this feeling, this weight, sparked me to come up with the idea for the Anne Frank Wall. I found myself talking in an abstract way about how the writing of someone their age lived on because writing is portable in time and space. I grappled with a way to SHOW this instead of just talking about it. That's where I think the idea for the wall came from.

I assign the Anne Frank Wall project and collect the personal essay each student writes answering the question:

"How will learning about her life change the way you live yours?"

This project has two main activities:

  • donating photos to add to the project wall
  • publicizing the project to others throughout the world

Since vacation times are the best times for students to get photos, they can hand in photos any time before the end of the year. Students sign up for the publicity activity they wish to collaborate with others on in groups of 3-5. I tried this activity for the first time this year, since we just got the internet site http://annefrankwall.org running in November, 2003. I gave them about two weeks to complete these group activities on their own. They met in their groups twice each week for about 20 minutes to plan and discuss progress. Each group had to fill out a "Project status report" modeled after reports I filled out during my 20 years in industry. The reports had four column headings: Name, Activity, Status, and Date to Complete.

Please click here to read the detailed lesson plan.

Holocaust survivor Michael Novice show students his tattooed concentration camp number

Local Holocaust survivors share their stories

After, we've started the Anne Frank Wall project, local Holocaust survivors come to the classroom to tell their stories. I arrange their visits each year through the wonderful local Jewish Family Services and NCCJ organizations. Please click on the "Holocuast "Survivors" button above or click here to read in more detail about past local speakers.

Our newspaper, the Bronco Beat, wrote an article on the survivors' presentations from the previous year (April 3, 2003). Click here to see the article on the front page. To read the text version, click here for the MS Word format or here to read the text version as a webpage.

We've been working to put this past year's videotaped presentations on this website. We hope to overcome analog-to-digital conversion issues and costs so that they can be viewed on this website soon.

At yearend, when I ask students to write an evaluation of their year, many students comment that this sharing is the most memorable and moving moment of their 8th grade year. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable the gift of this experience is. I struggle each year to articulate this to the survivors who are asked to re-visit and re-live moments of terrible suffering. I want them to really know that the 40-45 minutes they share with us changes people's lives.

Jim DeLong

8th Grade Language Arts
Bret Harte Middle School
7050 Bret Harte Drive
San Jose, CA 95120


Created by James DeLong and Jon Erickson


Copyright @ annefrankwall.org 2004