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Monday Mapping: The Most Important Lesson

I've taught in a few schools over my academic career, and now most of my students have grown up and moved on into adulthood.  Still, when I run into my former students, one conversation always takes place - the most important lesson they learned in my class.

The most important lessons I teach in my Social Studies classroom are about humanity and our role in the world to protect one another. Read my suggestions for bringing that lesson home in your middle or high school classroom.
This Holocaust Interactive Timeline available in my TpT Store.
During each spring semester, usually during March, my school would move into testing mode.  With the state mandated testing starting the first of April, we were required to prep, prep, and do more prep.  For most teachers, this turned into an all out, stop what you're teaching, and review to the test activity, but in my classes, I turned to what I considered more important than anything else: My Holocaust Unit.

Over the following month, students would be introduced to the victims, the perpetrators, the heroes, and most importantly, the bystanders of the German genocide and others.  We also completed an in-depth study of ourselves, taking a good look at who were were as individuals, and considering what role we may have played in Nazi Germany during the 1930s.

Most Important Topics to Cover
  • Teach the background. Understanding how the Holocaust came about (over centuries) helps students to see how it could happen again if we are not pro-active.
  • Examine the perpetrators. Seeing the reality that these were average people living average lives can show students the impact of time and place. And also peer pressure. 
  • Discuss the victims. The victims are due remembrance. When we stop talking about them and forget, it can easily happen all over again.
  • Introduce the heroes. Teach our students how to stand up. Be realistic about the sacrifices, but be firm that humanity needs these types of people to stand up!
Through a series of thought-provoking activities, well selected movies, and reflective and collaborative lessons, I walked my students through the timeline of events from pre-war Germany to the end of the Nuremberg Trials, followed by a modern-day examination of hate groups and current genocides around the world.

Movies and Video I Recommend on the Holocaust
  • Schindler's List is always at the top of my list. It does a fabulous job tracing the history and the stages of progression during the Holocaust in Germany.
  • Nuremberg (TNT Television Version) is always my second choice for a thorough and thought-provoking examination of the events and the perpetrators and their mindset.
  • Camp Liberation Video is available online or through the USHMM. Showing this actual footage of the camps recorded by the US military really shows the depth of the situation.
Movies NOT to Show on the Holocaust
Do not show any fictional accounts (not based on a true story) on the Holocaust to your students. Considering there are so many choices for strong, well-developed movies and film on the Holocaust, showing untruths about the events can mislead students and cause confusion. Do not muddy the waters or leave room for any mistrust or doubt in your students' minds.

While students are in tears in their other classes for obvious reasons, a whole variety of emotions are experienced in my class through the month.  Students not only learned about the horrific event in history, they also learned about themselves and the world they live in, even in modern times.

While I am no longer in my classroom, I am hoping that these lessons will continue in other classrooms across the country and around our world.  After all, we learn history in an effort to avoid the mistakes of the past, and hopefully to learn how to make ourselves better for the future.

The most important lessons I teach in my Social Studies classroom are about humanity and our role in the world to protect one another. Read my suggestions for bringing that lesson home in your middle or high school classroom.


Happy Teaching!