Teaching Holocaust and Human Behaviour (UK) | Facing History & Ourselves
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Cropped cover of Teaching Holocaust and Human Behavior Unit Outline for Teachers.

Teaching Holocaust and Human Behaviour (UK)

Lead your students through a detailed and challenging study of the Holocaust that asks what this history can teach us about the power and impact of choices.




Three or more 50-min class periods


English — UK


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.


About This Unit

Designed for UK classrooms, this unit consists of fifteen lessons and leads students through an examination of the catastrophic period in the twentieth century when Nazi Germany murdered 6 million Jews and millions of other civilians during the Second World War.

It draws upon and adapts resources from the book Holocaust and Human Behaviour and its related media collection, and it follows the Facing History & Ourselves scope and sequence. Students begin with an examination of the relationship between the individual and society, reflect on the way humans divide themselves into ‘in’ groups and ‘out’ groups, and consider both the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Party’s rise to power in Germany. Students then bear witness to the human suffering of the Holocaust and examine the range of responses from individuals and nations to the genocidal mass murder of the Nazi regime. In the later lessons, students draw connections between this history and the present day, weighing questions like how to achieve justice and reconciliation in the aftermath of atrocities, how painful histories should be remembered, and how this history educates us about our responsibilities in the world today.

What does learning about the choices people made during the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the Holocaust teach us about the power and impact of our choices today?

Students will:

  • Recognise the human tendency to create ‘in’ groups and ‘out’ groups, and the consequences of that behaviour for a society’s universe of obligation.
  • Understand the particular historical context in which the Nazi Party established a dictatorship in Germany, marginalised Jews and other minority groups within German society, and ultimately committed genocide under the cover of war.
  • Wrestle with the choices that individuals, groups, and nations made in response to the Nazi dictatorship and the violence and terror it caused, as well as the aspects of human behaviour that contributed to those choices.
  • Make connections between universal themes related to democracy, citizenship, racism, and antisemitism that this history raises and the world they live in today.
  • Understand their responsibilities as active young citizens to make choices that help bring about a more just and compassionate world.

Understanding Our Approach

At Facing History & Ourselves, we give students the tools to become active, thoughtful, and responsible citizens, who engage critically with the world around them. We do so by providing students with opportunities to engage with the complexities of identity, to explore how difference can influence our treatment of others, and to reflect on the impact and consequences of our choices and actions, alongside core curriculum content. This learning, which encourages students to understand their interconnectedness with others and their individual agency, is supported through a range of activities and teaching strategies that develop students’ critical reading and thinking, negotiation, collaboration, and active listening skills. These strategies work to promote democracy in the classroom, creating a safe space where difficult conversations can be had and where students can learn to disagree constructively. Students are thus provided with the tools to participate in their communities, so that they can bring about the changes they would like to see and help create a kind and compassionate society.

Using This Unit to Help Us Understand Ourselves and Our World

Teaching Holocaust and Human Behaviour leads students through a unit of study that examines the catastrophic period in the twentieth century when Nazi Germany murdered 6 million Jews and millions of other civilians, in the midst of the most destructive war in human history. Following our unique methodology, students take a parallel journey through an exploration of the universal themes inherent in a study of the Holocaust that raise profound questions about human behaviour. 

Throughout the unit, students will pay special attention to the choices of individuals who experienced this history as victims, witnesses, collaborators, rescuers, and perpetrators. This approach to teaching about the Holocaust helps students make connections between history and the consequences of our actions and beliefs today – between history and how we as individuals make distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil. As students examine the steps that led to the Holocaust, they discover that history is not inevitable; it is the result of our individual and collective decisions. 

This unit is designed to be used in Year 9 of Key Stage 3. We have indicated in places where activities can be scaffolded to address different literacy levels and we trust that teachers will continue to adapt activities and resources to best meet the needs of their students.

This unit supports a three or more weeks' exploration of Teaching Holocaust and Human Behaviour (UK). It includes:

  • 15 lessons
  • 15 PowerPoints
  • Videos, readings, images, and handouts that correspond with activities
  • Student materials 

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and needs.

Many teachers want their students to achieve emotional engagement with the history of the Holocaust and therefore teach this history with the goal of fostering empathy. However, teaching Holocaust and Human Behaviour, as with any examination of the Holocaust, includes historical descriptions and primary source materials that some students may find emotionally challenging. We cannot emphasise enough the importance of previewing the readings and videos in this unit to make sure you consider them appropriate for the intellectual and emotional needs of your students. 

It is difficult to predict how students will respond to such challenging readings, documents, and films. One student may respond with emotion to a particular reading, while others may not find it powerful in the same way. In addition, different people demonstrate emotion in different ways. Some students will be silent. Some may laugh. Some may not want to talk. Some may take days to process difficult stories. For some, a particular first-hand account may be incomprehensible; for others, it may be familiar. 

Our experience tells us that it is often problematic to use graphic images and films or to attempt to use simulations to help students understand aspects of this history. Such resources and activities can traumatise some students, desensitise others, or trivialise the history. 

We encourage teachers to create space for students to have a range of reactions and emotions. This might include time for silent reflection or writing in journals, as well as structured discussions to help students process content together. Some students will not want to share their reactions to emotionally challenging content in class, and teachers should respect that in class discussions. For their learning and emotional growth, it is crucial to allow for a variety of responses, or none at all, from students to emotionally challenging content. 

Activities and resources that we believe may be especially challenging for younger students can be found in the Extensions section. We expect teachers to incorporate such activities into their instruction as appropriate.

We believe that a classroom in which a Facing History unit is taught ought to be a microcosm of democracy – a place where explicit rules and implicit norms protect everyone’s right to speak; where different perspectives can be heard and valued; where members take responsibility for themselves, each other, and the group as a whole; and where each member has a stake and a voice in collective decisions. We recommend that teachers create a strong foundation for a reflective classroom through the use of the following strategies:

  1. Contracting
  2. Student Journals

Even if you have already established rules and guidelines with your students to help bring about these characteristics in your classroom, we recommend taking a moment to read the teaching strategies and consider how you might frame your classroom contracts and student journals within the context of this scheme of work, weaving them into your daily practice so they become part of the culture of the classroom. The first lesson in this unit includes the creation of a classroom contract to enable you to build a classroom community.

We understand that teachers may use these lessons in a variety of classroom settings and ways. If circumstances allow, we recommend that you teach these lessons in the order we are presenting them, adapting them as necessary to fit the needs of your schools and communities. Also, while the scheme of work is divided into fifty-minute lessons, some teachers may omit certain activities because of available time, or elect to include extension activities (located at the end of most lessons) to explore topics in greater depth. Whenever lessons are modified, it is important that students still have time and space to process the material, both individually and with their peers, especially at the end of the lesson so they can reflect on what they have read, seen, heard, and discussed in a safe and nurturing space.

The following essential question provides a framework for exploring this unit’s main ideas and themes: What does learning about the choices people made during the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the Holocaust teach us about the power and impact of our choices today?

This essential question challenges students to make important connections between history and the power of the choices and decisions they make today. We do not expect students to determine a single, ‘correct’ answer. Essential questions are rich and open-ended; they are designed to be revisited over time, and as students explore the content in greater depth, they may find themselves emerging with new ideas, understanding, and questions. 

Each lesson includes one or more guiding questions. Unlike the unit’s essential question, which is broad and open-ended, guiding questions help to direct student enquiry at the lesson level and are aligned with its specific measurable learning objectives. Unlike essential questions, guiding questions might have a clear answer, which students should be able to support with specific evidence from the lesson to demonstrate their understanding of the content.

There is a corresponding PowerPoint for each lesson that includes student-facing slides and activity instructions in the notes section for the teacher. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales, context, and detailed activity instructions that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

In addition to the activities, many lesson plans in this unit also contain suggestions for homework assignments that are designed to build on classroom learning. These are not compulsory. Rather, they are ideas that teachers can use if they fit with the homework approach of your school. They could also be modified as additional in-class activities.

The readings and videos in this unit introduce some vocabulary and concepts that may pose a challenge for your students, especially for struggling readers, so you may want to consider using the Word Wall strategy to keep a running list of critical vocabulary posted in your classroom that you and your students can refer to over the course of the unit. Students might have a corresponding list in a section of their exercise books, and you could also challenge them to incorporate Word Wall terms into their writing and discussions to help them internalise and understand these challenging terms and concepts. Some lessons contain ideas for the Word Wall in the teacher notes. You might also encourage students to add their own vocabulary and concept terms as they encounter them.

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Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

The resources I’m getting from my colleagues through Facing History have been just invaluable.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif