Teaching the Holocaust and Armenian Genocide: For California Educators | Facing History & Ourselves
Teacher and Students

Teaching the Holocaust and Armenian Genocide: For California Educators

Designed for California 10th grade world history courses, this unit guides students through a study of the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide that focuses on choices and human behavior.


At a Glance

unit copy


English — US


  • History




Multiple weeks
  • Genocide
  • The Holocaust
  • Human & Civil Rights


About This Unit

This unit draws upon and adapts materials from the resource books Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization: The Genocide of the Armenians and Holocaust and Human Behavior, and it follows the Facing History 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 explore how such dynamics contributed to the rise of Turkish nationalism and the Armenian Genocide. Students then dive deep into a historical case study of the Weimar Republic and the Nazi Party’s rise to power in Germany.

Then, they bear witness to the human suffering of the Holocaust and examine the range of responses from individuals and nations to the genocidal mass murder perpetrated by the Nazi regime. In the unit’s later lessons, students draw connections between this history and the present day, weighing such questions as 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.

The following essential question provides a framework for exploring this unit’s main ideas and themes:

How can learning about the choices people made during past episodes of injustice, mass violence, or genocide help guide 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.

Students will:

  1. Recognize the human tendency to create “in” groups and “out” groups and the consequences of that behavior for a society’s universe of obligation.
  2. Understand the particular historical context for the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust.
  3. Wrestle with the choices that individuals, groups, and nations made in response to the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, as well as the aspects of human behavior that contributed to those choices.
  4. 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 citizens of the world to make choices that help bring about a more human, just, and compassionate world.

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 inquiry at the lesson level and are aligned with its specific learning objectives. Answering guiding questions requires deep thinking and textual interpretation. 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.

This unit supports a multi-week exploration of Teaching the Holocaust and Armenian Genocide: For California Educators. It includes:

  • 25 lessons
  • Videos, readings, and handouts that correspond with activities
  • Student materials in English and Spanish 
  • A unit assessment in 7 steps


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 Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust and therefore teach this history with the goal of fostering empathy. However, like any examination of difficult histories, this unit includes historical descriptions and firsthand accounts that some students may find emotionally challenging. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of previewing the readings and videos in this curriculum to make sure they are appropriate for the intellectual and emotional needs of your students.

It is difficult to predict how students will respond to primary and secondary source 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 firsthand 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 traumatize some students, desensitize others, or trivialize the history.

We urge 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. When teaching emotionally challenging content, it is crucial for educators to allow a variety of responses, or none at all, from students to authentically support their emotional growth and academic development.

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 & Ourselves 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. You may have already established rules and guidelines with your students to help bring about these characteristics in your classroom. If not, it is essential at the beginning of this unit to facilitate a supportive, reflective classroom community. Two ways in which you can create a strong foundation for a reflective classroom are through the use of classroom contracts and student journals. Even if you already incorporate both of these elements into your classroom, we recommend taking a moment to review them.

This unit includes an assessment that asks students to write an argumentative essay in response to the following prompt:

Over the course of this unit, you will examine the atrocities committed by the Ottoman government during the Armenian Genocide, the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany following World War I, and the pursuit of racial purity in Nazi Germany that resulted in the murder of six million Jewish individuals and millions of other civilians during the Holocaust. You will also look closely at the choices made by individuals, groups, and nations that led to these events. For the culminating unit assessment, you will construct a written argument that you support with examples from these historical cases in response to the following question:

How can learning about the choices people made during past episodes of injustice, mass violence, or genocide help guide our choices today?

Note that the objective of the essay is not to ask students to cover all of the historical topics listed above in one essay. The list is designed to spark students’ thinking and provide a range of topics that students can choose based on their interests and readiness level. Some sophisticated writers, for instance, may choose to compare and contrast different moments in the past within single paragraphs, while others might group evidence chronologically. An English Language Learner or student with an individualized education plan might use only one historical event on which to base his or her argument. We recommend that you modify the prompt according to the particular needs of your students.

Six activities are interspersed throughout the unit to introduce students to the assessment and guide them as they gather evidence and develop their ideas, develop their theses, and begin to write their essays. The activities can be skipped if you opt not to use the unit assessment.

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 journals or notebooks, and you could also challenge them to incorporate the terms into their writing and discussions to help them internalize and understand these challenging terms and concepts.

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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