Night, Elie Wiesel’s account of his experience in a Nazi concentration camp, is quite possibly the most shocking, emotionally affecting, and memorable book read in school. After a self-imposed decade of silence on the topic, he wrote this book to educate and warn others. From Night’s Preface: “He tells the story, out of infinite pain, partly to honor the dead, but also to warn the living—to warn the living that it could happen again and that it must never happen again. Better that one heart be broken in the retelling, he has decided, if it means that a thousand other hearts need not be broken at all.”
This unit is complete from start to finish, with an emphasis on learning the history and culture of the time period, also focusing on critical thinking and analysis. Students teach each other, learning about several historical figures and events, presenting their findings in groups. Asked to bring in a photo of the Holocaust, the class creates a photo essay together, which can be displayed for the length of the unit. A propaganda lesson defines eight types of propaganda techniques, using magazines for students to find and identify them. Both a modern song and a 1942 poem offer new perspectives. An excerpt from Vicktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” and Maslow’s hierarchy are introduced. The award-winning Holocaust film Life is Beautiful (an Italian movie with subtitles) is a light and humorous film featuring a love story and a protective father who manages to shield his son from the grim reality of their concentration camp.
Track students’ understanding of the text with either the reading guide (answering questions) or quote work (interpreting significant quotes). A glossary defines the many religious and cultural terms many students might not recognize. There is one vocabulary unit, where students guess the definition upon seeing it used in context, define, and use correctly. Two differentiated tests offer three options: a matching test, matching test with sentences, and a fill-in test with sentences. Students are assigned a word (they circle it on their paper) to illustrate for a vocabulary poster. Duplicates are voted on by the class, and those can be displayed during the test.
Writing assignments are included in almost every activity. Journal prompts offer connections from students’ personal lives to both themes discussed in the book and current events. Four essay topic options are offered, and a scaffold is included. Peer editing allows them to help each other and hone their writing skills.
This unit encompasses many Common Core standards, but its lasting impression and accompanying life lessons are much more meaningful. Never has there been a time where teaching Night has been more relevant and crucial. Best of luck, you amazing shapers of young minds!