By Kim Gillespie
Column Editor: Ivonne Diaz
I made this [the PowerPoint below] for my JHS third grade students as an introduction to the Total English lesson about Anne Frank.In general, our students know little to nothing about the Holocaust, Hitler, and Jewish people. Knowing this, my JTE requested I give a presentation about “Jews”. I went with a brief history spanning from pre-WW2 to today.
(For the record, my JTE was expecting a poster. She never used a television in a class and she isn’t good with computers. However, she was really impressed by the PowerPoint and began requesting them on a regular basis, as did my other JTEs once word spread.)
I first presented this last year. Not only did it go terribly wrong, but it was, hands down, my worst day in Japan–and remains so today. Students laughed throughout the presentation, particularly at photographs of Holocaust survivors and a mention of gay people. In the short breaks between classes, I kept hastily updating the presentation, omitting information, adding warnings, and generally making it as serious as possible. I failed; despite two revisions, all three classes had the same reaction. It was heartbreaking and infuriating.
Not surprisingly, this year, I was displeased to learn I had to repeat the lesson. I considered explaining that I simply couldn’t do it, but in the end, I decided to give it another try. My newest revisions included removing the text warnings and substituting a short verbal message. Also, I further simplified and fine-tuned the remaining slides. I secured permission to take as much time as necessary.
I was right to try again, because this year, it was fantastic. In both hindsight and fairness to my former students, I am always a cheerful, amusing presence. It was my responsibility to set the tone and I had failed to do so. This year, I opened the lesson by saying, “In junior high school, Americans read the Diary of Anne Frank and learn about Jewish history. This is very serious and was very, very sad.” My JTE and I confirmed that they understand what I’d said before moving on.
The presentation itself went well from there. I read each bullet point slowly, twice, and then confirmed they understood the key vocabulary and concepts. My JTE wrote and translated high-level vocabulary on the board. We took our time going through the material, repeating and emphasizing key points. When we reached the slides that encourage shout-outs, we had a lot of participation, proving both attentiveness and comprehension of the complex material.
At the end, there were some great questions. My personal favorite was, “If Hitler wanted everyone to be blonde and blue-eyed, why did he only attack Jews?” Not only was the question insightful and smart, but it allowed me to name-drop Hitler’s other targeted minorities, including gays, and not a single student chuckled.
Despite the dark, heavy, and complex topic, my presentation successfully primed our students for the chapter on Anne Frank. It combined culture and history and served as great listening comprehension practice. My JTE and I helped with difficult vocabulary but at no point offered translations. Most importantly, though, it taught me that any lesson can be improved with careful inspection and touch more experience.
Get the pictures in powerpoint format here: PP_JewishHistory
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