Some diary excerpts from previous decades that were in our coursebook sparked the idea of dealing with the most widely read diary: the diary of Anne Frank. Not a happy ending story, yet one that I felt is important for my young sixth graders (A2, eleven year-olds) to know. It can trigger thinking about injustice and discrimination, about where hate can lead, and stimulate empathy for others through a real story of a girl close to their age.
The cloudy girl: triggering curiosity
Skills: observing, writing, speaking, listening, note-taking
I first showed them a screenshot from an animation on Anne Frank and we worked on the see-think-wonder routine. They observed silently and answered 3 questions:
What do you see?
What do you think about it?
What does it make you wonder?
They took notes of their ideas. I went round the classroom and offered help with language when needed. Some asked for words like “wires”, “torn”, “borders”, “bent” (shoulders). One needed help clarifying between “die” and “kill”.
We shared our ideas in class. They fact that the girl in the image was writing a diary was a prominent answer among most of the students. They identified the feeling of sadness in the girl’s face and made associations with a war situation. Two of the students straightly associated the image with World War II because the shape of the airplane reminded them of similar airplanes they had seen from that period. A student used the word “cloudy” to describe her thoughts about the girl and word choice made me smile. I found it creative and unexpected.
They also hypothesized about the relationship between the two female figures. Some thought the woman at the back was the girl’s mother, others her grandmother. A couple of them thought that the people were refugees trying to cross the borders because of the wired fence at the back and their torn clothes.
Students’ questions embraced all the who, where, what and why relevant to the topic: Who are these people? What is the girl writing? Why is this war happening? Why are they sad? Where are they?
I took some notes of their ideas on the board and encouraged students to do the same in their notebooks.
By the end of the session they were more than curious to find out who the girl in the image was. I revealed her name and wrote it on the board: Anne Frank.
Some of them went bright-eyed. Two had the Greek translation of the book at home, but had never read it. One said he was a member of an amateur theatre club and he remembered once talking about staging a performance of this play, but not doing it in the end. A fourth one had been to the theatre with her parents and had attended a professional performance based on Anne Frank’s life. She could not remember many things though. A vague familiarity with the cloudy girl in the image began to spread in the classroom.
I asked them what they knew about Anne Frank and three things came up: she was writing in her diary about the war, she lived in Germany, she was a Jew (that was a word that they knew in Greek, and I provided them with the English equivalent). When they asked what Jew means, I explained in simple terms that it is a religion.
At the end of this first session, I asked them as a follow-up to:
- Write a short paragraph about the lesson, based on their notes and class discussion.
- Research, read about Anne Frank (reading could be done in either L1 or L2) and come back next time with 4-5 sentences about what struck them as most interesting.
Organising Anne’s story visually
Skills: reading, listening, speaking, note-taking, story building
Until our next session, I was pleasantly surprised and happy to see students come and find me before the morning assembly or during breaks to report either that they had started reading the book or that they had asked their parents for a copy. Those who had started reading it were amazed to find out how many things Anne could not do because she was a Jew.
In our second session on the topic, individual students initially read their paragraphs and some feedback was given.
Then, they started sharing their choices of sentences. I knew that not all students would come up with the same things. I trusted that from the multitude of sentences we would manage to create an as complete as possible picture of Anne’s story. I also had in mind of asking them at the end of the session for a writing assignment that would incorporate all the elements shared in class.
I decided to organise the information into a more visual form to illustrate the connections and relationships between various aspects of what we were discussing. I hoped to enable students to refer to, relate between information, and help the writing process.
The diagramme was built around the first 4 sentences that were read in class, namely that she was born in Germany, she was a Jew, she wrote a diary and that she died in 1945. From thereon I intervened at times and facilitated building the story by asking some questions and seeing whether students had written a relevant sentence.
For example, I asked “What was happening in Germany at the time Anne was born?” and a student had written a sentence about Adolph Hitler and the Nazis coming to power. That’s how the left part of the diagramme started being formed. The next question was “Why was this important for Anne?” and someone else had written that the Nazis discriminated against the Jews and made life difficult for them. I went on by asking “So, what did Anne’s family do?” and we found out that they moved to the Netherlands. “Were they safe there?” was the next question to get the answer that “no” because “persecutions against the Jews intensified”.
We finally reached the point where the family hid in the Secret Annex with four other friends. The Secret Annex was linked to her writing the diary and the people were linked to the aftermath i.e that the Nazis arrested them, and they were taken to a concentration camp where Anne died. Which brought us back to one of the first four sentences.
While writing on the board, I used colour coding: blue for the information, black to highlight verbs used, red for things of importance, and finally a green contour around new language. This was language students had included in their sentences, but other students were not familiar with since each one had come up with different sentences.
It’s interesting that in the group of sixth graders where the students who had the book were in, we were able to have more details about the discrimination issue. It was something that made a strong impression to the students who had read about all the things that Anne could not do because she was a Jew. It made an even stronger impression to their classmates to hear about all the prohibitions Jews were subjected to.
In both classes, at the end of the session, I asked students to draw on the diagramme and retell the story. We did this as a relay race. One would start, I would say stop, another student would take up from that point and go on with the story. We tried this two or three times and it went well. Students left the class to do their writing assignment feeling quite confident about it. I left thinking about the next stage of the topic which is still going on and I hope to write about it in a next post.