How to Teach Night by Elie Wiesel

Night, by Elie Wiesel, can be an excellent teaching text for students from grades 8 – 12, but it is different from other texts and can’t be taught as a novel.  Night is more historical record than it is literature.  There isn’t a “plot” or any “characters.”  There is a story and people, the real people who suffered and died during the Holocaust, and the real people who committed the atrocities.  To refer to this story as a plot or these people as characters would be inappropriate and disrespectful.  So you need to take a different approach.

Start by thinking about what your objectives are for teaching Elie Wiesel’s Night.  What do you want your students to take away?

When I teach Night, I want my students to learn about the Holocaust; to think about the nature of humanity, our morality, our strength, and our capacity for evil; to practice making connections between various texts; and to work on their reading and writing skills.

Once you have your overall objectives in mind, you can go to the Common Core State Standards and select the ones that fit to further focus your lesson planning.  With clear objectives, you can begin planning your lessons.

I start with a research project in which students work in groups to research and report on topics related to the Holocaust, World War II, and Elie Wiesel.

While reading Night, use most of the regular teaching staples including vocabulary and comprehension questions, we stop frequently to discuss what has happened in Wiesel’s story.  We talk about Elie and his father, and all of the other people in the story.  We analyze their motivations and reflect on what someone else might do in their shoes.  We discuss the bigger historical picture, and connect what is happening in the text to what we know about the Holocaust.  And I usually show Schindler’s List to further expand the students’ knowledge of the Holocaust and have another text to make connections with.

I usually focus on paragraph structure as the writing outcome.  Throughout the unit, my students write several paragraph responses and really work on using proper paragraph structure including thesis, explanation, evidence, and conclusion.  They work on expressing their opinions and knowledge clearly and persuasively.

To finish the unit, I use a small exam that tests the primary skills worked on during the unit: reading comprehension and structured writing.  The test includes multiple choice, short answer, and paragraph questions.

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2 Comments to “How to Teach Night by Elie Wiesel”

  1. Jon McAlister says:

    Thank you for this. I have been trying to figure out why my child’s school wants her to read Night in 8th grade. I read it in college and ha a hard time with it. When I asked, they said that it is “literature” and will be taught along “Lord of he Flies” because they are “similar novels–uh, well ‘Night’ is not a novel, but…” Everything you describe above sounds fine for 11th or 12th grade, not 8th. I want her to read it, but what’s the rush!?

  2. Lynn Baldschun says:

    I’m just finishing up a 10 day unit on Night with my 10th grade classes. This seems to be a work that always speaks to students. I don’t know how many times kids have thanked me for letting them read it.They don’t enjoy reading it, but they’re almost always glad they did.

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