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Lesson Plan: The Art of the Allegory

Updated on October 4, 2012

What is a Allegory?

An allegory is a story in which people, things and happenings are transformed into the symbolic. It is a means of teaching certain lessons, like tragic, historical, or moral ones, to our younger student body.

This genre is an important one because certain horrific events in history need to be simplified into servings that are understandable to children without the fear of damaging "their" tender psyches.

The Holocaust

During WWII, in Europe, there were many people who looked away when terrible things happened. The Nazis were responsible for killing millions of Jews and others in the Holocaust (Bunting, 1980).

A great poem scripted by Pastor Martin Neimoller aptly summarizes the profiling and taking of some of the groups targeted by the Nazis.

First they came for the socialists

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews

and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there wasn't anyone left to speak out for me.

Why Should this be Taught?

How we domesticate our young constituents is important. Our young will enter society one day and they need the tools, a moral compass if you will, in order to navigate the planet. As a society, we want to proliferate positive forces that will impact the humanitarian chip in our younger generations, hopefully creating a legacy that will grant a return on this investment.

As educators, we accomplish this goal by offering students the best literature choices possible. Books are a great way to help children understand complex issues. Books are great equalizers as well. Children get to see cultures represented, ideas brought to light, concepts explained, eras played out and so much more--all embodied in a tale that they can identify with.

The Holocaust, like many important historical genocides and tragedies (slavery, Rwanda, etc.) has a place in literature and can be taught through the genre of the allegory. Our job as educators is multifaceted because we are not only responsible for imparting academics, but we are also teachers of appropriate socialization (in theory and as a life model). Therefore, the implementation of quality children's literature in the classroom is key to the achievement and success of the whole child.

Introducing, Eve Bunting's, Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust

Eve Bunting is an Irish author who has penned over 250 books. Her subject matter is diverse across fiction, science fiction, historical fiction and non- fiction genres. The bulk of her work is in the children's and young adult category.

For this hub, Terrible Things will be reviewed and linked to a literacy strategy that will enable elementary students to understand the following concepts:

1. Profiling

2. Bullying

3. Bystanders

Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust

Bunting is brilliant in her conceptualization of the the profiling of races and groups all seen through the eyes of the creatures in the woods. The terrible things that come to take away each and every group [creature] are depicted as gray cloud-like masses with ominous nondescript features. These frightening masses consume the sky with darkness and overtake their helpless victims, one by one while the others look away until none were left.

Children exposed to the text and pictorials are instantly taken in by this story and valuable message---"they get it." And the message clearly speaks to the importance of helping others, being a united front by not becoming a bystander. We are all in this together. Bullies only gain power if others look away.

We want children to get this message. It is critical because this is a history lesson and a moral life lesson. From an academic standpoint, students are part of a spiral curriculum and will revisit concepts as they journey through school. This story provides a sustainable foundation for the future study of the Holocaust.

As for a moral life lesson, children must play nice in the schoolhouse (microcosm) and in the world (macrocosm). We must further the discussion and lessons on interdependence in every arena.

An Important Literacy Strategy, Sketch to Stretch

Sketch to Stretch is a very effective literacy tool (Thomkins, 2009). Students listen to a story or read the story in pairs or on their own and respond to the story in a whole class grand conversation.

Themes are discussed as well as symbolism. The example used here on this hub is, Eve Bunting's, Terrible Things: An Allegory on the Holocaust.This story provides a rich exemplar for this lesson.

Students are placed into small cooperative groups and are directed to sketch drawings that reflect what the story means to them. They are to understand the following concepts:

1. Artistic ability is not important.

2. Interpretation is important.

3. Sketches should incorporate the meaning of the text according to them. There are no right or wrong answers.

Students are then asked to share their sketches with their group. Each member tries to figure out what is being conveyed in each member's picture (sketch). One member is democratically selected to share their sketch with the class.

The last step is for teachers to encourage students to add and/or revise their sketches based on what they learned as a result of this sharing. The group and whole class sharing enables the students to stretch and understand more via collaboration.

Teaching the Holocaust to Younger Students

Do you think younger students should learn about these atrocities through the use of allegories?

See results


Submit a Comment

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile imageAUTHOR

    Robin Grosswirth 

    5 years ago from New York

    Pearldriver Thank you for taking the time to read my work and for the accolades. Best, RG

  • Pearldiver profile image

    Rob Welsh 

    5 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

    I use allegories in poetry to 'teach' or at the least 'inspire' adults... but then, are we not simply older children? Nice work here.. thanks for that and the review... take care.. PD

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile imageAUTHOR

    Robin Grosswirth 

    6 years ago from New York

    Sueswan I agree. This is a better route and this book is brilliantly done. Thanks!

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Hi Robin,

    I remember in grade school learning about the holocaust and watching the films. They left me feeling, sad, angry and helpless. I kept my feelings to myself though. If only allegory was used as a method of teaching back then.

    Voted up and away

    Take care :)

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile imageAUTHOR

    Robin Grosswirth 

    6 years ago from New York

    rcrumple Thanks so much! I agree, the earlier the better with this kind of lesson and the author of this piece of children's literature was brilliant in her delivery of this message.

    IntegrityYes Thanks so much!

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    That is useful and I definitely voted up.

  • rcrumple profile image


    6 years ago from Kentucky

    Excellent hub and excellent teaching strategies. The younger the children learn the better. I studied many of the masters of war in the second and third grade, and it helped me to understand the madness and insanity of it at an early age. Thoughts that still make me wonder about the ignorance of man and the pull of greed. Perhaps, if many more learned at a younger age, things we question now may need no answers later. Great Job!

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile imageAUTHOR

    Robin Grosswirth 

    6 years ago from New York

    jpcmc thank you for taking the time to read my hub and for your insightful commentary.

  • jpcmc profile image

    JP Carlos 

    6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

    I can't find the right word to decribe how great this is...great is definitely an understatement. What we feed the minds of students will shape the way they think and interpret the world around them. Of course the reality is not always a happy ending or a happily ever after. But we can help them understand this better when we use this technique. Voted up and shared!

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile imageAUTHOR

    Robin Grosswirth 

    6 years ago from New York

    Amy Becherer Bullying has its levels. Teaching children to be kinder to one another starts with introductions that they are able to relate to and feel for, making these animals perfect for this foundation. That is why I champion children's literature; it levels the playing field and breaks down difficult concepts into understandable pieces. Plus, this literacy strategy of sketch to stretch excavates more from them in a positive and creative way.

    Thanks for your comprehensive take on this hub. Your thoughts are always appreciated and respected.

  • Amy Becherer profile image

    Amy Becherer 

    6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    I think the concept of teaching through allegories, being a visual experience, could be extremely effective. Relating the brutal reality of the history of The Holocaust and linking it to the reality of the brutality of bullying in children's lives, makes the horrific destruction and consequences that a bully perpetrates graphic on a level impossible to ignore or to be able to pretend it doesn't exist. I believe children would feel great empathy for the innocent woodland animals and compassion through their understanding of the fear and terror inflicted by "terrible things". I feel this kind of teaching would have lifelong impact, possibly with the benefit of creating a new personal understanding of the harm in making victims of anyone different. The pack mentality that perpetrated the attrocities inflicted during the Holocaust shares many of the damages inflicted by bullies. I think it is genius in allowing children to visualize the destructive nature of bullying by relating it to cute, lovable woodland animals, as it may well be a tool that impacts not only the children who are bullied, but those that bully. Human beings relate to who and what they love. Association is a powerful tool. Corrolating the positive emotions felt by children for small animals and connecting it to other human beings could change the world for better. We learn tolerance through what we see; understanding that every living entity has feelings, emotions and feels pain is a positive step towards recognizing the human being inside each person. It is sad that this needs to be taught, but history tells the sad truth. Assuming that as human beings, we know, is, unfortunately a mistake.

    Unusually perceptive article, Robin, that throughout all time has remained a difficult, devastating, shameful problem. The teaching concept you present here has great value and could, just possibly, make a huge contribution to future peace. Thank you

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile imageAUTHOR

    Robin Grosswirth 

    6 years ago from New York

    teaches12345 Thanks so much for the support, compliment and the vote. I always appreciate it. No one should ever forget, but most of all, bullying starts at a lower level making this an invaluable lesson.

    breakfastpop Thanks for all the votes! This should be in the curriculum and linked to bullying of all kinds.

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile imageAUTHOR

    Robin Grosswirth 

    6 years ago from New York

    teaches12345 Thanks so much for the support, compliment and the vote. I always appreciate it. No one should ever forget, but most of all, bullying starts at a lower level making this an invaluable lesson.

    breakfastpop Thanks for all the votes! This should be in the curriculum and linked to bullying of all kinds.

  • breakfastpop profile image


    6 years ago

    I think that students should be taught using any method that is effective. I have heard that the Holocaust is no longer being taught in school after school. That is a travesty. What ever happened to "never forget"? U, interesting, useful and awesome.

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 

    6 years ago

    Very well done! Yes, I think that children can benefit from being taught about the holocaust. I hate that it is even being challenged as a valid event in history. Voted up.

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile imageAUTHOR

    Robin Grosswirth 

    6 years ago from New York

    billybuc Thanks Bill, you are too kind. I try my best. I enjoy designing experiences that bring meaning to children's lives. Wish I could help to effectuate positive change somewhere. Again thanks, especially from you, a seasoned professional as academic and writer. Thanks for sharing too.

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    6 years ago from Olympia, WA

    My goodness you are good! Not only are you a terrific writer, but your teaching methods and suggestions are excellent. When I win the election I'm putting you in charge of the Department of Education.

    Excellent educational ideas here.


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