The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne Teaching Package

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne Teaching Package

Materials needed: about 30 copies of the book, 1 audio-book, smartboard and flipcharts for classwork.

Pre-reading activities
The Boy in the striped pyjamas is a good read with a intermediate level of difficulty. The theme will appeal to different age-levels. An emotional story with a heartbreaking ending; it’s not enjoyable in the sense that it is a funny story. It is crucial that students do not read the end of the story in advance.

If possible, the series of lessons could be combined with more specific lessons on the subject of the Holocaust in cooperation with the History section of the school.

Pre-reading activities start with the students looking at the cover of the book and reading the backside. Ask them to give reactions. What do they think the story is about? What are the links and associations they make between the lay-out (the blue and white stripes), title and the text on the back-cover? Let them write this down on flipcharts and discuss the outcome in class.
Introduce terms such as WWII / Hitler / Holocaust and Final Solution / ghetto/ discrimination / oppression / genocide / pogrom/ and check what students already know about them. Start with a short BBC clip about how Hitler designs his plans for the Jewish population in Europe.
After this, watch the trailer of the film in class and make up a list of key words that come up in their minds. For example: friendship, betrayal, war, freedom, captivity.

It is not hard to find information on the Holocaust on Internet. Two clicks on YouTube and you will stumble across the most horrific pictures and heartbreaking stories but also on disputable opinions and commentaries from people who send in their material. Which can be a point of discussion in class. The following two programs are from the BBC and in our opinion educative and suitable in class;

  1. BBC clip with interviews with survivors of the Holocaust and British children who visited Auschwitz.

  1. BBC clip with the final solution about Auschwitz (5 pieces) YouTube. A combination of film, interviews with survivors and a documentary.
While-reading activities
Aimed at understanding and reader-response. The 20 chapters of the book cannot easily be combined with the film because the film does not have the same pace as the book. An audio-book (narrated by Michael Malony) could be used in class in combination with the printed version.
You can create reading circles. Every circle has about 5 students and the activities in class can be done together. Students read 3 chapters at home every week.
Lesson 1
After the pre-reading activities you start reading chapter 1 together in class (Bruno makes a discovery). The assignment is to let the students draw a “family” tree with all characters that appear in the first chapter of the book. The students can describe their roles and relations to each other. During the following weeks new characters will be added.
Homework is reading chapter 2, 3 and 4.
Lesson 2
After reading about Bruno’s house in Berlin and his new house in “Out-With”, let your students do the following matching exercise. Use a flipchart to write down the answers and let the students tell you were the following words go (Berlin or Out-With):

  • Friends, Karl, Daniel, Martin - No friends

  • Family, grandparents - No grandparents

  • Servants (Maria, Lars, cook) - Father (2x)

  • Mother - Mother changing

  • Gretel – the hopeless case - Fury

  • Gretel – still the hopeless case, but changing attitude at times towards Bruno

  • The beautiful blonde woman - The young man in uniform with blond hair

  • Three new maids and an old man

After this you can read chapter 5 together in class (Out of bounds at all times and no exceptions). Focus on how Gretel and Bruno talk about what they see outside. Do you think that Bruno’s and Gretel’s understanding is too child-like for their ages? Do you think they are being naïve? Discuss this in small groups and give your opinions. What is new for you while reading this story? Have you changed your ideas after reading these chapters?

Homework is reading chapter 6, 7 and 8.
Lesson 3
The assignment is to write the letter that Bruno’s grandmother would have written back to him. Let the students think about how Bruno’s grandmother feels. Especially about “Out-With” and the “Fury”. Would his grandmother be happy that Bruno moved to “Out-With”? And would grandmother like the “Fury”? Furthermore you can read chapter 9 together (Bruno remembers that he used to enjoy exploration).
Homework is reading chapter 10, 11 and 12.
Lesson 4

The fence between the two boys is a real fence. Use this fence in a figurative way. Find 10 strong opposite characters, events or situations in the story and put them each at one side of the fence. Design two symbols that represent the two different sides of the fence. Let the students think about the symbols. Do they know the Star of David or the Swastika (the official emblem of the Nazi party)? Do they also know the dove as a symbol of peace? A heart for love or the poppy for remembrance of war victims? What is the outcome?

Find 5 other examples of situations where children are or were divided by literal or figurative fences. Try to let the students think about their own experiences.
Read chapter 13 together in class (The bottle of wine).

Homework is reading chapter 14, 15 and 16.

Lesson 5
Read chapter 17 together (Mother gets her own way). Let the students think about who the rebels are in this book and who the followers of the Fury are. Do they know what a rebel is? And a follower? Put them at their side of the fence created in lesson 4.
The students do an exercise to expand their vocabulary with or without the help of a dictionary.
Allusion – anecdote - author’s purpose – character – characterization – conflict – falling action - flashback – foreshadowing – genre – imagery – memoir – motivation – plot – setting - point of view – tone – theme.
Fill in the blanks using the words above.

  1. _____________ the main idea or message of a story.

  2. _____________ the time and place in which a story occurs.

  3. _____________ a reference to a well-known character, place, or situation from history, music, art or literature.

  4. _____________ a short written or oral account of an event from a person’s life.

  5. _____________ an interruption in the chronological order of a narrative to describe an event that happened earlier.

  6. _____________ a type of narrative nonfiction that presents an author’s person experience of an event or a period in the writer’s life.

  7. _____________ the perspective from which a story is told.
  8. _____________ an author’s attitude toward his or her subject matter.

  9. _____________ the struggle between two opposing forces in a story or drama.

  10. _____________ descriptive language that appeals to one or more of the five senses.

  11. _____________ in a play or story the action that follows the climax.

  12. _____________ a category or type of literature.

  13. ______________ the methods a writer uses to reveal the personality of a character.

  14. _____________ an author’s intent in writing a literary work.

  15. _____________ the sequences of events in a narrative work.

  16. _____________ the stated or implied reason a character thinks, acts, or feels a certain way.

  17. _____________ an author’s use of clues to prepare readers for events that will happen later in a story.

  18. _____________ an individual in a literary story.

Homework is reading chapter 18, 19 and 20.

Lesson 6
After the students have finished the book, ask them some questions about it.

  • During which important period does the film take place?

  • Why does it smell in Bruno’s backyard? What are they burning?

  • Who is Gretel?

  • What kind of job does Bruno’s father have?

  • Who is Schmuel? Why is he in the camp?

  • Why does Bruno enter the camp where Schmuel lives? What are they looking for?

Then read chapter 19 en 20 together in class with use of the audio-book. Ask the students what they think of the ending of the book. Let the students write a different ending to the story in 150 words from the moment Bruno crawls under the fence.

Lesson 7

Look at the similarities and differences between Bruno and Schmuel. Draw 2 circles on a flipchart which overlap in the middle. See for an example appendix one. One circle is Bruno and one circle is Schmuel. Let the students fill in the circles. You could use terms like nine years old, same birthday, shaved heads, explorer, lives in a house on the hill, German, from Berlin, Jewish, wears striped pyjamas and lives in the camp, from Poland.

Ask the students the following questions and give them time to write down their answers.

  • If you could meet one of the characters in the book, which one would you choose and explain why you chose this character.

  • If you could interview one of the characters who would you choose and what five questions would you ask and predict how the character would respond.

  • Which character do you admire the most? And least? Why?

Discuss the answers in class and match the pictures in appendix two with the characters in the book.
Lesson 8
The Auschwitz museum provides a virtual tour on the Internet. The exterior and interior of the renovated camp can be explored by camera.
Do the students see any similarities with “Out-With” in the book or movie? Does the picture they have in mind while reading correspond with what they see in the tour?
After this you could introduce the author of the book, John Boyne. He calls his story a fable. Let the students find out what a fable is. Do they think the story fits in this category? Explain why. Have the class identify the literary elements of a fable. Ask them to compare these elements with the book. (A fable is a short story with a strong moral which tells a general truth or is only partly based on facts).

  • Discuss the moral or message of the novel. Let students give their opinions.

  • What new insights and understandings does John Boyne want the reader to gain from reading this story?

Post-reading activities

Aimed at imaginative and critical reflection.

  1. Evaluate the past lessons. Ask your students if they think that the past few lessons were interesting. If they think the history is important to know. What they have learnt from it.

  1. Review of the book. Half of the students are going to send in questions about the book and the other half of the class will answer them. For example:

  • What is good about this book? Any weak points?

  • Would you recommend it to a friend?

  • Why and to whom would you recommend it?

  1. Watch the BBC interviews with the actors:

  1. Interview with author John Boyne (BBC). Students can ask the writer questions on his webpage.

  1. Ask your students if they can imagine that many (Jewish) people have criticized this book. They can motivate their opinion in approximately 100 words.

  1. Students can also be divided into two groups. One group must look up research from critics that substantiate the claim that this book does trivialize the Holocaust. The other group must find information that disputes that claim. After that let them prepare a short presentation explaining the information that they have uncovered.

  1. Show students the following video of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army in 1945 With Shmuel and Bruno in mind they are going to write an appeal for the Red Cross in order to try to find the parents of the children. To give them an idea, listen together in class to the radio fragment on BBC radio.

  1. 27 January is Holocaust memorial day (liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army in 1945). Students are going to create a memorial for the two boys and/ or child-victims of war. The art-piece should be accompanied with words which express a message for future generations. This activity could be done in cooperation with the arts and crafts section of the school.

  1. Gretel has several propaganda posters in her room. Do your students know what propaganda posters are? Let them design a poster that gives the opposite message, a poster which Bruno’s grandmother would have liked.

Propaganda documentary:

  1. In the end you could do a quiz.

  1. You can watch the film together in class.

Appendix one:

Note: These are just simple ideas of what could be in the Venn-diagram, others could be put in as well.

Appendix two
Match the following names with the pictures and explain why.

Bruno – Pavel – Lieutenant Kottler’s father – Schmuel’s father – Grandmother – Shmuels’s family – Gretel – Bruno’s father- Herr Liszt- Lieutenant Kottler-

Matching name:


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December 2010, Georgette van den Hoogen, Anke Janssen, Geert Hendriks

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