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In my work with the San Antonio Writing Project, I needed to spend some time with student groups on paired texts. The necessity of doing this work now is, of course, related to the dratted test, but I made the decision not to use pre-fabricated testing materials to teach students about how to negotiate two related texts.  I went in search of texts that were relevant, interesting, and (ever and always) likely to evoke an emotional response.

In the March 30, 2015 issue of Junior Scholastic magazine, Abby Grissman interviews her grandfather about “Life in Germany During World War II.” Since I’ve been to Germany myself recently, I decided to write a related article about my visit to Dachau Concentration camp. After we’d read both articles, we answered some questions comparing and contrasting the two articles.  I have included my article below.  Please feel free to use it with your students. However, an activity like this will have much more appeal to your students if you write the work yourself.  Here’s how a teacher model paired with published texts will benefit your students:

  • It helps them see the connection between reading and writing.  You wrote it, and they will read it.
  • It shows students that you are willing to be vulnerable enough to let them see what you’ve written.  Don’t worry about whether it’s perfect or not.  Their writing won’t be perfect, but if they see you try they will be more likely to try themselves.
  • It will provide you with an avenue for further exploration and inquiry about the topic.  I was able to follow up on this work by showing students some pictures I had taken and answering some of their pressing questions about the time period.

I gave the students my three tips for reading more than one piece of text at a time:

  • Read and complete work on paired passages FIRST if you are taking a test.  Do this difficult task while you are wide awake and able to focus best.
  • Read the passages TWICE.
    • The first time through I always recommend reading both passages at the same time, just like chapters in a book, without stopping. I include the questions and answer choices in this first read.  I tell students not to worry too much about what they don’t understand on the first read.  Folks disagree with me about this, but I think it is critically important for the students to have a chance to enjoy what they are reading, even if it’s part of a high stakes test.
    • On the second read, I ask students to interact with the texts. I DO NOT ask them to write the key word or main idea of every single stinking paragraph. Talk about a joy killer.  I just tell them to write down what they are thinking as they read.
  • Think about how the passages are alike and how they are different.

When this time of year rolls around, it’s good to balance the students’ need to understand test formatting with a judicious dose of authentic literature, and that includes something you’ve written yourself.

Here’s the article I wrote:

Dachau- Germany’s First Concentration Camp

By Joni Koehler

On March 24, I visited the first concentration camp that the Germans established during World War II.   This experience changed the way I think about the events surrounding the war, and the role that the German people played in the war.

It’s an eleven minute train ride from the city of Munich to the stop at Dachau.  My fellow tour members and I emerged into a brilliant sunny day in downtown Dachau.  As our guide, Steve, spoke about the town of Dachau, I put on my sunhat and shed my jacket.   While we waited for the bus to take us to the camp, Steve said something that surprised me.

“When the camp was established in 1938 as a place for political prisoners, it was even more isolated than it now is.”  Many of the citizens of Dachau did not know what happened to the prisoners at the camp, because it was so far away from the city.  I had never before considered that the atrocities visited upon those in the camps were well away from the view of the average German citizen.

Steve spoke to us about what happened when the Americans arrived at the camp and took it over at the end of the war.  They found 36,000 people in the camp.  Many of them were starving, and many had diseases that threatened their lives.

One of the first thing the Americans did was to go to the city of Dachau.  They made all German citizens of the city ride back to the camp with them.  Many citizens were shocked by what they saw— so many people were crowded into a camp that was meant to hold only 2,000.  The men of Dachau stayed to assist the American soldiers with burial of the many prisoners who had been killed right before the camp was liberated.  Because the German government had hidden their acts of murder from their citizens, the leaders of all the concentration camps were ordered to kill every prisoner before they could be overrun with the American victors.  They wanted to hide the evidence of their terrible crimes.  Thank goodness they ran out of time before every prisoner could be exterminated.

World War II was a terrible time in the history of Germany.  But through my trip to Dachau, I learned that you can’t judge every German citizen for the acts of a few.  I think the citizens of Germany still feel ashamed of what happened in their country during the War, and have an honest wish that these horrific acts will not be repeated.  That’s one of the reasons every school child has to attend a concentration camp during their years in public school.  It’s a law that will keep the phrase, “Never again,” fresh in the minds of the German public.

What about you?  What have you written and shared with your students?  I’d love to hear about it.