Levels: strong intermediate to advanced.
Ages: older teens; young adults.
Type: using a photo and class tableau to create stories inspired by a real event.
Skills: listening; speaking; writing; pronunciation (conveying atmosphere and emotion through pauses and intonation patterns).
Language focus: vocab and grammar as it arises.
Note: This is a very tricky subject for all teachers to broach – but perhaps especially EFL teachers. I feel it’s important to acknowledge this event with your class, but there are twin dangers of trivialising it with a focus on pedantic language points, or of over-sentimentalising it, so that the real lives and personalities of those involved get lost in a fog of emotion. I hope I’ve been successful in avoiding these problems, and that the students can engage with the issues involved in a clear-eyed way. PS – in case you missed it, I’ve added a Dogme-style lesson on this subject for lower-level learners here.
blu-tak or some tape to stick the photo to the board;
paper and pens.
- Stick the photo to the board and stand to one side. Wait for students to make any comments about it.
- Encourage more comments by asking these questions in turn, and seeing what answers your students give:-
- why are all these people gathered together?
- where are they?
- what are they doing?
- what do they have with them?
- they have suitcases and bags at their feet, so are they going on a journey?
- where are they going to?
- why don’t they look happy or excited?
- Why are there no men in this photo?
- If necessary (and only if necessary), board any unknown vocabulary, or words they are finding tricky.
- Explain that you have a short text about this picture. Say that you will read it aloud, and ask your students to listen. Ask them not to write any notes for now.
- Read this text aloud, at a normal pace:
This photo was taken in March 1944. The women are members of the Greek-Jewish community of Ioaninna. There are no men in the picture because they had already become prisoners of the Nazis. In March, 1944, these women were ordered to pack a bag and leave their homes. THe Nazis made them gather together in an open space and here we see them waiting for the trucks that will take them away from Greece and across Europe to camps in Poland, where many of them will be murdered. Of course, as this picture is being taken, they don’t know that they will be murdered. They only know that they are leaving their homes and community and they have no idea when they will be allowed back home. That is why they are all looking cold and sad and why some of them are crying. They are facing a long journey into the unknown and there is no-one to help them.
This picture was found four years ago. It is now on display in a small museum in New York, a museum which tries to make sure that the Jews of Greece are not forgotten. The staff of the museum called this picture The Crying Woman, after the woman in the foreground, because nobody knew who anybody in the picture was.
The museum staff put the picture on their website and asked anyone who could identify the woman to contact them. Then they waited and waited. One day they received a message. A woman called Lia, who lived in Athens, recognised the crying woman. It was her grandmother.
So now we know that The Crying Woman was Fani (pronounced Far-nee) Heim. She was 19 years old at the time of this picture. Fani’s grand-daughter Lia told the museum that Fani returned to Greece after the war. She settled in Athens, married a Christian man and had children and grandchildren. She did not hide the fact that she was Jewish and had survived the camps, but said very little about what had happened to her and how the lives of her grandmother, her father, her mother, her younger sister and two little brothers had all been taken by the Nazis.
Board these questions, or dictate them (twice, if necessary):
- when was the picture taken?
- who is Lia?
- Who is Fani Heim?
- Where were these women taken?
- What happened to them?
- What happened to Fani’s family?
- What did she do after the war?
Homework: if any of your students know someone who was involved in World War II and if they can (and are happy to) interview them, they can do this for homework, and write it up. Otherwise, you can ask your students to visit this website (which has the words of several Holocaust survivors), choose one of the stories and write a short summary of it. You can ask your students to prepare to give a one-minute presentation about the person they interviewed, or the person they wrote about, in the following week.
Acknowledgements: the picture and original text adapted for this lesson come from this section of the Holocaust Memorial Trust – Educational Resources website. I also learnt a lot about the dangers of stereo-type and pity in the classroom from this discussion in the Times Educational Supplement fora.