Every February, we read The Devil’s Arithmetic as a whole class novel in my seventh grade classroom. The first year that I read this novel, my The Devil’s Arithmetic lesson plans only consisted of reading, learning new vocabulary words, and answering comprehension questions for each chapter. My, have my plans come a long way! Now when it comes time to read this novel, I know that I will successfully teach Common Core based standards as we examine the literary elements and author’s craft. More importantly, however, together, we will feel a minuscule hint of what it was like to be a part of the Holocaust. It is that “hint” that the author provides that keeps me from moving on to a different Holocaust novel. Jane Yolen takes us into Hannah Stern’s world – one in which she takes for granted at first before she travels back in time and finds herself in a concentration camp learning all about the devil’s arithmetic.
There is so much that I am able to teach while we read this novel. I would like to share a few of our activities. I am also including a link in this post for you to print these activities from our The Devil’s Arithmetic lesson plans.
First, I must tell you that the first seven chapters of this novel do seem to read slowly if you’re using this as a whole class novel that you read aloud. You may want to consider having students read these first chapters independently or with a reading partner. In recent years, I typed up all seven of these chapters as a readers’ theater script, and we read it that way. Whatever you do, do NOT give up on the plot. Once you hit the end of chapter seven, your students will beg you to keep reading!
The first The Devil’s Arithmetic lesson plans activity I would like to share with you is one you can do prior to reading the book. On the day that you plan to begin the unit, tape The Star of David on random desks throughout your classroom. (The free download has a printable page of stars for you to use.)
As students enter the classroom, begin to treat those students who have a star on their desk differently than you do the other students. For example, make them stand instead of sit. Have them remove their shoes and put them under their desks. Take away their pencils and give them to those students who do not have stars. Tell them that they cannot talk, but allow those without stars to talk all they want, etc. Your point is to make the “the have nots” experience just a “pinch” of what it feels like to be mistreated for no reason at all, and to allow the “haves” to experience what it feels like to watch others be mistreated for no apparent reason.
Once you can tell that your point has been made, which probably won’t be very long without a riot, hold a discussion allowing both students with stars and without to talk about how they felt. This discussion can then lead you into the beginning of your Holocaust unit.
I am also sharing two other handouts with you. The first one should accompany chapter three. It will allow you to teach the literary elements of symbolism and foreshadowing and take a look at how the author uses them in this chapter. The next activity page goes with chapter seven. This is where the reader meets that unforgettable and slightly eerie character – the Badchan. Students will examine his poem and then write one of their own.
We hope you enjoy these free activities from our The Devil’s Arithmetic lesson plans. Click here for your free download.
If you enjoyed these free printables, consider purchasing our entire teaching unit for this novel. All of your plans will be complete, and you can use them for years to come! Happy teaching!