Historical Fiction: The Book Thief

WISELearn Grant Lesson Plan
Title:  Historical Fiction: The Book Thief

Author:  Hannah Agyekum and Stephanie Rau
Subject(s):  English Language Arts
Grade Level(s):  10Total Time:  30 days

Overview / Description:

Collaborative, self-directed learners use a variety of reading strategies to analyze, understand, and create personal enrichment, inquiry, and problem solve when engaging with Markus Zusak's historical fiction novel, The Book Thief. Students will learn about the backdrop of the novel in the Holocaust era of World War II through multi-faceted activities like documentaries, web quests, news articles, and first-hand accounts to better understand how the set of a novel affects the plot and character development. An additional layer of inquiry derives from a literary perspective: exploring character motivations and relationships, color symbolism, figurative language, point-of-view, and theme.

Enduring Understandings:

  • Students analyze how the unique perspectives of different narrators influence the development of central ideas. 
  • Students understand that historical fiction is created with a nonfiction past enhancing an understanding of how we live in the present. 
  • Students understand how an author’s choices develop the reader’s overall understanding of text. 
  • Students use precise domain specific vocabulary when discussing and writing about text. 
  • Students use close reading strategies to comprehend complex text. 
  • Students engage with literature and nonfiction texts and explore how complex characters develop through their interactions with each other, and how these interactions develop central ideas such as identity and expectations.

Essential Questions:

  • Why does the past keep repeating? 
  • How can society today learn from history to avoid future calamities? 

  • How do words hold power?

  •  How does society influence our identity and the choices we make? 
  • What is community? How are decisions made about who belongs and who is excluded? 
  • What choices do people make in the face of injustice? 
  • What makes it possible for neighbor to turn against neighbor? 
  • How is genocide and other acts of mass violence humanly possible? 
  • What choices do people make that allow collective violence to happen? 
  • What is justice? How can it be achieved? 
  • What is the relationship between power and freedom?


Learning goals/objectives:

After completing this activity, students should be able to . . .

  • read closely for textual details

  •  annotate texts to support comprehension and analysis
  •  engage in productive evidence-based conversations about text 
  • generate and respond to questions in scholarly discourse 
  • present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically
  • correctly identify and interpret examples of figurative language
  • strengthen their writing through revisions and editing, and refine their speaking and listening skills through discussion-based assessment and evidence based collaborative analysis
  • engage with literature and nonfiction texts and explore how complex characters develop through their interactions with each other, and how these interactions develop central ideas 


Workplace Readiness Skill: 

 x   Social Skills x   Communication 
 x  Teamwork     x    Critical Thinking
   Attitude and Initiative  x  Planning and Organization
   Professionalism    Media Etiquette

Content Standards:

Key Ideas and Details:

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Craft and Structure:

Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

Range of Writing:

Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Comprehension and Collaboration:

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.

Work with peers to set rules for collegial discussions and decision-making (e.g., informal consensus, taking votes on key issues, presentation of alternate views), clear goals and deadlines, and individual roles as needed.

Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.

Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.


Download: Book Thief Figurative Language Chart.pdf

Download: Book Thief Inferences Chart.pdf

Download: Book Thief Postcard Template EbcXcuY.pdf

Download: Book Thief Weather Report.pdf

Download: Book Thief Dice Character Analysis.pdf

Download: Book Thief Presents Chart.pdf

Download: Book Thief CD.pdf

Download: Book Thief Ranking Character Relationships.pdf

Download: Book Thief Vocab.pdf

  • Copies of Markus Zusak's novel The Book Thief
  • a video of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs

  • The poem Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson

  • Figurative Language chart
  • Inferences Chart
  • Postcard Template
  • Anne Frank The Life of a Young Girl documentary
  • Weather Report Handout
  • Dice Assignment Handout
  • Presents Handout
  • CD Cover and Song Analysis Assignment 
  • Kitty Hart-Moxon’s story of survival Video
  • Ranking Character Relationships Handout

Learning Activities:

Download: Book Thief Learning Activities and Plans.pdf


Formative Assessment:

Assessments will include journal entries, gallery walk responses, and symbolism project. Additional interim benchmark assessments include small group discussions, analysis of characters, a soundtrack project, figurative language exercises, and analysis of poetry.

Summative Assessment:

One summative assessment is a choice project which combines imagination and intellect in order to analyze an aspect of the novel and display it in a multi-faceted and multi-layered way. Students will first create a professional and relevant project and then provide a written analysis of the text through an expository essay, which explains the connections between their creative project and literary elements within the novel; their ideas will also be supported by direct quotes from the book in addition to integrating vocabulary terms into their writing. 

Students will then give an oral presentation to the class, explaining their analysis of The Book Thief as showcased in their chosen project and paper. Presenters will be assessed on their preparation of analytical ideas, support from the novel, articulation, pronunciation, and professional stance. 

An additional summative assessment is an exam on The Book Thief including the following elements: matching color symbolism, multiple choice answers for identifying figurative language, short answer questions for character analysis, synthesis of direct quotes from the novel, and analysis of symbolism.

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