Diaries and Memoirs

Grade Levels: 6 through 12


Sunshine State Standards:

View all Sunshine State Standards


Excerpts from Holocaust diaries and memoirs appropriate to the reading ability of the students.


  1. Discuss with students the differences between a diary and a memoir. Provide examples of each. The important difference is that history unfolds in the diary without the diarist knowing the outcome. The author of a memoir has a different agenda.
  2. What famous diaries and memoirs have the students heard of? This is part of the KWL process: What do the students KNOW, What do they WANT to know, then What have they LEARNED?
  3. Why do people keep diaries? Sometimes diaries are kept to record upsetting, dangerous, or difficult times in people's lives. How likely would you be to record events truthfully and accurately? Does it matter?
  4. Compare diaries and memoirs from people in the same time period. Did they cope with similar events? How do the writing styles differ? What was the motivation for writing?
  5. Why did Anne Frank's diary become so famous? Is this diary more of a coming-of-age book than a Holocaust book? Have students debate this issue.
  6. Compare Anne Frank's diary with other diaries and memoirs: All But My Life, by Gerda Klein, Alicia: My Story by Alicia Appleman-Jurman, and Vedem, the Boys' Magazine from Terezin. How are these works different and similar? Read a memoir written by a woman and one written by a man. Are there gender differences? If so, what are they and what are they attributable to?
  7. Who do diarists write for, themselves or a possible unseen audience? Do they ever hope or intend for their work to be published, as a way to document their experiences? Holocaust victims who kept diaries have often stated their intent to "let the world know" what life was like during the Holocaust.
  8. Have students participate in a literary circle using a diary or memoir. How does each student feel the character or writer is like himself or herself? What are the similar hopes and dreams shared by the students and the diarist? What about fears, worries, complaints?
  9. Did the diarist or memoir author follow any discernible format? Why do some diarists name their diaries? Have students keep a journal or diary for a week, a month, or longer. Is it difficult to discipline oneself to write every day? Why are some days easier to write about than others? How does Anne Frank communicate her fears, successes, traumas, happiness, etc?
  10. Have students find a passage in a diary or memoir that is especially meaningful or moving to them. Have them write a letter to the author about the impact of the passage.
  11. Provide activities across the curriculum (music, art) for students to express themselves and their reactions to what they have read. Some memoirs lend themselves to Reader's Theatre. Use Holocaust music as a background in the classroom. Put some of the photographs and/or artwork on a website or on overheads to create a multimedia presentation.


Keep all of the students' writing in a portfolio so that they can evaluate their progress and share their writing with the other students. The teacher can then assess the students' work and evaluate the portfolio for a grade. These activities encourage students to write on their own, to explore how other people write, to discover what motivates people to write, and to think about why people write in so many different ways.


ACTIVITY The difference between diaries and memoirs.

ACTIVITY Diaries and memoirs bibliography.

Diaries and memoirs for the middle school student.

A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.

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