Lesson Plan

Defining Genocide

Learn the definitions and implications of genocide.

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Enduring Understanding

Genocide is a legal term used to describe the intentional destruction of a minorities group. It may look different across different cases, but they share many commonalities.

Essential Questions

  • 1What is genocide?
  • 2What are the implications in calling an instance of violence a genocide?


15 Min

Begin by asking your students what words come to mind when they think of the word ‘Genocide.’ Write down their responses on the whiteboard. If they are having trouble coming up with words, have them think of the Holocaust and the words they might use to describe that.

Next, provide students with the United Nations definition for genocide:

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measurers intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the groups to another group.

Ask your students if they have any questions after seeing the legal definition. If they do, have them write these down. Explain that the following resources will aim to expand their understanding of genocide. They will have the opportunity to return to these questions if they have not answered through the upcoming resources.


25 Min
Teacher's Note
You could have students interact with Ben Ferencz on individual devices rather than doing it all as one group. However, without headphones it may be hard to hear individual responses.

Play the video, What is Genocide? by the USC Shoah Foundation. As they watch, have them take notes about the different experiences mentioned and major themes to explore.

When the video is over, ask students to share that they wrote down.

Next, bring up Ben Ferencz through Dimensions in Testimony. Explain that Ben Ferencz was an American lawyer known for his work as an investigator of Nazi war crimes. You now have the opportunity to ask Ben some questions. Below are examples of questions that you may want to ask as a class, but you can ask other questions as they come up.

  • What is genocide?
  • Describe to me the scene you saw when you arrived at the concentration camp.
  • How do you respond to the criticism that there was no need for the Nuremberg Trials?
  • Are trials important?
  • What is the role of international law in preventing genocide?


10 Min

Ask students if their questions from the beginning have been answered. If not, have them read their questions to the class and try to answer them as a group. If you need additional resources, try the Holocaust Encyclopedia from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

As a group, go through some of the things they learned. If necessary, return to the list from the beginning and have them add to it with what they know.

Wisconsin Academic Standards

This lessons meets the following Academic Standards required by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Teacher Primer

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