In this free lesson, students examine the definition of genocide in the Genocide Convention, consider the issues with differing interpretations of the Genocide Convention, and analyze sources that demonstrate the ongoing debate over whether atrocities in Ukraine constitute genocide.
How should the United States respond to genocide?
Eighth edition. October 2022.
Genocide is one of the tragic repeating features of history. It elicits feelings of horror and revulsion throughout the world. Yet both the international community and the United States have struggled to respond to this recurring problem. Confronting Genocide: Never Again? allows students to wrestle with the reasons why local actors, the international community, and the United States responded as they have to various cases of genocide over the past century.
Please Note: Teaching about genocide may require special sensitivity. Activities may be especially intense for students with a personal connection to the events. Please be advised that the text and lessons include descriptions of conflict, violence, terrorism, torture, sexual violence and other human rights abuses, racism, and other challenging topics. It is important to be sensitive to your students and the ways in which these might be difficult topics to study. Trigger warnings are included for students in the readings and videos.
The unit is divided into two parts. Each part includes:
- Student readings
- Accompanying study guides, graphic organizers, and key terms
Lessons aligned with the readings that develop skills and can be completed in one or more periods
- Videos that feature leading experts
This unit also includes an Options Role Play as the key lesson and additional synthesis lessons that allow students to synthesize new knowledge for assessment. You do not need to use the entire unit; feel free to select what suits your classroom needs.
Preview this unit. Preview includes the Table of Contents for the Student Text and the Teacher Resource Book as well as a student reading excerpt and one lesson plan.
“This unit provides readable and interesting content that adds depth to most students’ understanding of genocide. I like having the students go through the Genocide Convention and then revisiting it throughout the unit. The role-playing activity helps my students engage in public policy, while recognizing the challenges, politics, and obstacles that may lead to a nation like the United States not taking more serious action, or choosing to avoid labeling something a genocide. Overall, my students are really engaged and take to heart the concept of ‘Never, Again?’” – Anonymous, History Teacher, Michigan
Part I: Defining Genocide
Part I traces the development of the Genocide Convention, the International Criminal Court, and instances of cooperation and antagonism in the United Nations. There are two lessons aligned with Part I: 1) Orientation and Compelling Questions, and 2) The Genocide Convention: Testing the Definition.
Part II: Seven Case Studies
Part II examines seven case studies of genocides from the past: the OvaHerero-Nama Genocide, the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide, the Bosnian Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide, and the genocide in Sudan. There are two lessons aligned with Part II: 1) Atrocity Risk and Prevention, and 2) Survivors’ Voices: Experiences of Genocide.
Orientation and Compelling Questions
Students view a slideshow which helps them to gain familiarity with the problem of genocide. They learn about and construct open-ended “compelling questions” which prepare them to work thoughtfully on this challenging topic.
The Genocide Convention: Testing the Definition
Students analyze the Genocide Convention and consider the challenges of defining "genocide." Students then apply the standards of the Genocide Convention to five historical events: The Trail of Tears, Colonial Congo, the Ukrainian Famine, Tibet, and the Conquest of the Desert in Argentina.
Atrocity Risk and Prevention
Students view a video outlining one framework of risk factors for genocide. Students then work through the reading to locate evidence of the risk factors in each of the genocides. They also consider prevention strategies.
Survivors' Voices: Experiences of Genocide
Students watch video testimonies of genocide survivors and consider the benefits and limitations of using personal stories to learn about history.
The Options Role Play
The Options Role Play is the key lesson in the unit, and it asks students to examine four distinct options for U.S. policy on genocide in preparation for writing their own option.
Expressing Your Views
Synthesis Lesson: Armed with historical knowledge and a sense of their own values, students articulate recommendations for U.S. policy and apply them to the current situation involving the Uighurs in Xinjiang, China.
Historical Memory: Constructing a Memorial to Genocide
Synthesis Lesson: This hands-on and uplifting lesson challenges students to use diverse forms of expression to memorialize a genocide. Students explore the purpose of memorials and consider the idea of historical memory.
Synthesis Lesson: After watching videos and viewing a slide show of cultural belongings from Namibia, students assess and understand the value of objects as sources for studying history and cultures. Through writing and recording an audio guide for their own mini-museum using the cultural belongings, students understand the role the historian or museum curator plays in the telling of a specific story.
Synthesis Lesson: Students learn to analyze a fashion piece as an historical object by watching a video from a museum curator. They view a slideshow of past and present OvaHerero fashion styles, consider the role of fashion as a political or cultural statement, and sketch their own fashion piece using symbolism.
- James Waller
- June 14, 2022
- Magdalena H. Gross
- May 31, 2016
Resources and pedagogical tools to help teachers feel more prepared to address controversial issues in the classroom.
A slideshow of all the maps used in Confronting Genocide: Never Again?
A slideshow of images to accompany the lesson “Orientation and Compelling Questions.”
Full text of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to accompany the lesson "The Genocide Convention: Testing the Definition."
The website of the Srebrenica memorial in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A list of victims from Srebrenica.
Eight survivors of genocide share their stories.
Transcripts of the videos used in the lesson "Survivors' Voices: Experiences of Genocide" are available for download.
A slideshow of images of memorials to accompany the lesson “Historical Memory: Constructing a Memorial to Genocide.”