Exploring Sensitive Subjects with Adolescents: Using Media and Technology to Teach about Genocide

Spring, 2015

Source: American Secondary Education Vol. 43, No. 2


This paper discusses potential strategies and sources for approaching uncomfortable topics and reviews the challenges facing teachers who choose to do so with the topic of genocide as an example. Using a variety of techniques, including graphic organizers, political cartoons, comic books and graphic novels, films, children's and young adult literature, paintings and photographs, podcasts/audio files, exhibitions, Web Quests, and game-based learning, teachers enable students to develop multiple perspectives about tragic events. A section on reparations and transitional justice suggests some positive ways to conclude such a unit.


Social issues involving complex human behaviors are not easy to discuss at any level. Genocide, for example, has become the ultimate human rights problem of the modern world. Frusetta (2010) concurred that this topic is difficult, noting, "For historians, let alone students, thinking deeply about and questioning their understanding of horrific events is a challenge" (p. 39). Even when there is a state mandate to teach Holocaust/Genocide, as there has been since 1994 in New Jersey, Broom (2013) indicated teachers may avoid doing so for a variety of reasons. For example, only 58% of New Jersey Middle School principals (n=93) reported an acceptable level of implementation of the mandate in their public middle schools (Donvito, 2003). This hesitancy is also true for most sensitive subjects.


In this paper, genocide is used to illustrate instruction for other sensitive subjects. With appropriate resources and a unified curriculum aimed at the examination of diverse perspectives, students can find their own voices to become informed and engaged members of our civil society and global community (Apsel, 2013; Broom, 2013). This article provides a compilation of approaches and technology applications to teach about genocide by grade level through strategies that aim to promote active learning.

Updated: Jun. 17, 2015