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Thematic Art Project: Teach Your English Students to Speak Without Saying a Word

Thematic Art Project

For the second year, I assigned a Thematic Art Project as the summative activity for Night. I have to admit, when I first assigned it, I was super nervous about what the kids would come up with. This year, I was just excited because the last group did such an amazing job. Well, they did it again. This project is now my favorite thing that we do, and I think the kids would say that as well.

The Assignment

The project is a combination of a quote from the memoir, a theme that ties into the quote, and an art project that represents both. They also have to write an explanation of why they made what they did and how it all ties together.

The Results

I wrote a blog post about the projects last year (you can find that here), but this year I wanted to choose a few and go into a little more depth telling you about what they did.


M. A.’s Project- The theme: Identity. This artist was mixing paint and trying to decide what to do when the student’s mom walked by and said, “That looks like skin.” The artist said it inspired them to create something that showed all the different combinations of eye and skin colors that a person can have. They said the German Aryan ideal of having blond hair and blue eyes just really got to them, and they realized this was a way they could combat that idea.


D.H.’s Project- This theme was loss of identity. The artist explained that the project was based on the quote in which Elie says he looked in the mirror and saw a corpse looking back. The student wrapped the mirror in yarn, and each color represents something different- gray: loss and fear; blue and purple: friends and family; white- hope (these were braided to be thicker to show that hope was a big part of keeping it together). The tape was representative of all the other things that keep a person whole.


L. E.’s Project- This theme was also loss of identity. On the outside of the barbed wire are butterflies. Each one has a name written on it. On the inside of the barbed wire, in the camp, there are only numbers. The student equated this to the quote from Elie when he says he was no longer a person, only a number.



H.J.’s Project: This student did the theme of loss of faith. The quote concerned the scene when the boy is hung at the camp, and Elie says that, “God isn’t there, He’s on the gallows.” He made the angel out of wire to represent the cold that a person must feel when their faith is gone.


A.C.’s Project: This theme was identity. Each finger of the hand represents a different race. The lines show the divisions we face, but the staples show a joining, which can be painful at times. The butterfly is to symbolize that relations between people are fragile, and you have to handle them with care.


V.P’s Project- This theme was also loss of faith. There is a quote in the memoir in which Elie says that he now believes in Hitler because “he’s done everything he said.” This project shows the breaking of his faith by Hitler and his actions.


A.D.’s Project- This theme was loss of identity as well. The project is part tombstone, which most Jews did not get when they died, and the other part represents the death marches in which the Germans tried to hide the atrocities they had committed.

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T.W.’s Project- The theme represented here is freedom vs. confinement. It shows Elie, symbolized by the blue butterfly, both in the camp and free.


B.H.’s Project- This artwork also represents loss of faith. The artist said that during the scene when the boy is hung, Elie said that God wasn’t there. This is from the point of view of heaven (in the form of an angel) looking down at all the souls that lost their faith during their time in the camp, and at this point in their history in particular.


B.E.’s Project- Also loss of identity. This artist sculpted a hand, to represent the Germans, squeezing a heart, which represents everything the Jews hold dear. The artist said that German started squeezing slowly at first so that the Jews wouldn’t react too quickly to the pressure.


These examples show less than 1/10th of the work my students produced for this project. I asked them after their Socratic presentations, in which their classmates ask them questions and offer comments and compliments, why they thought they produced work that was so much better than what they usually produce as a group of 8th graders. Here are their observations about that:

  1. I let them be completely in charge of what they created within the boundaries of the memoir and its themes.
  2. The subject matter requires a level of respect that other readings do not. They felt the weight of the story they were trying to represent and wanted to do it justice.

I absolutely love this project, and I look forward to it so much. Our students have so much to say, and we can learn from them if we just listen and let them create.

I have created a project assignment that you can use for any story, novel, memoir, or play so that you can try it with what you’re reading!