StudySync Lesson Plan
The Book Thief
           1.   Engage students in the narrative, characters and historical context of an excerpt from
                Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, preparing them to discuss and write critical responses to
                the text.
           2. Practice and reinforce the following Grades 9-10 ELA Common Core Standards for
              reading literature, writing, and speaking and listening:
                              READING: LITERATURE – RL.9-10.1-7, 9-10
                              WRITING – W.9-10.1-7, 9-10
                              SPEAKING AND LISTENING – SL.9-10.1-6

       130 minutes (with an additional 260 minutes of extension possibilities)
SyncTV Premium Lesson on Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief

Australian author Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief became an international bestseller in the
months following its publication in 2006, not long after Zusak’s thirtieth birthday. Narrated by
Death, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl named living in Germany at
the dawn of the Second World War. Death becomes fascinated with Liesel when she is only nine
years old, first encountering her upon the death of her brother—as students will read in the
following excerpts, drawn from the first two chapters of the text. Zusak’s novel explores weighty
themes of mortality and is written in lyrical, experimental prose, but at the core of the narrative is
a paean to the power of language and literature in the face of disaster. Students will read and
analyze the following excerpts, which introduce us to the novel’s setting, as well as its distinct
narrative style. After reading, students will participate in class- and group-led discussions and
write critical responses about the text’s characters, themes, and style, consistent with the ELA
Common Core Standards for Grades 9 and 10.

Background (10 minutes)
           1.   Watch the Preview (SL.9-10.1-2). As a group, watch the video preview of the premium
                lesson. After viewing, use the following questions to spur a discussion:                                                                    Lesson Plan: The Book Thief
                                                     Page 1
a. What was happening in Nazi Germany at the dawn of WWII? When did the war
                       begin, when did the war end—and why? Discuss the devastation throughout
                       Germany and the rest of Europe that occurred as a result of the Great War.

                    b. Why were Jews hiding from the Nazis during WWII? What policies or programs
                       drove Jewish families into hiding? What would happen if they were caught?

                    c. The preview states that The Book Thief, in a strange twist, is narrated by Death.
                       How do we commonly imagine the embodiment of Death? Look at the image in
                       the preview and discuss your own conception of this figure, if any.

                    Extension (additional 100 minutes)

                    d. Research (W.9-10.7 and SL.9-10.4-6). For valuable context, have your students do
                       some research on the Nazi Holocaust. Give each student a different topic or event
                       and ask him or her to prepare a short presentation on the subject assigned. The
                       presentations should incorporate video or audio wherever applicable, and should
                       offer a brief biographical summary of their topic’s importance or legacy in the
                       study of the Holocaust.

                    e. Share	
  (SL.9-10.4-6). How is Death commonly represented in other works of
                       literature and/or film? Have students bring to class a depiction of the figure of
                       Death from another work, famous or not. They should present these depictions to
                       the class with applicable video or images, and discuss how the figure is
                       represented in their chosen work. Is this a common or unusual example? Why?

                    f.   Journal	
  (W.9-10.1-2, 4). Why do we read and tell stories about the Holocaust? What
                         is the value in studying such a disturbing and appalling chapter in modern history?
                         Is there anything we can learn from the horror and tragedy of this? If so, what? Ask
                         students to write a journal entry or essay response addressing any or all of these

                    g. Chart (SL.9-10.1, 3). Is it ever okay to steal? Discuss potential scenarios with the
                       class in which stealing is never okay, as well as times in which it may be more
                       permissible. Together, complete a chart with two columns: on the left, situations in
                       which stealing is never okay, and on the right, situations in which stealing can be
                       forgiven. Once completed, discuss what this chart tells you about morality in times
                       of extreme suffering or hardship. When would stealing books be okay? Why?

Engaging the Text (120 minutes)
              2. Read the Text (30 minutes)

                    a. Read and Annotate (RL.9-10.1-6). Have students read and annotate the
                       introduction and excerpt. If students are completing as a homework assignment,
                       ask them to write any questions they have into the annotation tool–these
                       questions are visible to you after the students submit their writing assignments or
                       beforehand if you use the “Mimic” function to access the students’ accounts.

                    b. Discuss (SL.9-10.1, 3). Have students get into small groups or pairs and briefly
                       discuss the questions and inferences they had while reading.
                    Extension (additional 20 minutes)
                    c. Listen and Discuss (SL.9-10.1-2). As a class, listen to the audio reading of the text.                                                                         Lesson Plan: The Book Thief
                                                        Page 2
Ask students to share how their understanding of the text changed after listening.
                What additional images came to mind? What words did the author use to develop
                the setting?

             d. Comprehend (RL.9-10.1-6, 10). Have students complete the multiple-choice
                questions. Collect papers or discuss answers as a class.

       3. Watch SyncTV (30 minutes)

             a. Watch Either watch the SyncTV discussion as a class or ask students to watch it
                on their individual computers.

             b. Focus (SL.9-10.1-3 and RL.9-10.4-5). From 0:15-1:05, the SyncTV students start by
                debating whether this excerpt from The Book Thief qualifies as poetry or prose,
                even though it seems to contain characteristics of both. Have your students pay
                attention to both sides of this argument and the respective points for each, as well
                as the conclusions at which they arrive.

             c. Focus (SL.9-10.1-3 and RL.9-10.1-3). We know from the preview that the narrator of
                The Book Thief is Death, but have your students watch closely from 1:35-2:20 as
                the SyncTV students share a few examples from the text that we can use to infer
                the narrator’s identity. This is a good example of working backwards from a logical
                conclusion to identify how it is constructed in the text.

             d. Focus (SL.9-10.1-3 and RL.9-10.1-3). Finally, from 4:27-5:10, the TA instructs the
                SyncTV students to think about how the book challenges or plays with our
                conception of what (or who) Death is. Have your own students listen to their
                thoughts and come up with their own corresponding takes on the complexities of
                the excerpt.

             e. Discuss (SL.9-10.1-5 and RL.9-10.1-6, 10). After watching the model discussion,
                have a conversation with the class about the ideas discussed in the SyncTV
                episode. What new thoughts do they have after hearing the students' discussion?
                Next, divide students into small groups (3-4 students). Move around the room
                monitoring groups as students follow the SyncTV episode as a model to discuss
                some of the following questions:

                    i.   Is this excerpt poetry, prose, or both? What, in particular, defines
                         something as “poetry” and what defines something as “prose”? Can you
                         think of any other works you’ve read that blend elements of both genres
                         together? Is this kind of hybridized style a more classical or modern literary

                    ii. Why do you think Zusak chooses to tell the story the way he does? What’s
                        wrong with a more straightforward, traditional prose style? Conversely,
                        why not just write The Book Thief as a lyrical poem? In other words, why
                        do you think Death narrates the story the way he does?

                    iii. How would you describe Death’s personality in this excerpt? How does
                         the author’s characterization of Death challenge or subvert our classical
                         expectations of this figure? How do we traditionally imagine the
                         personification of Death, and how does The Book Thief depart from this?
                         Do you think these departures are effective? Why or why not?

                    iv. What other clues can you draw from this excerpt about the setting and
                        characters in The Book Thief? Using the SyncTV discussion as a model,
                        make a list of other potential clues that tell us the direction the story is                                                                 Lesson Plan: The Book Thief
                                                Page 3
headed (e.g., the Holocaust, WWII). What can we infer about what’s to
                               come in the following chapters?

                           v. Discuss the author’s use of color in the description and imagery in this
                              excerpt. Why does color play an important role here? Why might Death be
                              so fixated on color? What does it tell you about this character, and what
                              does it tell you about the world of the novel? Cite examples within.
                           vi. Why does the author (via Death) tell us what this story is going to be
                               about? Does this add anything to the story? Why would a narrator
                               “summarize” the events to come in the first chapter of a novel? Does this
                               take away from the element of surprise, or does it hook us deeper into the
                               story? Discuss both sides of this.

                    Extension (additional 60 minutes)

                    f. Connect (SL.9-10.1, 3 and W.9-10.3-4, 9). Students now know how Zusak’s
                       characterization of Death sees the world: but how do they see the world? In a
                       class discussion, talk about the different colors on the color spectrum and ask
                       students to share the different memories or feelings they associate with each.
                       Then, after discussing, ask students to write a journal entry about a particular
                       memory from their past, using colors to strengthen their descriptions and imagery.
                    g. Write (SL.9-10.1, 4, 6 and W.9-10.3-4, 9). Split the class into small groups and have
                       each group continue the narrative of The Book Thief from where it leaves off.
                       Groups must share their continuations with the class after completion. Once the
                       groups have all presented their work, award a winner based on creativity, as well
                       as tonal consistency with the narrative ‘voice’ in the excerpt.
              4. Think (10 minutes)

                    a. Respond (W.9-10.1, 4). Ask students to read the “Think” questions, watch the
                       corresponding video clips, and respond to the questions, either in class or for
              5. Write (50 minutes)

                    a. Discuss (SL.9-10.1). Read the prompt you have chosen for students, and then
                       solicit questions regarding the prompt or the assignment expectations. Whichever
                       prompt you have chosen, make sure you are clear about the assignment
                       expectations and the rubric by which you and the other students will be evaluating

                    b. Organize (RL.9-10.1 and W.9-10.1-2, 5). Ask students to go back and annotate the
                       text with the prompt in mind. They should be organizing their thoughts and the
                       points they’ll address in their writing as they make annotations. If you’ve worked
                       on outlining or other organizational tools for writing, this is a good place to apply

                    c. Write (W.9-10.1-2, 4-6, 8-10). Have students go through the writing process of
                       planning, revising, editing, and publishing their writing responses.

                    d. Review (W.9-10.4-6). Use the StudySync “Review” feature to have students
                       complete one to two evaluations of their peers’ work based on your chosen
                       review rubric. Have the students look at and reflect upon the peer evaluations of
                       their own writing. What might you do differently in a revision? How might you
                       strengthen the writing and the ideas?                                                                        Lesson Plan: The Book Thief
                                                        Page 4
Extension (additional 80 minutes)

            e. Write (W.9-10.1-2, 4-6, 9-10). For homework, have students write an essay using
               one of the prompts you did not choose to do in class. Students should publish
               their responses online.

            f.   Write Creatively (W.9-10.3-6, 9-10) The narrator of Death from The Book Thief is a
                 good example of personification, a literary device wherein an author assigns
                 human characteristics to inhuman figures or objects. For a fun creative writing
                 assignment, ask students to choose an inhuman figure or inanimate object of their
                 own, and write a 300-word response from their character’s point of view.
                 Encourage creativity in their responses!                                                               Lesson Plan: The Book Thief
                                                Page 5
Key Vocabulary

       1.   hinder (v.) – To slow or impede; to stop

       2. amiable (adj.) – Pleasant, agreeable, friendly

       3. affable (adj.) – Sociable, easy to get along with, amiable

       4. genially (adv.) – Cheerfully or cordially

       5. intonations (n.) – Different tones in something, usually involving a subtle shift in pitch or

       6. increments (n.) – Small amounts or degrees in which something becomes greater

       7. bluster (n.) – Loudness or aggressiveness, especially using words

       8. abhorrence (n.) – The state of expressing strong dislike

       9. traipse (v.) – To walk or go, usually reluctantly or wearily

       10. elementary (adj.) – Basic, simple

Reading Comprehension Questions

Directions: Circle the best possible answer. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, look it up!

       1.   The narrator of the excerpt describes himself as all of the following EXCEPT
               a. jolly
               b. fair
               c. nice
               d. genial

       2. Whenever the narrator uses the pronoun “you” he is referring to _____________.
            a. Death
            b. the reader
            c. the guards on the train
            d. the daughter

       3. The narrator’s recurring fixation in Part 1 seems to be _____________.
             a. death
             b. the Holocaust
             c. daytime
             d. colors

       4. The narrator’s attempts to cope with his line of work are mostly ______________.
             a. long vacations
             b. reading
             c. distraction and daydreaming
             d. cynicism

       5. “They’re the ones I can’t stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail.”                                                                    Lesson Plan: The Book Thief
                                                  Page 6
The underlined word above refers to _____________.
                 a. the loved ones of the dead
                 b. Holocaust survivors
                 c. the Germans
                 d. children

           6. The “book thief” is _____________.
                 a. the daughter by the train
                 b. Death
                 c. Jewish
                 d. the tall guard

           7. From their dialog we can infer that the two guards on the train are _____________.
                 a. brothers
                 b. Germans
                 c. dead
                 d. all of the above

           8. In Part 2, the train is stopped because _____________.
                  a. someone has died
                  b. the Nazis are searching for someone
                  c. snow is blocking the rails
                  d. it has derailed

           9. “As for me, I had already made the most elementary of mistakes.”

              The mistake the narrator is referring to is _____________.
                 a. arriving on the scene too soon
                 b. forgetting which person he was supposed to take
                 c. not quitting his job sooner
                 d. staying to watch the little girl

           10. “I clearly remember that my breath was loud that day. I’m surprised that the guards didn’t
               notice me as they walked by.”

              This passage suggests that the narrator is _______________.
                  a. invisible to the living
                  b. not very good at his job
                  c. going to die soon
                  d. all of the above

Answer Key
           1. C
           2. B
           3. D
           4. C
           5. A
           6. A
           7. B
           8. C
           9. D
           10. A                                                                     Lesson Plan: The Book Thief
                                                    Page 7
Further Assignments

       1.   After completing this StudySync Premium Lesson, have students read the entirety of
            Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Continue to foster in-class discussion about the themes
            and characters in Zusak’s novel, and have students write essays using the prompts they
            did not respond to before, drawing examples from the whole text—or have them come up
            with their own topics. (RL.9-10.1-6, 10 and W.9-10.1-2, 4, 9-10 and SL.9-10.1, 3)

       2. Once students have read the complete text, show them the 2013 film adaptation of
          Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief—or, if it is still playing in theaters, organize a class field
          trip to watch it on the big screen. After viewing, discuss the filmmakers’ interpretation of
          Riordan’s original text, asking students to talk about which elements were changed or
          removed. Questions to consider: Why do you think the filmmakers made these changes
          to the original story? How do these changes affect the overall story? (RL.9-10.7 and SL.9-
       3. You can also show students Ingmar Bergman’s classic 1957 film The Seventh Seal, which
          contains one of the most iconic and memorable personifications of Death in all of film or
          literature. Students should then write a comparative essay of at least 300-words
          discussing the similarities and differences between Bergman and Zusak’s depictions of
          this character. How does Bergman’s depiction influence Zusak, and how does Zusak
          depart from this depiction? (RL.9-10.7, 9 and W.9-10.2, 4, 9)

       4. Ask students to read Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir Night, also available as a premium
          lesson in the StudySync library. After students complete the reading and activities for
          Night, have them compare these two accounts of this historical period in a 300-word
          written response. Though these two works cover much of the same historical and
          thematic territory, students’ essays should address how their narratives are made distinct
          by the author’s style and narrative choices—including the different perspectives of their
          narrators. (RL.9-10.1-6, 10 and W.9-10.2, 4, 9-10)

       5. The horrors of the Holocaust are continually revisited and explored in modern film. To
          expand students' breadth of knowledge, have them watch one or more films about this
          dark chapter of history. Suggestions: Schindler's List, Life is Beautiful, The Pianist, The
          Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Europa Europa, Judgment at Nuremberg, Shoah. Warning:
          Most of these films contain disturbing imagery and content. (RL.9-10.7, 9)

       6. English language learners can explore how point of view shapes the telling of a story by
          re-writing this excerpt from The Book Thief from the perspective of another character—
          either the “book thief” herself, or her mother, or even one of the guards by the train!
          Learners may want to write their new versions as straightforward prose rather than
          attempting to emulate the style of narration in the original. How does the story become
          “different” when we change the identity of the narrator? (ELL)                                                                   Lesson Plan: The Book Thief
                                                 Page 8
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