RMartinello's picture

I am currently the History/Geography head at St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School in Cambridge, Ontario. I teach History, Law and Civics. I am in my 26th year of teaching.

Using Simulations and Inquiry - The Nuremburg Trials

As with James and Michael, this will be my last blog for the Historical Thinking Project. I have enjoyed reading the other blogs and the interesting approaches to teaching historical concepts. I am amazed by the thoughtful creativity I have seen and am encouraged by the directions that our practices our teaching has taken us. With that, I leave you with one last lesson.

 I believe that using an inquiry method can involve a long detailed approach to a subject or theme, or it can involve a specific, targeted approach that can tackle an issue in a short, time restricted environment. I used the latter approach in a recent lesson on the Nuremburg Trials.

 The question for inquiry we tackled was: Who Should Have Been Convicted? I could have done a lesson on identifying the nature of the crimes, the evidence brought forward against the accused and the verdicts, along with judgments passed against each. Instead, I turned over the process of deciding guilt to the students.

 In this activity, each student became a judge on the International Military Tribunal which passed verdicts on accused Nazis. To prepare them for their roles I went through the four specific charges that were laid as part of the trials:

  1. Crimes Against Peace
  2. War Crimes
  3. Crimes Against Humanity
  4. Conspiracy.

Each of the crimes was defined for the students making sure they understood the criteria that were to be used in reaching a verdict for each of the accused.

 Next, I prepared a short biography of four of the accused brought before the IMT. They were Herman Goering, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Alfred Rosenberg and Rudolf Hess. I limited the biographies to their actions in the pre-war and war periods. I found this part a little tricky because I didn’t want the biographies to purposely sway the verdicts. As a result, I swung between too much and too little information. This was a particular problem with Hess because of his mid-war flight to Britain and his limited role in the war from 1941 on.

 Finally, I gave the students three options for punishment in the event of conviction. Their choices were 20 years imprisonment, life imprisonment, and finally, death.

Students were given organizers for each of the accused that asked them to list the specific and relevant evidence to be used for each charge, their verdict and the punishment given.

Students then shared their decisions with the class and we compared their decisions to the others. Finally, I produced the actual verdicts with punishments.

I find in an activity like this, students take greater responsibility for their learning because they engage themselves in the process. They also develop a deeper understanding because they are required to use similar criteria for decisions as the actual actors of the time. Finally, it provokes further questions for inquiry, particularly when their decisions do not match the decisions reached by the historical actors.

I have attached the Powerpoint I use when present this particular lesson. This approach can obviously be modified for other decision making issues in your courses.  

As a final note, I would like to thank Jill for this opportunity. I would also like to thank those teachers who have contacted me for advice and clarification. Please continue to write to me with questions. As you can likely tell, I have some limited ideas about the teaching of historical thinking and the inquiry process. With that in mind, I look forward to those of you who would like to share your insights into your teaching practices.


What is a Benchmark?

<p>John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising &amp; Marketing History,<br />Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections</p>

A surveyor cut a "benchmark" into a stone or a wall when measuring the altitude and/or level of a tract of land. A bracket called a "bench" was secured in the cut to mount the surveying equipment, and all subsequent measurements were made in reference to the position and height of that mark.

The term "benchmark" was first used around 1842 to refer to a standard of quality by which achievement may be measured.

The foundation documents available through the Benchmarks site attempt to help teachers establish standards for assessing student learning of the modes of thought that constitute historical thinking.

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History,
Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections