The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – 9 of the best resources for KS2 and KS3 English

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

John Boyne's book and the film adaptation have proved a popular vehicle for teaching the difficult subject of the Holocaust, so we've picked out some of the best activities, worksheets and ideas to use in your classroom…

by Teachwire
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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was written by Irish novelist John Boyne back in 2006, and has since become a global sensation, with the film adaptation coming out two years later in 2008.

The story is set during World War II, and follows Bruno, a 9-year-old boy who has to move to Auschwitz because his father has been made a Commandant by Adolf Hitler.

There he meets a new friend, a Jewish boy called Shmuel, who lives in a camp on the other side of a fence.

Written in third person, but from Bruno’s naive viewpoint, the book allows younger readers to learn about the Holocaust with some semblance of safe distance.

Of course, there is still some contention that varies from school to school on whether or not it’s suitable for certain age groups (or for teaching in school at all – see point 9, below), but if you are going to study the book, film, or both, hopefully these resources will help you out.

Browse more great books for Empathy Day 2023.

1 | John Boyne interview

“Who were these ‘Nazis’?” In this interview we spoke to John Boyne about what made him a reader, why without Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword, he might never have written his own children’s classics and more.

Find out more about the author himself, from his own mouth, here.

2 | Interview with author John Boyne and director Mark Herman

First up, spoiler alert, this video does discuss the ending of the book/film, so maybe one to share with the class afterwards.

Also, there is a cringe-inducing moment where the interviewer mentions John Boyne, not realising that one of the two men he’s talking to, is John Boyne.

But otherwise, this short interview is a nice insight into the story from both the perspective of its author, and the man at the helm of adapting into onto screen.

3 | The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas film lesson

This Into Film guide is useful for exploring topics including English, literacy and citizenship in addition to highlighting themes surrounding historical periods, events and figures and World War Two.

You can download the PDF of activities to accompany the film where you’ll find, similar to the Amnesty International resource, talking points for before and after the film, and activities to do as well.

Plus there are links to resources for recommended films that cover similar themes.

Get it here.

4 | Classroom study guide

Over on the Scholastic site you can download this PDF of notes to support the classroom study of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

They help set up the context of the novel, with background information about the Holocaust and the Second World War, and get students to look into why it is ‘a fable by John Boyne’ rather than an allegory or proverb say.

There are then a range of activities set around passages from the first two chapters, and a page of teachers’ notes.

Download it all here.

5 | The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas worksheets

These simple worksheets from Sarah Clements feature 10 pages of questions and activities for children to work through, with space to write their answers.

Plus, as it’s just a Word Doc, you can edit it to suit your lesson.

6 | Analysing scenes from the film

Over on the Film Education website there’s a nice little interactive page for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, that is divided into a number of sections: At first glance, The opening, Point of View, Characterisation, Reading history, Clip activities and Teachers’ notes.

Then there are subsections within each of those, featuring clips, interviews, script extracts and other activities

Check it all out here.

7 | Five KS3 activities

Teach It English has five different KS3 worksheets you can download for this book:

  • Comparing Lieutenant Kotler and Pavel
  • Bruno’s father on trial
  • Who’s to blame for the deaths of Bruno and Shmuel?
  • Word sort activity
  • Parallels

You’ll find them all here.

8 | Holocaust Memorial Day resources

If you’re studying the book as part of a wider project on the Holocaust, we put together this post for Holocaust Memorial Day in January, which features 11 different resources on this tragic historical event.

Read it here.

9 | Problems with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

As mentioned at the start of this article, not everyone agrees on whether The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is suitable for teaching in schools. The Holocaust Education Trust sets out the issues it sees with the book in its guide for primary school teachers.

Its criticisms include historical inaccuracy and the characterisation and messages within the novel. The HET concludes that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas “has given rise to deeply distorted perceptions of life and death in the camps.”

Alternative books that the HET recommends include:

  • A Candle in the Dark – Adele Geras
  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr
  • One Small Suitcase – Barry Turner
  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (abridged for young readers)
  • Hidden – Loic Dauvillier
  • Number the Stars – Lois Lowry
  • Waiting for Anya – Michael Morpurgo
  • Hitler’s Canary – Sandi Toksvig

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