National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
The Shawl

The Shawl

by Cynthia Ozick

Just as you can’t grasp anything without an opposable thumb, you can’t write anything without the aid of metaphor. Metaphor is the mind’s opposable thumb.


Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.

  1. Have the students create a photo gallery of Warsaw before, during, and after World War II. If possible, try to include scenes and persons reflective of the The Shawl: a home of a well-to-do family, a synagogue, Nazi soldiers, the Warsaw ghetto, and so on. Display the gallery in the classroom or school library.
  2. Show your class the DVD of Schindler’s List. Following the screening, lead a class discussion to explore the accuracy of the portrayals in the movie and The Shawl, in both detail and spirit.
  3. Ask your class to collect various buttons. After your class has collected as many buttons as they can, create a display. More than six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Calculate how many lives each button collected would have to represent. Display your collection along with photos and stories of those who perished in the extermination camps. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a good resource for the photos and stories.
  4. Ozick turned The Shawl into a play by the same name. Work with a theater teaching artist to have students adapt scenes from the novel. Student writers might learn to direct their adaptation with the assistance of a teaching artist. Other students might create stage sets for each scene. Perform these scenes at a school assembly or Big Read event. Or, have students from the theater club perform adaptations.
  5. Have the students draw a series of portraits of Rosa Lublin at various stages of her life: the happy child; the enthusiastic student; the protective mother; the young woman whose world has been destroyed; the older woman troubled by society’s ability to forget so easily. Display these Stages of a Life in the classroom.
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