Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Teacher Guide by Becky Harvey

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Number the Stars Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Number the Stars Include:

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, is a realistic historical fiction that portrays a young Danish girl, Annemarie, during the Nazi occupation. Annemarie’s best friend Ellen and her family are Jewish, and as such, are being hunted by the Nazis. Annemarie’s entire family works tirelessly and at their own peril to save Ellen’s family, as well as many others unknown to them. Many, many Danish people secretly rebelled against the unwelcome invasion of their country. As a result, the Danish Resistance formed and members found ways to undermine the Nazis.

One such way was to sneak out the Danish Jews and get them to the safety of Sweden, a country that Germany did not want to occupy and which remained neutral throughout the course of the war. Ellen’s parents and uncle, as well as her dead sister’s fiance, work relentlessly to move them safely out from under the all-seeing eyes of the soldiers, and their ever-sniffing dogs.

For more information about teaching The Holocaust, see our History of the Holocaust Teacher Guide.

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Number the Stars Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

FAST Character Map | Number the Stars

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As students read the Number the Stars book, a storyboard can serves as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information and details about important characters. With character mapping, it’s easy for students to follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

In this “FAST” Character Map, students should state each character’s feelings, actions, sayings, and thoughts.

You can click on this map and create a copy on your teacher account. Feel free to use it as is, or to edit it for the level of your class. Printing it as worksheets, for your students to complete while reading, is a fast and easy way to incorporate this character map into your classroom

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in Number the Stars and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Feelings, Actions, Sayings, and Thoughts.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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SWBST - Somebody Wanted But So Then | Number the Stars

Storyboards can help students identify important parts of a book and allow them to figure out, visually, what the consequences are of certain actions.

  • In this particular exercise, students choose a character and introduce them in the first Somebody cell.

  • In the second cell, the Wanted, the student depicts a goal of their character.
    Annemarie just wants her friends to be safe from the Nazis

  • The center But cell shows a conflict, something that might keep the desired thing from happening.
    The Nazis check to see who is Jewish and who is not.

  • In the fourth So cell, students will show what the character did to help solve the problem.
    Annemarie’s family worked together to sneak the Rosens out of the country and out of danger.

  • In the final cell Then, student should show the final outcome.
    The Rosen family safe in Sweden.

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Plot Diagram | Number the Stars Summary

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a book. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Plot Diagram Example for Number the Stars


Number the Stars begins with Annemarie and Ellen, her Jewish friend, having a run-in with some Nazi soldiers. They are very scared of the soldiers.


The Nazis want to round up the Danish Jewish population, despite an agreement that they wouldn't be aggressive.

Rising Action

Annemarie’s family decide to help sneak Ellen, her family, and other Jewish Danes who Annemarie doesn’t know, to the safety of Sweden by smuggling them on Uncle Henrik’s fishing boat.


Annemarie is tasked with taking a very important basket filled with lunch goodies to Uncle Henrik. She doesn’t realize it, but the handkerchief that is packed under the lunch is covered with a special drug that the resistance scientists have formulated. It attracts the Nazis guard dogs, but when the dogs sniff the substance, it makes them lose their sense of smell, rendering them useless at finding stowaway Jews. Annemarie gets stopped by some Nazi soldiers and almost has her whole basket taken. Without that handkerchief, the Rosens and all the other stowaways on Henrik’s boat would have been discovered.

Falling Action

The Rosens and the other Jews are packed into the boat and the dogs don’t detect them because they’ve smelled the handkerchief.


All of the Jews that Uncle Henrik sailed to Sweden are safe and sound in the neutral country. Annemarie can safely sit back and fondly think about her friend, Ellen.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Number the Stars.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  3. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  4. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Identifying Themes in Number the Stars

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify a specific theme from the book, Number the Stars, and support their choices with details from the text.

Using a spider map and cells with description boxes, students should depict scenes from the story that illustrate how characters in the book demonstrated bravery.


  • When running down the street, the girls are stopped by a Nazi Officer.

  • Peter visits the scientist to help the Rebellion.

  • When German soldiers stop Ellen, she has no idea that the handkerchief has a special solution on it that keeps the dogs from smelling. It is elemental in the escape plans that Uncle Henrik has.

  • The Danish Jews had to be very brave to hide in the boat, not knowing if the dogs would be able to sniff them out, allowing for their capture.

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Comparing the Number the Stars Book to History

Often, we have background knowledge about a subject, or research the subject over the course of time in which we read our books. Historical fictions are books that use a real place and time as the setting of a fictional story. These stories often seem realistic and may be based on real accounts of something that actually happened.

In Number the Stars, the occupation of Denmark by Germany and their intended seizure of all Jewish people really happened. The Danish Resistance Movement was also real. Lowry’s characters, though doing many of the things that Danes did to help Danish Jews, are fictional. They were based on real people, but unlike the account in The Diary of Anne Frank, these characters never actually lived.

The Danish Rescue Effort

Number the Stars

In the book, there are many fishermen who also helped to save the lives of people being hunted by the Nazis. Peter was an active member of the Danish Resistance, and Uncle Henrik was one of the fishermen who sailed people to Sweden for safety.

Real Life

Over 7,200 Jewish citizens of Denmark were saved because of the efforts of the Danish Resistance Movement. Fishermen did smuggle Jewish Danes to Sweden.

Nazi Detainment

Number the Stars

People were collected from the streets and sent to detainment camps, simply for being Jewish.

Real Life

Nazis did hunt and imprison Jews. They segregated people based on religion, gender, and race. Many people the Nazis did not like were sent to prison camps.

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A Quick Synopsis of Number the Stars (Contains Plot Spoilers)

Annemarie Johansen lives in Denmark during World War II. Her best friend is Ellen Rosen. They are as close as sisters. Ellen is Jewish and the Nazis have just invaded Denmark. Supposedly, it is a non-aggressive infiltration. However, the Nazis are continuing the round-up of Jews, as they did in other countries. Annemarie and Ellen are scared of all of the soldiers that walk the streets with guns and dogs. They even get stopped for running a race down the street.

Annemarie’s sister, Lise, had been a part of the Danish Resistance Movement. Its purpose was to fight the invasion and occupation of the Nazis. They wound up saving nearly all of the 8,000 Danish Jews when the Nazis decided it was time to round them up. Lise was killed during a demonstration, but the family still thinks of her often and it makes Annemarie sad to think of her. The fact that Lise had very dark hair made it easy to pass Ellen off as her when the Germans came to inspect the Johansen’s home.

One night, as Annemarie is thinking solemnly about her sister Lise, she remembers a story her Papa had told her about the king. One of the German soldiers had been in a crowd when the King of Denmark rode by on his horse. The soldier asked a boy where all his guardsmen and soldiers were. The boy said, “All of Denmark is his bodyguard.” And in a way, not only do the Danes watch out for the king, they all care and watch out for each other as well. That is why the Germans had such a hard time rounding up Jews in Denmark. Working together, Danes rescued over 7,200 Jew, out of the 8,000 who lived there during the occupation.

Annemarie’s family did their part, as well. They staged an elaborate fake death so many Jews could gather in Uncle Henrik’s home to prepare for their escape. They had a closed coffin in the living room and told a guard that the doctor had required it closed because “Great-Aunt Bertie” had died of typhus. Uncle Henrik goes to his boat to prepare. The Jewish “mourners” sneak off to the boat in small groups throughout the night. Peter, Lise’s fiance and a fierce Resistance fighter, brings an important package to Mrs. Johansen. It must get to the boat before morning. Mrs. Johansen sets out to bring it to Henrik, but she breaks her ankle on a loose rock. When Annemarie realizes her mother is hurt, she brings her inside. Mrs. Johansen tells her to take the envelope and put it under a napkin and some food and bring it to her uncle. Mrs. Johansen says that if soldiers stop her, just say she is bringing lunch to her uncle, a fisherman. Annemarie does get stopped by guards and they go through her entire basket and laugh at the handkerchief that is in the hidden envelope. They let her on her way.

It turns out that the handkerchief was paramount in the escape plan. Peter had worked with Resistance scientists to come up with a formula that would attract dogs with its scent but also would render the dogs incapable of smelling anything for a period of time afterwards. Henrik kept it at the front of the boat, so even though the Nazis went aboard and checked for stowaways with dogs trained to sniff out humans, once they smelled the chemical on the handkerchief, they were unable to detect any of the Jewish people who were packed like sardines under the boat’s floorboards. Henrik saw the Rosens to safety on the shores of Sweden.

The book ends with the war coming to an end. The Johansens have tended their Jewish neighbors houses, waiting for their safe return. Peter and other members of the Resistance had been killed by the Nazis prior to the war ending. The author, Lois Lowry, also ends with a little tidbit on how much of the story is real. Though the characters are fictional, they are based on the life of a good friend of Lowry’s who spent her childhood in Copenhagen, Denmark during the war. She also states that the handkerchief was a real thing. They were given to all the ship captains and they contained rabbit’s blood and cocaine to attract and disable the dogs.

Essential Questions for Number the Stars

  1. What would you risk to save your friends and neighbors?
  2. How important is trust?

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•   (English) Number the Stars   •   (Español) Número de las Estrellas   •   (Français) Nombre D'étoiles   •   (Deutsch) Anzahl der Sterne   •   (Italiana) Conta le Stelle   •   (Nederlands) Nummer the Stars   •   (Português) Número das Estrelas   •   (עברית) מספר הכוכבים   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) عدد النجوم   •   (हिन्दी) संख्या सितारे   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Сосчитай Звезды   •   (Dansk) Antal Stjernerne   •   (Svenska) Antal Stjärnorna   •   (Suomi) Lue Tähdet   •   (Norsk) Antall the Stars   •   (Türkçe) Yıldızları Sayılar   •   (Polski) Liczba Gwiazd   •   (Româna) Numărul de Stele   •   (Ceština) Číslo Hvězdy   •   (Slovenský) Počet Hviezdičiek   •   (Magyar) Number the Stars   •   (Hrvatski) Broj Zvjezdica   •   (български) Номерирай Звездите   •   (Lietuvos) Suskaičiuok Žvaigždes   •   (Slovenščina) Število Zvezdami   •   (Latvijas) Skaits Stars   •   (eesti) Tähti