The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Teacher Guide by Becky Harvey

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Boy in the Striped Pajamas Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Include:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is the story of an innocent and ignorant boy whose father is the commandant of the concentration/death camp Auschwitz in Nazi-controlled Poland during World War II. Though the book is written in third person/omniscient point of view, the author has Bruno use his unknowing voice, calling Auschwitz “Out-with”, and the Fuhrer (Adolf Hilter) “the Fury”, to show his true misunderstanding of all that is actually happening around him.

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

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a novel. 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.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Creating a storyboard for summarizing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas will challenge students to decide what is essential. Similar to a "Five Finger Retell", students need to think critically about the events in order. This activity will also give students the opportunity to explore characters in more depth.

Consider having students plan their storyboard with a blank template prior to creating the full storyboard online. Students should begin with the retold narrative in each box before adding character dialogue. This will allow them to focus on the purpose of retelling without getting distracted by the details of the storyboard.

Example Plot Diagram for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas


The book starts by introducing young Bruno. He is very upset because his maid is packing all of his things and he doesn't understand why she would be touching his belongings. It turns out that his father is a German officer during World War II and his job is requiring a move from Berlin to Poland to live near the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Major Inciting Conflict

In addition to the Nazi vs. Jews conflict, there is also a conflict between Bruno and his parents. They don't fully realize how severe the conflict is - Bruno not liking his new home and lack of friends - but it leads to his escape into the camp.

Rising Action

Bruno goes against his mothers wishes and "explores" beyond the fenced back yard. He meets and befriends Shmuel and he begins to visit him daily. He sneaks food to him as well.


Bruno changes into a set of striped pajamas and crawls under the fence to the prisoner side. He leaves his clothes and boots. The two boys go to look around the prison grounds for Shmuel's father, who has gone missing.

Falling Action

Bruno and Shmuel get locked inside the prison.


Both Bruno and Shmuel are murdered in the gas chamber. This is never fully realized by his parents, but it leads both into a world of despair and pain.

(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 The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

  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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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Character Map Graphic Organizer

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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along with the story.

In this activity, students create an outline for the characters in the story, paying close attention to the feelings and actions of both major and minor characters. Students can also provide detailed information regarding the character’s actions, how they influence other characters, and how the main character changed over time.

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.


Physical Traits

  • Nine-year-old boy
  • "Little man", as Lieutenant K calls him - because he hasn't had his growth spurt yet.

Character Traits

  • Oblivious to the horrors of Out-with (Auschwitz)
  • Sweet when he wants to be, but also sarcastic and defiant
  • Sad about moving from Berlin
  • Very friendly with Shmuel

Significant Moment

  • Decides to sneak under the fence to experience living like Shmuel. He has no idea what this means or what is happening to the prisoners on the inside of the fenced area.

(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 The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 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 Physical Traits, Character Traits, and Significant Moment.
  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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Comparing Characters in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Bruno and Shmuel

Drawing inferences and figuring out how one character relates to and plays off of another is a good exercise for students. Comparing and contrasting characters like Bruno and Shmuel in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas enables the student to think about what the text says explicitly and allows them to draw local conclusions.

When comparing Bruno and Shmuel in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, students should see that Bruno is a very curious boy, yet he is utterly ignorant about the situation around him. Shmuel, though he may not realize that hundreds of detainees are being executed, is aware that he is seen as a third-class citizen - or even a “non-person” - and is very careful not to incite the anger of guards around the camp.

  • Before reading, it is good to introduce your students to a list of characters.

  • While reading, students should track their characters and fill in information about them. A great way to do this is to stop after each or chapter and ask them to fill in the new information they learned. If students run out of room on their worksheets, they can continue in their notebooks or on the back of the paper.

  • After reading, have students compare the completed worksheets with a classmate, recording any information they may have missed. This makes for an excellent study guide, and you could have students complete a writing assignment based on a character.

Have students attach their storyboard to a paper requiring in-depth explanation of an element throughout the novel, or couple this assignment with a presentation.

Character Comparison: Bruno and Shmuel


  • Both boys were forced to move from their beloved homes: Bruno from his home in Berlin when his father got a new position in the Nazi regime as Commandant of Auschwitz and Shmuel from his home in Poland when he was taken as a prisoner of war and put in a concentration camp.
  • Both boys were born on April 15th, 1934 to loving parents.
  • Both boys are educated: Bruno has a private tutor who teaches him what the Nazi party deems appropriate and Shmuel is taught by his mother, who was a teacher prior to being sent to Auschwitz.


  • Bruno lives in relative opulence, with maids and servants. Shmuel lives in an crowded, filthy barrack run by cruel and viscous guards.
  • Bruno was born in Nazi-ruled Germany to parents on the "right" side of Hitler's regime. Shmuel was born in Poland to Jewish parents.
  • Bruno is completely ignorant with regards to the events at the concentration camp. Shmuel is keenly aware of the actions of the Nazis, including starvation, beatings, and murders.
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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Theme Graphic Organizer

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify a specific theme from the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and support their choices with details from the text. The novel deals with some of the more horrible aspects of war, and, in particular, The Holocaust. As a result, the novel is rich with important themes, from innocence and friendship, to boundaries and obedience.

As a classroom activity, students can track the rich thematic writing that Boyne uses throughout The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. In the example storyboard below, the creator has focused on Boyne's use of the following themes in the novel: innocence, boundaries, friendship, and conformity.

Using the grid layout, students should create a 3-6 count vertical chart, as seen in the example below. On the title bar of the left column, students can identify the theme, and in the cell to the right, they can depict a scene or moment from the book that captures that theme. The storyboard should include description boxes so the student can use examples from the book to justify why they have chosen a particular theme.

Examples of Themes in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas


Bruno often shows his innocence and naivete when it comes to the atrocities around him. He doesn't seem to understand what is going on. He certainly doesn't understand that his father is in charge of the horrible treatment of the prisoners.


In addition to the physical boundaries, which the prisoners experience with the fences, there are also boundaries such as not speaking to non-prisoners and not taking food from them. After Bruno gives Shmuel chicken slices, Shmuel is accused of stealing them.


“He looked down and did something quite out of character for him: he took hold of Shmuel's tiny hand in his and squeezed it tightly. "You're my best friend, Shmuel," he said. "My best friend for life.”


Despite the fact that Pavel (the once doctor, turned house servant) cleans Bruno's wounded knee, Mother says that she did it so that Pavel won't be punished by the soldier for touching a non-prisoner.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Comparing the Book to the Film

After both reading the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and watching the movie, students should be able to identify many similarities and differences. In reading, students can often let their imaginations create the characters and settings. When viewing a movie that has been based off of a movie, the characters or settings may seem different than what the reader imagined them to be. When students both read and watch a production of the same story, it can be interesting to see their different reactions.

With that in mind, have students read the entire book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Then, show them the movie adaptation. Once they have read and watched, have them create a comparison chart like the one below.

Examples of differences




Bruno enters his room and sees his maid, Maria, packing and is furious that she is touching his things. He yells and screams to his mother who explains that they must pack and move immediately. He wonders if he's done something bad and is being sent away. Bruno's mother and father throw an extravagant party in their elegant Berlin home to celebrate Bruno's father's promotion.


Bruno is constantly calling the concentration camp, Auschwitz, "Out-with", shows his innocence and ignorance to the atrocities happening all around him. Bruno discusses how nice the living quarters must be in the "farm" because he saw a Nazi propaganda movie that his father had prepared for Hitler - little did he know that people were living like this.

What was Auschwitz?

Bruno never fully understands that "Out-with" is a work camp full of prisoners, never mind a concentration camp that murders hundreds at a time. Gretel tells Bruno that it is not a farm, it is a "work camp" for Jews. He then sees a propaganda movie that makes it look lovely for the prisoners, but then sees it from the inside, just before being brought into the gas chamber, and he realizes what it is really like.

Lack of Security

When Bruno breaks into the camp, he only needs to lift the fence and crawl under. The fence is electrified and Bruno needs to bring a shovel and dig his way in.

The Whereabouts of Bruno

Nobody ever knows what happened to Bruno. A soldier found his clothes but nobody could think what happened to him. Mother eventually returned to Berlin thinking that he might have found his way there. When they find the shovel and Bruno's clothes, they take dogs to follow his scent. When Mother sees them and the smoke from the gas chamber, she begins screaming. Father hears her cries. They both realize that Bruno has been murdered in the gas chamber.
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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Summary

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas begins with a young Bruno frantically trying to figure out why his maid is touching and packing up all of his things. He wonders if he has done something wrong. He is a young boy during World War II, the son of a Nazi commandant, living in Berlin. Due to his father's sudden promotion, Bruno and his family are forced to move to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland.

Bruno is unabashedly against the move, protesting loudly to his mother and to his maid. After the move, Bruno sulks, inconsolably, at the loss of his Berlin home and friends. He is bored and lonely. He is also under strict orders not to explore too much, due to living in such close proximity to a concentration camp. This is difficult for Bruno to accept because he wants to be an explorer when he grows up. He is, however, ignorant of what the Nazi party does to the “guests” of the camp. He thinks that the camp is full of farmers.

When playing outside, Bruno falls off of a tire swing. When he goes inside, a man tends to his cuts. He tells Bruno that he is a doctor. Bruno doesn’t understand why a doctor of medicine would quit to tend to his family. The man is a prisoner of “Out-with” (Auschwitz) and has been forced into servitude. He also will get in trouble if someone learns he had touched Bruno. When Bruno’s mother finds out about it, she lies to her husband and says that she tended to his injuries.

Bruno decides to disobey his parents and go past the walls of their yard. Quite a distance from his home, Bruno comes upon a section of fence, and behind it is a boy about his age. He sits down and befriends the boy. Bruno has lots of questions, many of which the little boy, whose name is Shmuel, cannot answer. Bruno takes to visiting Shmuel many times. Quickly, they become the closest of friends. It seems that Shmuel understands more about what is happening than Bruno, yet he still seems innocent in some ways. Bruno smuggles all kinds of food and goodies to Shmuel as often as he is able. Meanwhile, as Shmuel's friendship with Bruno grows, his mother is becoming increasingly disgusted with what is happening with the prison, and Bruno’s sister Gretel’s love for the Nazi party is becoming stronger.

One day, Bruno begins to talk about Shmuel coming over to his side of the fence, but Shmuel says it is not allowed. Knowing that was true, Bruno says he could go over to Shmuel’s side. Shmuel didn’t understand why anyone would voluntarily come to his side of the fence. Bruno tells Shmuel that if he gathers some worn striped pajamas, then Bruno could truly fit in with that special community. Shmuel knows where to find some for him.

When the day ends, Bruno is so excited. He runs to the fence with joy, and Shmuel is happy to see Bruno. Bruno squeezes under the fence, leaving his clothes behind. He quickly gets into the ill-fitting and unwashed garments. The two boys begin to look for Shmuel's father and somehow end up in a large group. It is raining and the guards march the group into a gas chamber. Bruno is scared, and so is Shmuel. They hold hands.

The doors to the “shelter” close, the gas pours in, and people begin to scream. Bruno has accidentally been put to death by the Nazis. Bruno’s mother realizes what has happened when she sees the pile of clothes next to the fence. Everyone goes looking for poor little Bruno. They never find him.

Essential Questions for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

  1. How important is it to have knowledge and to be informed?
  2. What is the meaning of friendship?
  3. How does fear stop us from doing what is right?

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•   (English) The Boy in the Striped Pajamas   •   (Español) El Niño con el Pijama de Rayas   •   (Français) Le Garçon au Pyjama Rayé   •   (Deutsch) Der Junge im Gestreiften Pyjama   •   (Italiana) Il Ragazzo col Pigiama a Righe   •   (Nederlands) De Jongen in de Gestreepte Pyjama   •   (Português) O Menino do Pijama Listrado   •   (עברית) הנער המפוספס   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الولد في البجامة المخططة   •   (हिन्दी) धारीदार पजामों वाला लड़का   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Мальчик в Полосатой Пижаме   •   (Dansk) Drengen i den Stribede Pyjamas   •   (Svenska) Pojken i Randig Pyjamas   •   (Suomi) Poika Raidallisessa Pyjamassa   •   (Norsk) Gutten i den Stripete Pyjamasen   •   (Türkçe) Çizgili Pijamalı Çocuk   •   (Polski) Chłopiec w Pasiastej Piżamie   •   (Româna) Băiatul din PAJAMAS Striped   •   (Ceština) Chlapec v Pruhovaném Pyžamu   •   (Slovenský) Chlapec v Pruhovanom Pyžame   •   (Magyar) A fiú a Csíkos Pizsamás   •   (Hrvatski) Dječak u Prugastom Pidžama   •   (български) Момчето в Пижамата с Ресни   •   (Lietuvos) Į Dryžuotas Pižamas Vaikinas   •   (Slovenščina) Pob v Striped Pižamo   •   (Latvijas) Zēnam Svītraino Pidžamas   •   (eesti) Poiss Triibuline Pidžaamad