World War I poetry teaching pack

Last updated: 15/11/2023
Contributor: jill carter
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Teaching pack
World War One

World War One inspired the war poets to respond to the horrors and brutalities of war in new ways, writing some of the most vivid, profound and powerful poetry in English Literature. Help your year 7, 8 and 9 students to appreciate their sacrifices with this thoughtful and engaging scheme of learning.

This student-facing pack includes 8 lessons with a range of classroom resources and activities to develop students’ understanding and appreciation of poetic form, structure and style, while building their core reading, writing, comprehension, vocabulary and oracy skills.

What's included?

Each lesson includes starter activities, followed by 5-6 main activities, and an extension or homework task, with answers for self- or peer marking in class. There are 8 PowerPoint presentations to help you to deliver each lesson, and a summative assessment with an accompanying PowerPoint to review and check students' progress and learning.   

Activities in this scheme of learning include: 

  • scaffolded writing tasks to develop students’ analytical writing skills 
  • comparative tasks looking at two poems and approaches to tackling unseen poems 
  • comprehension questions to check students’ understanding 
  • discussion tasks, reading aloud and performance ideas to build oral skills and reading confidence  
  • word decoding tasks, glossaries and word banks to build students’ vocabulary
  • formative assessment tasks and low-stakes quizzes. 

There are also carefully scaffolded and differentiated poetry analysis tasks to help students understand how to use World War I poetry quotes in their written work. 

The pack aims to bring the context of the poems to life, with a range of historic texts including propaganda posters, soldiers’ diaries and letters sent home, as well as facts about the Great War. 

There are 13 famous World War I poems to explore, including 'The Troop Ship' by Isaac Rosenberg, 'Futility' and 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen, 'First Time In' by Ivor Gurney, John McCrae's 'In Flanders Fields', 'Owl' by Edward Thomas and 'Recruiting' by E.A Mackintosh, as well as poems by Henry Smalley Sarson. Women's poetry from World War I is also recognised, including 'The Gift of India' by Sarojini Naidu, 'Who's for the Game?' by Jessie Pope, May Wedderburn Cannan's 'August 1914' and Sara Teasdale's 'Spring in War-Time'.

Taking a thematic approach to war poetry throughout the lessons, students will consider the start of the war, propaganda, recruitment and the call-up, before exploring life at the front, the horror of war in the trenches and the camaraderie between soldiers who served on the frontlines. There is also a focus on women's lives on the home front and a lesson on the significant contribution of British Empire soldiers, looking at Caribbean, Indian and black British recruits.   

This 78-page teaching pack includes everything you need to explore the context, power and impact of World War I poetry with KS3 English Literature students.

See all our teaching packs, or download more poetry teaching packs for KS3-4.

What's inside?

Overview for teachers 

Lesson overview 

Featured poets 

Lesson 1: The start of World War I (pages 11-16)

  • Starter activity 1: Quick knowledge check
  • Starter activity 2: Mind mapping
  • Activity 1: Reading and summarising
  • Activity 3: Exploring the context of the war
  • Activity 4: Exploring language
  • Activity 5: Summarising and dual-coding
  • Activity 6: Annotation

Lesson 2: Propaganda and recruitment 

  • Starter activity 1: Ranking persuasive techniques
  • Activity 1: Analysing persuasive techniques
  • Activity 2: Performing the poem
  • Activity 3: Analysing the poem’s rhyme scheme
  • Activity 4: Writing about rhyme
  • Activity 5: Exploring the poem further
  • Activity 6: Paragraph writing

Lesson 3: The call-up 

  • Starter activity 1: Reading aloud
  • Activity 1: Word choices
  • Activity 2: Reading comprehension
  • Activity 3: Think, pair, share – comparing poems
  • Activity 4: Exploring informal language
  • Activity 5: Comparing two poems
  • Activity 6: Create your own slogan or propaganda poster

Lesson 4: At the front

  • Starter activity 1: Discussion
  • Activity 1: Reading and language analysis
  • Activity 2: Quick comprehension
  • Activity 3: Pick and mix challenge
  • Activity 4: Prose into poetry
  • Activity 5: Persuasive writing or speech

Lesson 5: The horror of war 

  • Starter activity 1: Learning check
  • Activity 1: Annotation
  • Activity 2: Written analysis
  • Activity 3: Understanding poetic terms
  • Activity 4: Analysing form, structure and rhyme
  • Activity 5: Exploring the effects of a poem’s form, structure and rhyme
  • Activity 6: Analytical writing

Lesson 6: Camaraderie 

  • Starter activity 1: Skim-reading
  • Starter activity 2: Scanning for word choices
  • Activity 1: Group analysis
  • Activity 2: Analysing poetic techniques
  • Activity 3: Words of comfort
  • Activity 4: Your song
  • Activity 5: Close reading
  • Activity 6: Understanding the poem

Lesson 7: Soldiers of the Empire 

  • Starter activity 1: Propaganda and persuasive language analysis
  • Starter activity 2: Predicting
  • Activity 1: Decoding challenging words
  • Activity 2: Understanding the poem
  • Activity 3: Poetic techniques
  • Activity 4: Writing a paragraph
  • Activity 5: Class discussion and commemoration tunnel

Lesson 8: On the home front 

  • Starter activity 1: Considering the context
  • Starter activity 2: Mind mapping
  • Activity 1: Group reading − a ‘whoosh’
  • Activity 2: Quick comprehension
  • Activity 3: Captains of poetry
  • Activity 4: Group discussion
  • Activity 5: Letter writing

Summative assessment 


About the author 

Jill Carter is a former Leader of English and Advanced Skills teacher who now works freelance as an educational author, blogger and online tutor. She has written a wide range of secondary English textbooks and digital resources and has nearly 30 years’ experience as a teacher of English. She's also a long-standing Teachit contributor, who has shared nearly 20 resources with fellow teachers.

A range of example activities on different poems from the teaching pack: 

Comparing two poems: 

1. How does the rhyme scheme E.A. Mackintosh uses in 'Recruiting' differ slightly from Jessie Pope’s rhyme scheme in 'Who's for the Game?'.

2. What is the poet’s message about the propaganda of World War I?

Pick and mix challenge: 

a. What is the tone of this poem? Which word would you choose to describe its tone:

sorrowful          woeful           melancholy         sad

          mournful          puzzled            angry

Explain your choice, using the following sentence starter: The tone of Wilfred Owen’s poem is

b. The sun is personified. Select three quotations which show this. What effect does this personification have?


Read the poem and summarise the poem in a few sentences in your own words.

Use the storyboard to add up to four images to show how the poet describes the trench in the poem.

Persuasive writing or speech:

Do you think ‘Futility’ is a good choice of poem for Remembrance Day? You could consider the fact that remembrance means to keep something in mind. Explain your ideas.

Support: You could begin your short speech or persuasive writing like this:

In my opinion, ‘Futility’ is an excellent / inappropriate choice of poem for Remembrance Day because ...'

Challenge: include ideas about the wider questions related to peace that this poem provokes. You could use the phrases ‘On one level this poem is about ... but on another level it encourages us to consider ...’

Homework or extension

Using the diary and letter extracts from this lesson as your starting point, imagine you are a young solider on the front, far from home and loved ones. Write your own letter home.  

You could continue Wilfred Owen’s letter from where it ends, or, if you prefer, imagine the diary entry is a letter home and continue it.

World War I poetry teaching pack
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