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World War I Poetry

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
3 class periods
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Uses primary documents to engage students in large and small group structured analysis of World War I poems by three different poets.

This lesson uses primary documents to engage students in large and small group structured analysis of World War I poems by three different poets.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

College-level ESL learners need to encounter a variety of materials that will both challenge and interest  them.  The poetry of WWI, covering such topics as survival and death, is intrinsically interesting, and the structured materials used will assist students in acquiring transferable skills useful in other academic situations requiring careful and structured analysis.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Read and define language for three separate World War One poems;
  • Conduct a noun-verb-adj/adv breakdown and assign tones to words;
  • Conduct a TPS-FASST and DIDLS analysis for a poem;
  • Present an analysis of the poems to peers.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • This lesson is designed for a community college ESL class in the Northern Marianas.  The  secondary standards of the Common Core are not applicable; individual state standards can be applied here.
Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed
  • Structured analysis guides/handouts/:  A Selection of Tone Words, Analyzing for Tone DIDLS, Poetry Analysis TPS-FASTT, Poetry Analysis TPS-FASTT blank (for completion), and Poetry Presentation Rubric; all are public documents.
Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
  • John McCrae, In Flanders Fields
  • Rupert Brooke, The Soldier
  • Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est


Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

Begin the lesson with a general discussion of World War I.  Any variety of introduction material may be used; the seven-minute documentary WWI in Color could be particularly appropriate here.  Segue into a discussion of how poets captured the spirit and the sense of the times through their work.  Introduce the poets:

World War One, declared at the time as the "war to end all wars," was an event of merciless slaughter across the nations of Eastern and Western Europe.  Men from all walks of life, including trained and talented poets, served, observed, and wrote to describe their experiences.  Three of those poets were Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and John McCrae.

Rupert Brooke was a Cambridge graduate.  He joined the British Navy when WW 1 started and died of blood poisoning caused by an insect bite at the age of 27, apparently before having a chance to participate in any battles.

Wilfred Owen was a British soldier who wrote some of the best poetry on World War I. He was sent to France to fight the Germans. He was injured by German gas, but survived.  He then went back to fight and was killed in action in November 1918, one week before the Armistice. He was 25 years old.

John McCrae was a Canadian soldier, doctor, and poet. He wrote In Flanders Fields after witnessing the death of his close friend during the battle of Ypres in Belgium. His poem influenced the British and the Commonwealths to use poppy as the flower of remembrance for the war dead.

Introduce the poems by passing out copies or projecting the poems for class viewing.  Read or have students read the poems aloud with the whole class, and define all vocabulary needed. 

The Poems:

The Soldier

By Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:

     That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be

     In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

     Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;

A body of England’s, breathing English air,

     Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

     A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

          Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

     And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

          In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.


In Flanders Fields

By John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

     That mark our place; and in the sky

     The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

     Loved and were loved, and now we lie,

          In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

     The torch; be yours to hold it high.

     If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

     In Flanders fields.


Dulce et Decorum Est

By Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.


(The Latin phrase is from the Roman poet Horace: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”)

  • Break students into three groups (or more, according to class size); assign one poem to each group.  Have students first complete a subject-verb-adjective/adverb analysis by breaking the poem into its diverse grammatical elements, then use the Selection of Tone Words handout to group and categorize the parts of speech according to their tone.
  • Following that breakdown, use TPS-FASTT handout to analyze the poem by contemplating its Title, Paraphrasing the poem line by line, identifying the Speaker in the poem, identifying possible Figurative language used, determining the poem’s Attitude, recognizing the significance of Shifts, interpreting the Title post-analysis, and finally by identifying and stating a clearly written, full-sentence Theme.
  • To assist in identifying the poem’s tone, have the students conduct a further examination of the poem using the DIDLS handout.  Here the students will examine Diction by looking at literal vs. connotative meaning of the words, by identifying Images which shape emotional feelings about the poem, by noting Details, both those included and those missing, by further examining the Language of the poem for formality, jargon, or other anomalies of speech, and finally by considering how the Structure of the poem - sentence length, stanza structure, interjections and flow - affects meaning, rhyme, and rhythm.
  • When work is complete, the groups present their analyses to their peers in whatever method or format the teacher or class prefers. 
Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

Spend time with each group throughout the process to ensur