Great War (1914-1918): England: Wilfred Owen - Educational Travel Lesson Plan

Educational Travel Lesson Plans

Great War (1914-1918): England: Wilfred Owen

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Description

By an in-depth analysis of primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain how Wilfred Owen’s poetry is shaped by an intense focus on extraordinary human experiences, and how it tries to give the readers a specific message about the futility of war.

Subjects

English / Language Arts

European History

World History

Grade Level

11-12

Duration

180 minutes (2 x 90min)

Tour Links

  • Windsor
  • Houses of Parliament
  • Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey
  • Imperial War Museum, London

Essential Questions

  • Who was Wilfred Owen? 
  • What experiences did he have in the Great War?
  • What was England’s role in driving the European continent towards war in 1914?
  • How did Owen’s experiences in the Great War influence his writing? 
  • What message permeates Owen’s poems?  Is this message timeless?

Key Terms

  • Chemical Warfare
  • Chlorine gas
  • Great War
  • Mustard gas
  • Shell shock
  • Trench Warfare
  • Western Front
  • Wilfred Owen

Dulce Et Decorum Est

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 disappointed shells that dropped 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 floundering 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.

Wilfred Owen, 1917

In the span of four short days in the heat of summer in 1914, the entire world held its collective breath while everything that Europe knew about itself came crashing down. The Great War was beginning, a war that no one, and yet everyone, wanted. Over the next four years, millions of men would give the ultimate sacrifice in the trenches of France for ideas that most never really understood. Millions more would forever be scarred, both physically and mentally, by the horrors of war. In the end, the terrors of a new type of warfare, that of the trench system, unthinkable only a generation earlier, would permanently ingrain themselves on a collective consciousness. Poison gas of different types, mainly chlorine and mustard, was used by both the Allies and the Central Powers during the war. Gas attacks, only occasionally fatal, were designed specifically to strike fear into enemy troops in the trenches. The tactic worked. Of all the images of the western front, perhaps the most frightening to soldiers was the sight of green or yellowish gas clouds billowing across no man’s land towards their positions.

Wilfred Owen, a British junior officer in the BEF who served two stints on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918, experienced just such attacks.  While in France, Owen wrote a number of poems about what he saw as the horrors of war.  Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see them published.  In the last week of the conflict, on 04 Nov 1918, leading his troops in a crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal, Owen was shot and killed by German soldiers. Perhaps ironically, his mother received the telegram informing her of his death on 11 Nov 1918, as bells were ringing letting the public know of the armistice on the Western Front.

Owen’s poems were published after his death. Today he is regarded as the leading poet of the Great War, known best for his imagery on the horrors of trench warfare.

By an in-depth analysis of primary and secondary sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain how Wilfred Owen’s poetry is shaped by an intense focus on extraordinary human experiences, and how it tries to give the readers a specific message about the futility of war.

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  1. Students will identify, understand and be able to explain the main ideas of Wilfred Owen’s poetry from the Great War.
  2. Students will identify, understand and be able to explain the use of images and themes in Wilfred Owen’s poetry from the Great War.
  3. Students will identify, understand and be able to explain the overall message Wilfred Owen tried to give his readers through his poetry and whether or not he was successful in doing so.

To view resource web pages, download the lesson plan PDF above.

I.  Anticipatory Set

  • Writing / Question: What do think of when someone mentions the word “war”? (5 min)
  • Handouts – Copies of the primary sources and readings from the websites listed below. (5 min)

II. Body of Lesson

  • Lecture / PPT – Poetry of Wilfred Owen. (20 min)
  • Video – Dulce et Decorum Est (5 min)
  • Video – Chemical Warfare of World War I (40 min)
  • Independent Activity – Students read the primary sources and articles on Wilfred Owen and his Great War poetry, taking notes as appropriate. (30 min)
  • Suggestion: Have the students read some of these articles for homework the night before class to prepare for class discussion.
  • Group Activity – Discussion on the Wilfred Owen’s poetry and his use of images and language to give the readers a message about the horrors and futility of war.

III. Closure

  • Assessment – Essay / DBQ: Using specific examples from the text, explain in detail how Wilfred Owen used imagery and language to portray the horrors and futility of war on the Western Front. 

Extension

On tour: Westminster Abbey (Poet’s Corner)

While on tour, you will visit Westminster Abbey. In the South Transept, students will see a section called “Poet’s Corner”, so named due to the large number of literary figures buried and commemorated there. Some, like Geoffrey Chaucer (1400) and Charles Dickens (1870) are actually buried in the Chapel, while others, such as Shakespeare and Longfellow merely have memorials in Poet’s Corner. Wilfred Owen is buried in France where he died, but he is memorialized on a special WWI poet’s stone slab that was unveiled in 1985. See if students can recognize any other names from the ones memorialized on the slab (Siegfried Sassoon is probably the most well-known other than Owen).

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