Lesson Plan

World War I: From Propaganda to Poetry

Students actively engage in hearing songs related to the war, and reading war poetry, in an effort to better understanding the experience of the war.
Chris C.
Classroom teacher
Concordia International School Shanghai
Pudong, 31
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My Grades 9, 10, 11, 12
My Subjects Social Studies
Objectives

Students will be able to...

Objectives Day 1 (war music):

  •  gain an historical perspective of participants and their experiences.
  • understand the changing nature of the war and public opinion.
  • assess the place of political themes in popular music today. 

Objectives Day 2 (war poetry):

  • examine wartime poems written from a variety of viewpoints.
  • better comprehend the disillusionment of the survivors of the war.
Subjects
Social Studies
cultural understanding
events
history
Grades 9 - 12
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 The Great War - Lesson 1 - War Songs

Activity: Investigating

1. Feel free to give students the degree of context/background content sufficient to prepare them for this two-day Lesson Flow.

2. Form students into five groups, one group per war song. Be sure that each of the five groups of students have access to at least one internet-capable device that has audio or, alternatively, downoad the five songs prior to class for local distribution. There are now copyrights on these songs.

3. When students arrive explain/read them the introduction posted on the student instructions, then form them into five groups.

1. Stony Broke in No Man’s Land - Anonymous (British, recorded 1921)

2. Keep the Trench Fires Going - Harry von Tilzer and Eddie Moran (American, 1918)

3. Keep the Home Fires Burning - Ivor Novello (British, 1914) 

4. Your King and Country Want You - Paul Rubens (British, 1914)

5. Over There - George M. Cohan (American, 1917)

6. Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts - R.P. Weston (unknown origin, 1914) 

4. In groups, students listen to their song and discuss these questions:

  • What is the tone of your song? Does it support or oppose the war?
  • From what perspective is your song written (soldier, parent, worker on the homefront, etc.)? Does this perspective influence the tone?
  • Who do you think might be the intended audience for your song—troops, or people on the home front? How can you tell?
  • How might the composer’s nationality influence the content and tone of the song?
  • What does your song’s copyright date tell you about its perspective on the war? 

5.  When all songs are analyzed for the primary sources that they are, each team will take 1-2 minutes to share with the class their learnings.  

6. Now that they have sharpened their Primary Source Document skills with six Allied songs, here is the most popular German song prior to and during the war, Watch on the Rhine. Have the class repeat the steps (answer the questions) that they did as teams for the other songs, but now in whole class discussion:

  • What is the tone of this song? Does it support or oppose the war?
  • From what perspective is the song written (soldier, parent, worker on the homefront, etc.)? Does this perspective influence the tone?
  • Who do you think might be the intended audience for your song—troops, or people on the home front? How can you tell?
  • How might the composer’s nationality influence the content and tone of the song?
  • What does your song’s copyright date tell you about its perspective on the war? 

Lyrics (English) 

A voice resounds like thunder-peal,
'Mid dashing waves and clang of steel:
The Rhine, the Rhine, the German Rhine!
Who guards to-day my stream divine?

Chorus:
Dear Fatherland, no danger thine;
Dear Fatherland, no danger thine;
Firm stand thy sons to watch, to watch the Rhine!
Firm stand thy sons to watch, to watch the Rhine!

They stand, a hundred thousand strong,
Quick to avenge their country's wrong;
With filial love their bosoms swell,
They'll guard the sacred landmark well!
(Chorus)

The dead of an heroic race
From heaven look down and meet this gaze;
He swears with dauntless heart, "O Rhine,
Be German as this breast of mine!"
(Chorus)

While flows one drop of German blood,
Or sword remains to guard thy flood,
While rifle rests in patriot hand,
No foe shall tread thy sacred strand!
(Chorus)

[And whether my heart in death does break,
French we will not let them you to take,
Rich in water as is your flood,
So Germany is in heroes’ blood!]
(Chorus)

7. After discussing The Watch on the Rhein, lead a whole class discussion based on these questions:
- Which songs are more pro-war?
- Which ones are anti-war?
- What values are expressed in the songs?
- Does the nationality of the writer influence the tone?
- What about when the song was written?

8. Things that I really want students to understand:

First, the context of these songs, noting how they get less patriotic over time. One thing I drill into my students  is the concept of Change over Time (CoT), how perspectives shift with new circumstances. I placed the Watch on the Rhine song at the end to supply the needed German perspective, and to help students understand that Germany saw itself as fighting a defensive war, not an offensive one. The lyrics of the song point out the defensive posture. Germans thought it necessary to fight France to prevent a two-front war, while taking on Russia. The logic of it would help feed the German feeling of betrayal at the Versailles Treaty. Germans were not part of the negotiations, and Germany had to accept the War Guilt Clause, blaming Germany alone for the war. Germany also had to accept monetary responsibility for the war. Hitler made great use of this resentment, thus connecting WWI with the origins of WWII.

9. Please conclude with any reinforcment or content homework that you feel best suits your teaching style andthe students' needs. Some ideas could be having each student analyze one additional song from the First World War website, or students can collaborate on writing lyrics for their own war song.

Student Instructions

Introduction: Certain songs and pieces of music can immediately transport us back to an event that we associate with it. For example, you might hear a song on your mobile and be reminded of a dance, sporting event, or other school activity that you attended. The same holds true of larger historical events such as wars. Songs that emerged from World War I (1914-1918, with the United States entering the war in 1917) were very popular at the time. As you read the lyrics and listen to the music about the war, try to transport yourself back to the events that they describe.

Objectives:
- You will be able to gain historical perspective of participants and their experiences.
- You will be able to understand the changing nature of the war and public opinion.
- You will be able to assess the place of political themes in popular music today. 

Procedures:
You will be formed six groups of students (modified for class size). Each group will have one song assigned.  Clicking on the song title will take you to the song's website, where you will also find the lyrics and authors' bios. These sources provide excellent contextual and biographic information concerning your composer:

1. Stony Broke in No Man’s Land - Anonymous (British, recorded 1921)

2. Keep the Trench Fires Going - Harry von Tilzer and Eddie Moran (American, 1918)

3. Keep the Home Fires Burning - Ivor Novello (British, 1914) 

4. Your King and Country Want You - Paul Rubens (British, 1914)

5. Over There - George M. Cohan (American, 1917)

6. Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts - R.P. Weston (unknown origin, 1914) 

listen to your song ans discuss these questions. Be prepared to share your findings with the class:

  • What is the tone of your song? Does it support or oppose the war?
  • From what perspective is your song written (soldier, parent, worker on the homefront, etc.)? Does this perspective influence the tone?
  • Who do you think might be the intended audience for your song—troops, or people on the home front? How can you tell?
  • How might the composer’s nationality influence the content and tone of the song?
  • What does your song’s copyright date tell you about its perspective on the war? 

When the class is ready you will share your learnings from the song and your small group discussion.

Now that you have sharpened you Primary Source Document skills with six Allied songs, here is the most popular German song prior to and during the war, Watch on the Rhine.  As a class, repeat the steps (answer the questions) that you did as teams for the other songs, only now in whole class discussion:

  • What is the tone of your song? Does it support or oppose the war?
  • From what perspective is your song written (soldier, parent, worker on the homefront, etc.)? Does this perspective influence the tone?
  • Who do you think might be the intended audience for your song—troops, or people on the home front? How can you tell?
  • How might the composer’s nationality influence the content and tone of the song?
  • What does your song’s copyright date tell you about its perspective on the war? 

Lyrics (English) 

A voice resounds like thunder-peal,
'Mid dashing waves and clang of steel:
The Rhine, the Rhine, the German Rhine!
Who guards to-day my stream divine?

Chorus:
Dear Fatherland, no danger thine;
Dear Fatherland, no danger thine;
Firm stand thy sons to watch, to watch the Rhine!
Firm stand thy sons to watch, to watch the Rhine!

They stand, a hundred thousand strong,
Quick to avenge their country's wrong;
With filial love their bosoms swell,
They'll guard the sacred landmark well!
(Chorus)

The dead of an heroic race
From heaven look down and meet this gaze;
He swears with dauntless heart, "O Rhine,
Be German as this breast of mine!"
(Chorus)

While flows one drop of German blood,
Or sword remains to guard thy flood,
While rifle rests in patriot hand,
No foe shall tread thy sacred strand!
(Chorus)

[And whether my heart in death does break,
French we will not let them you to take,
Rich in water as is your flood,
So Germany is in heroes’ blood!]
(Chorus)

After discussing The Watch on the Rhein, answer these questions as a whole class:

- Which songs are more pro-war?
- Which ones are anti-war?
- What values are expressed in the songs?
- Does the nationality of the writer influence the tone?
- What about when the song was written?

2 The Great War - Lesson 2 - War Poetry

Activity: Reading

The First World War produced some of the most acclaimed poetry ever recorded. Men and women from both sides of the conflict recorded their experiences in poetry and prose that still resonate today. Many were highly educated and had literary careers before the war while others came from less educated backgrounds. Additionally, women on the home front and in the war wrote about their experiences. As you read your assigned selection, try to assess the poet's views of the war or the home front through his or her words and attempt to understand his or her experiences through the verse. Although poetry is not as popular today as it was in the past as a form of entertainment, it still provides insights into the time period and those who lived then.

1. Let students know the Essential Question.

Essential Question:
How does literature reflect world events?
Consider how novelists and poets choose their topics and tone to convey their ideas. What politically-oriented literature can you think of from history? I can think of All Quiet on the Western Front.

2. Form students into either four groups, or eight groups for larger classes, ensuring that at least three students are in each group. The Lesson Flow is written from the perspective of there being four groups. Modify as needed.

3. Distribute links for the following poems and poets:

Team 1: In Flanders Fields, John McCrae (Canadian, 1915)  and Dulce et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen (British, 1918)
Team 2: Munition Wages, Madeline Ida Bedford (British, date unknown) and Does It Matter, Siegfried Sassoon (British, 1917)
Team 3: Leaving for the Front, Alfred Lichtenstein (German, 1914)  and Requiem for the Dead of Europe Recitative (I), Yvan Goll (German, 1915) 
Team 4: Pro Patria, Owen Seaman (British, 1914)  and Argonne Forest, at Midnight, Otto Dix (German, 1915) 

4. Have students read their selection and examine the linked biographies, and discuss the following questions:

  • What experiences are described in the poem?
  • When was the poem written? What is the poet's personal context (there is where reading the bios are helpful.)? Does the year in which it was written affect the tone of the poem?
  • Is the poem pro- or anti-war? How can you tell?
  • The people who fought and survived the First World War are often referred to as “the lost generation” as a result of their post-war disillusionment. Do you find evidence of such disillusionment in your assigned poem?
  • What values are expressed in the poem? 

5. After their discussions, synthesis and analysis,  bring the class together as a whole class to share their observations.

6. Lead the class in a whole class discussion built around these starter questions:

  • Which poems are more pro-war?
  • Which ones are anti-war?
  • What values are expressed in the poems?
  • Does the nationality of the writer influence the tone?
  • Does it matter when the poem was written?
  • How do the World War I poems compare to literature written during other wars or times of struggle? 

7. The final piece for this mini-unit can take many forms. Some ideas:

  • Conduct a Harkness discussion on the third day starting with the question, "What is the deepest insight that we can take away from these songs and poems concerning the experience of war?"
  • Have each student write a letter home from the trenches, having just made friends with one of the war poets, and having just read the poet's poem.
  • Have students create a 3-minute news segment interviewing a war poet (one of the students).
Student Instructions

Essential Question:
How does literature reflect world events?
Consider how novelists and poets choose their topics and tone to convey their ideas. What politically-oriented literature can you think of from history? 

In groups you will read your assigned war poems and war poets. Read your poems and reserach you poets.

Team 1: In Flanders FieldsJohn McCrae (Canadian, 1915)  and Dulce et Decorum EstWilfred Owen (British, 1918)
Team 2: Munition WagesMadeline Ida Bedford (British, date unknown) and Does It MatterSiegfried Sassoon (British, 1917)
Team 3: Leaving for the FrontAlfred Lichtenstein (German, 1914)  and Requiem for the Dead of Europe Recitative (I)Yvan Goll (German, 1915) 
Team 4: Pro PatriaOwen Seaman (British, 1914)  and Argonne Forest, at MidnightOtto Dix (German, 1915) 

As you read your selection and examine the linked biographies, consider the following questions:

1. What experiences are described in the poem?
2. When was the poem written? What is the poet's personal context (there is where reading the bio's is helpful.)? Does the year in which it was written affect the tone of the poem?
3. Is the poem pro- or anti-war? How can you tell?
4. The people who fought and survived the First World War are often referred to as “the lost generation” as a result of their postwar disillusionment. Do you find evidence of such disillusionment in your assigned poem?
5. What values are expressed in the poem? 

After your discussions, synthesis and analysis,  come together as a whole class to share your observations:

  • Which poems are more pro-war?
  • Which ones are anti-war?
  • What values are expressed in the poems?
  • Does the nationality of the writer influence the tone?
  • Does it matter when the poem was written?
  • How do the World War I poems compare to literature written during other wars or times of struggle?