Teachers' notes: Animals during the war

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These classroom suggestions provide ways for pupils to actively imagine life during World War One and to investigate how the war was fought.

Pupils will have the opportunity to conduct their own research using primary source material.

Horse power

Subjects: history

Cavalry horses lowered onto land in sling from ship Cavalry horses lowered onto land in sling from ship

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You could give pupils a picture of a horse and a picture of an early 20th century vehicle. Ask the children to write on the back of each picture all of the advantages of this particular type of transport. They could go on to list all the disadvantages, too.

Ask the children to decide which type of transport would be best in war and to give reasons for their opinions. After discussion, the class could take a vote.

You could round off this activity by reading the class extracts from Michael Morpurgo's novel 'War Horse'. Or the class could visit the National Army Museum's online exhibition, 'War Horse - Fact and Fiction'.

Dogs of war

Subjects: English, history

You could ask the children to find out more about the role of dogs in the trenches. They could supplement the information given in the article with their own research from books and websites.

Dog jumping over trench Dog jumping over a trench

Ask pupils to plan a half-page story about a soldier who has to take a message from the front line back to headquarters. What would the soldier see and do on his journey? Give pupils an opening line, such as: 'It was cold and grey when I set out, but at least it was quiet . . .'

Encourage individual pupils to improvise an oral version of their stories to tell to the rest of the class.

Then ask pupils to plan a second version of the same story. This time, the soldier is accompanied on his mission by a trench dog. How would the journey be different? The children could tell their stories from the dog's perspective, beginning with the opening line: 'It was a cold and grey when we set out . . .'

The pupils might go on to make written versions of their verbal stories. They could add illustrations, based on wartime photographs.

Muddled messages

Subjects: drama, history

Pigeon in soldier's hand Pigeon cradled in a soldier's hand

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The class could play a game of 'whispers', with the aim of getting a wartime message from one end of the room to the other, by passing it from person to person. The message could be 'send reinforcements to sector three' for example. How easy is it to get the message through? A group of children could act as enemy spies, trying overhear or intercept the message.

This activity illustrates how difficult it can be to deliver a message accurately. Pairs of pupils could then mime writing a message, rolling it up and attaching it to the leg of a carrier pigeon. Is their message more likely to arrive accurately? Less likely to reach the enemy?


Subjects: history, science

Glow-worm Photo of a glow-worm

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Jars of glow-worms were used to provide light in the trenches. You could ask groups of pupils to search in books and online for more information about glow-worms. They could go on to compile their findings into a true-or-false style quiz, with questions such as: 'Only adult females glow. True or false?' (True) or 'Glow-worms have no legs. True or false?' (False. Adults each have six legs.) The class could watch some video clips of glow-worms in action.

The children could also mix two chemicals to produce light, rather as glow worms do, by using the glowsticks often found at camp sites or festivals. How easy is to read, or use a map in these light conditions?

Trench pests

Subjects: drama, English, PSHE, science

You could read the class Isaac Rosenberg's poem 'Louse Hunting'. The language is taxing, but the images are vivid.

Display of trench rats caught by small terrier dog Display of trench rats caught by a small terrier dog

You could go through the poem line by line, helping the children to make sense of the words and provide a version in today's language.

The soldiers in Rosenberg's poem tear off their shirts and burn them over a candle to get rid of the lice. As one group of children reads the poem aloud, another group could make a series of tableaux, illustrating the louse hunt.

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The class might take the same approach with Rosenberg's poem 'Break of Day in the Trenches', which has a grinning rat as its subject.

Both poems have been widely anthologised and are available to read online.

Pupils could search online for more information about rats and lice and the dangers they pose to people.

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