Teachers' notes: Wilfred Owen

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These classroom suggestions provide ways for pupils to actively explore the life story of Wilfred Owen and to find out more about the period during World War One.

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

Who was Wilfred?

Useful links

The Wilfred Owen Association

Subjects: English, history

Pupils could create a profile card about Wilfred Owen. On this, they could put key details of his life and death, and note what he is remembered for.

Profile cards could be created for other famous figures from World War One, such as Edith Cavell, Lord Kitchener and Sergeant Stubby. The class could be asked to compare the different roles they each played during the war and also explore the public's opinions of them, both at the time and after their deaths.

Life map

Framed illustrations of Wilfred before and after the war

Subjects: history, geography, mathematics

Pupils could use information from the article and other biographical sources to plot Owen's journeys on a sketch map of Europe, with notes to show when he lived and arrows leading from one location to another.

Can the pupils calculate the total distance Wilfred Owen travelled?

Pupils could also be asked to look at Wifred's country of origin (England) and explore the role that this country played during the war.

The language of war

Subjects: English, history, MFL

Photo of Wilfred Owen Photo portrait of Wilfred Owen

Useful links

Wilfred Owen took his love of poetry with him when he left England to go out and fight in the war. You could ask pupils to choose short quotations from some of Owen's verses and translate them into the different languages spoken on the battlefields of World War One. The children could use online translation websites to help them with this task and to guide their pronunciation.

This could lead to a discussion about why language and culture is important to people in different countries.

A French-English phrase book was issued for British Tommies in 1915.

You could ask the children to research and draft their own page of 'military terms' to create their own phrase book.

Wilfred's poetry

Subjects: art, English, history, music

Wilfred's handwritten poem 'Dulce et Decorum est' with corrections Wilfred's handwritten poem 'Dulce et Decorum est' with corrections. Written while he was recuperating at Craiglockhart War Hospital, near Edinburgh

Useful links

Pupils could read selections from Owen's poetry. Where pupils find the language challenging, you could work with the class to provide a line-by-line version in today's language, or select just one or two verses from a longer poem.

The children could go on to draw or paint their impressions of what Owen describes in his verse. You could make a classroom display of their artwork, interspersed with quotations from Owen's work. Pupils might also try developing simple percussion music to accompany a reading of a verse extract.

Owen experimented with rhyme in some of his verse. Poems such as 'À Terre', 'Futility' and 'Insensibility' all use rhymes that chime on the consonants, rather than the vowels. So Owen makes 'stun' rhyme with 'stone' for example, or 'killed' with 'cold'. The effect is odd, disturbing and discordant. Pupils could try this technique for themselves, perhaps by writing short poems about a wartime photograph, or a creature such as a trench rat.

Pupils could read Rupert Brooke's poem 'The Soldier'. This is often cited as a 'pro-war' verse. You could ask the children if they think this is the case and invite them to compare Brooke's work with that of Owen.

Other poems to explore further could include:

  • For the Fallen (where 'Ode of Remembrance' is taken from) - Robert Laurence Binyon
  • In Memorian - Ewart Alan Mackintosh
  • Before Action - William Noel Hodgson
  • Works by Owen, Sassoon, Graves and Brooke
  • The charge of the Light Brigade - Lord Alfred Tennyson

Wilfred's legacy

Wilfred Owen before the war

Subjects: art, design, English, history

Pupils could create a book jacket for an edition of Wilfred Owen's verse. What would they put on the front and back cover? What information about Wilfred Owen would they include in their book 'blurbs'? You could prompt the children with questions, such as: 'How do you think people should remember Wilfred Owen?' and 'Why is his poetry so special?'

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