WWI TrenchWarfare Lesson/Activity for AP EURO

Yes, I’m crazy! We had a day of trench warfare in my classroom with SENIORS in high school. RESULT???? SUCCESS.

Source: BBC

I tried to see what I could do in my classroom to make my classroom seem as close to trenches without having to do TOO MUCH. I had triptych poster boards from my students on a previous project that they did which I will talk about in another blog post. My desks in my classroom already made it possible to create two sides (eastern and western front) Yes, WWI was a two front war which often led in stalemate. I crumpled papers that I did not need anymore. I made larger paper balls to resemble MORTARS. I had to tape the ball together. I only made 4 MORTARS, 2 for each side. I made tons of paper balls (small size). Had I had more time to think about it, I would have had my sophomore AP World class help me in making some paper balls, but all of this was organically created after 2:30 P.M.


  1. Paper (lots of it, papers that were old that I didn’t need anymore)
  2. Triptych posterboards (ask teachers around your school if they have any that are no longer being used & about to be thrown away. I often keep them to give them to students who cannot afford one. They can be easily covered & re-used again)
  3. Markers
  4. Butcher Paper
  5. Downloaded songs from ITUNES (Sounds of War)
  7. Flameless Candles (Cost Plus World Market $9.99 + you need AA batteries) They have on/off switches & a 5 hour timer http://www.worldmarket.com/product/index.jsp?productId=11651954
  8. A bell or whistle to sound the charge for the attack
  9. A funny item like a stuffed animal to put in no man’s land for the first mission (will explain)
  10. PATIENCE, ENTHUSIASM, and CONTROL to keep the kids in check
  11. DK Eyewitness Book WWI (made 8 different packets of different topics in WWI by photocopying some of the different events) http://us.dk.com/static/cs/us/11/travel/intro.html
  12. Yellow Manila Envelopes (optional)
  13. Come up with rules of war


  1. When you hear the bell and the lights turn off, you hit the ground. If you get hit, you’re dead (honor system)
  2. If you saw who you got, note their name (we make a casualty list to see how many were wounded)
  3. If you go into no man’s land, you are dead (in the center)
  4. You can go behind enemy lines, but BE CAREFUL
  5. No other objects may be thrown (paper only)
  6. Mortars cannot be thrown until MORTAR ROUND is yelled out
  7. If walls are broken down in an attack, they stay down (triptych posters)
  8. If you are killed in battle, you cannot come back to life
  9. The round of war is over, when teacher yells out MISSION COMPLETE!


We discussed the rules and kids had a lot of questions. They got super excited, it was funny to see. They were on their toes staring at me to see when I would turn off the lights and yell CHARGE. I would sometimes fake them out by flashing the lights, saying that lighting was going on and that it was about to rain. You just have to be cheesy. Meantime, the whole class period, they are listening to war sounds of shrapnel, machine guns, tanks, marching soldiers etc. I also included War Time Songs such as James Reese Europe (great old sounding music that discusses WWI (On Patrol in No Man’s Land or the Dancing Deacon, A Long Road to Tipperary) On Itunes Sound Effects/FX is great for finding war clips. I burned them all into a WWI disc. I also included Metallica’s ONE that takes from the story Johnny Got His Gun written by Dalton Trumbo. The story talks about a soldier that lost his sight, legs, and arms in the trenches. It is definitely an ANTI-WAR book. It was also created into a movie (1971) Metallica for their video of ONE, included clips from Johnny Got His Gun. Kids love hearing Metallica in class and are surprised to hear that it is a WWI influenced song. You get automatic street cred for doing this 🙂

Source: The Telegraph


DK Eyewitness books are great for pictures and interesting facts. They take a concept like WWI and make it so visually appealing. They usually do a 2 page spread of a different topic within the book. So, I chose Gallipoli (2 pages), the Homefront (2 pages), The Russian Revolution (2 pages), WWI weaponry (2 pages), Aftermath of War (2 pages), Armistice & Peace (2 pages), Causes of the War (2 pages), Air and Sea (2 pages), the Soldier (2 pages) I photocopies them front to back and put them in yellow manila envelopes with a clasp. I slipped in the topics into a separate manila envelope for each topic (there were 9 topics total)  I had groups of 4 work together (they could choose) They needed to get a piece of butcher paper. They opened up the “classified envelopes” and skimmed and scanned the information. They were to summarize the information into 5 MAJOR POINTS and hand draw 5 pictures on the butcher paper.  It took them about 35 minutes (pace them and warn them about time) They then thumbtacked or stapled their posters around the room to create a gallery walk. I had a sheet that I created for them that had 9 stations included with blank spaces. They would have about 30 minutes to do a gallery walk where they looked at each group’s poster and took notes. Believe it or not, they were quiet when doing this assignment. They took it seriously. I would pop in around different stations and add extra information for the poster to come to life. The kids had to write in first person as they jotted down information for each station. They had to pretend they were a soldier (TOM from ENGLAND) The ending part of the write up was a reflection.

EVERY 30 Minutes or how much you ever want to do it, I turn off the lights, ring my bell and yell CHARGE. The kids would start throwing paper over the triptych posters. They had to crawl around to try and save the rubber chicken (what I had) because I said it was one of their best buddies in the war. That was the first mission.. It took them a long time to realize that no one was fulfilling the mission because they were too excited about hitting the ground and throwing paper balls. One kid on the Western Front, snuck in and quickly grabbed the rubber chicken (Johnny) I watched and witnessed and then yelled out MISSION COMPLETE! I turned on the lights and we talked about who was hit etc. We had several casualties. Students were honest about who they hit and the victims were honest if they were tagged. The kid who got the rubber chicken (Johnny) received a medal of honor (just wrote it on the board). The kids liked seeing who got who ( I just wrote that on the board) I did this about every 30 minutes. When we did the gallery walk, we called it JOYEUX NOEL (a Christmas Truce)  I had several other missions. By the way, mortars can only be thrown on MORTAR ROUNDS (when I yell it) and the mortars have to go up and down, not across


Went over basic concepts and standards (Causes, geography, Balkan uprisings, trench warfare, homefront, weaponry) Because this is a senior class, they have had two years of instruction. I showed them a clip from Young Indiana Jones showing trench warfare and weaponry. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASg0H-XsQ5E The kids watched this scene intensively. (I have a projector, computer where I can show this. I understand that not all teachers have this capability. I will recommend some films for you if you have a VHS or DVD player)

To end class for this 2 hour block, I discussed All Quiet on the Western Front. It was a film created to show the German Perspective. It showed how they were all good. It was controversial back in the day because the viewer started to sympathize with the Germans. It won an academy award in 1930. Mussolini and Hitler banned it during WWII because it showed the bad effects of war and they didn’t want their soldiers to be demoralized. Try to show your kids the original black and white and really upload information so that they appreciate it.

Source: Peoples World

Something that I wanted to do, but just ran out of time was to start off class by having a couple kids come up to the front of the classroom. The lights were turned out for most of the 2nd period, but not during the creation of the posters for the gallery walk. With the two fake candles, I would have them hold it up and read a WWI poem that talks about the sadness of war. It would be like a vigil and would bring a serious tone for the class. I will do that with my AP World Class.

REFLECTION: GREAT and FUN! Things like this are memorable, but you have to keep the kids in check. Takes a lot of time to prepare. I should have had some of my kids help me out, but this all came to me organically one day after class. I’m trying it again with sophomores in 2 days. Remember, LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS! Oh, and by the way I covered up my walls with butcher paper and put slogans on it like “Loose Lips Sink Ships or Uncle Sam Wants You, Buy War Bonds etc….) You can really change this up to how you want.


  1. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/ww1posters (WWI Propaganda Posters)
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/worldwarone/ (WWI on BBC: Interactive Games, Primary Sources etc)
  3. http://www.pbs.org/greatwar/timeline/ (WWI on PBS)
WWI that I recommend:
  1. Joyeux Noel (Foreign Film) Movie about a Christmas Truce
  2. All Quiet on the Western Front (Classic)
  3. Flyboys (PG 13) Shows the first airmen of WWI in France. Say “James Franco & the girls giggle & the boys sigh
  4. Foot Soldier A & E Video starring Richard Karn (Great documentary that is easy to understand)
  5. The Great War (PBS)
  6. Warhorse (coming out on April 9th)
  7. Youtube (various clips for shell shock, etc)

Works Cited:

CommanderKrokodil. “Young Indiana Jones – Trenches of Hell (Gas Scene).” YouTube. YouTube, 15 July 2009. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASg0H-XsQ5E&gt;.

BBC News. BBC. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/worldwarone/&gt;.

Jackson, Peter. “WWI Underground: Unearthing the Hidden Tunnel War.” BBC News. BBC, 06 Oct. 2011. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13630203&gt;.

PBS. PBS. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/greatwar/timeline/&gt;.

“People’s World.” Germans Ponder “All Quiet on the Western Front” » Peoplesworld. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.peoplesworld.org/germans-ponder-all-quiet-on-the-western-front/&gt;.

The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/uknews/3400728/The-power-of-propaganda-wartime-posters.html&gt;.

“Travel Books & Atlases – Dorling Kindersley US.” Dk.com. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://us.dk.com/static/cs/us/11/travel/intro.html&gt;.

“World War I Propaganda Posters.” Wake Up, America! –. Web. 29 Mar. 2012. <http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/ww1posters&gt;.


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