War stories: Teaching students about the First World War

Issue: Volume 93, Number 12

Posted: 14 July 2014
Reference #: 1H9ct0

There are lots of good reasons for students to learn about the First World War. For teacher Leon Davidson, one of the best is the great writing the topic inspires his kids to write.

Leon has just completed a unit about Gallipoli with his Year 7 – 8 class at Clyde Quay School in Wellington. He always sets a creative writing task around a research topic, even if that topic is a war that happened a hundred years ago. Despite its remote, other-worldly aspect, Leon found that his students really wanted to learn about the war. He even got them interested in the reasons the war started. “It’s just the way the material is presented,” Leon says. “And in the end, war is all about stories.”

A lot of stories

Over one hundred thousand New Zealanders fought in the First World War. That’s an awful lot of stories, something the journal’s editors discovered when they were planning material to mark the centenary of the First World War.

Look out for the June issues of the levels 3 and 4 School Journals, both of which contain exclusively First World War content, and the June level 2 School Journal and its article about mascots in war. Readers at the junior level haven’t been forgotten either. There’s an article in Junior Journal 48 (about a tortoise who’s a veteran of the First World War) and a new Ready to Read shared book, Dawn Parade – due in schools in term four.

The war journals

Themed school journals aren’t new. Remember the Rēkohu journals in 2010 and the rugby journals published in 2011, when New Zealand hosted the Rugby World Cup? Like those publications, the war journals link across The New Zealand Curriculum – and they reach far beyond the facts and figures.

It goes without saying that the journals’ war content was chosen for its appeal to children. But there were other considerations, too, like finding the lesser-known, unexpected stories. Who knew, for example, that hundreds of New Zealand soldiers spent most of the war underneath the Western Front, exploding mines. The story of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company is told in ‘Underground Soldiers’ (level 4). There’s also ‘Grey Angels’ (level 3), an article that shares the experiences of New Zealand nurses who served overseas. Even the wartime role of children back home is explored through ‘The Children’s War’ (level 4), an article by historian Jock Phillips.

The short fiction and poems in these journals offer an alternative insight into the events of 1914–1918. They encourage students to think critically and consider the human impact of the war. What did it mean to become a soldier? What was it like waiting for a father to come home? How does war change people? Leading New Zealand authors such as Bernard Beckett, Ashleigh Young, Philippa Werry, and Robert Sullivan explore these issues with their usual thought and finesse.

The Teacher Support Material provides numerous suggestions to help relate the content to the curriculum and to deepen students’ understanding of what they’re reading. Plenty of after-reading and writing activities are also suggested. This material is available for selected texts at all levels on Te Kete Ipurangi (refer to the links below).

School Journal goes online

For the first time, the journal content itself is also available online as PDFs. See Te Kete Ipurangi for more details. These PDFs are just the beginning of many exciting digital developments for the journals.


The war content in the journals is the start of a range of resources that will be available for teachers. Marking the centenary of the First World War is a government initiative – and you may have heard of its WW100 programme, which aims to deepen people’s understanding of the war and encourage remembrance.

The war is a huge topic to distill for the classroom – and there’s a vast amount of material written about it. To help teachers navigate this information, the Ministry of Education is currently creating teaching and learning guides, in both Māori and English, for Years 1 to 13. These materials are being developed with the assistance of the WW100 Programme Office at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the National Library, Cognition Education, and Core Education. They will be progressively available from term four this year, ready for teachers to incorporate into their teaching and learning programmes from 2015.


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 7:24 pm, 14 July 2014

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