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Lesson Plan

Exploring Irony in the Conclusion of All Quiet on the Western Front

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Exploring Irony in the Conclusion of All Quiet on the Western Front

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Carol Hurt

Charleston, South Carolina


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • define situational irony.

  • compose ironic alternate titles.

  • write a new ending, modeled on the irony of the original.

  • complete a process-based writing project.

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Session One

  1. Share the definition of situational irony:
    When something that demonstrates an incongruity between what the reader, listener, or viewer expects or presumes to be appropriate and what actually occurs. The situation in the text is different from what was expected. While readers and viewers are aware of the irony of the situation, the characters in the text are not.
  2. Discuss examples of situational irony to demonstrate the literary element further:

    • In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo drinks poison in Juliet’s tomb because of his deep sadness without her; but viewers know that Juliet is deeply sleeping, not dead.

    • In Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem “Richard Cory,” the title character is described by the speaker as a person who has everything, but the readers find out that the man commits suicide at the end of the poem.

    • In Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the speaker urges readers to resolve the problems of poverty and famine in Ireland by eating children and babies. The solution is the opposite of what readers would expect as a solution to social problems.
  3. Ask students to come up with their own examples from films, television shows, and other readings. Students might also describe hypothetical situations that would fit the definition.

  4. Continue sharing examples until you are sure that everyone understands the concept.

  5. Reread the last two paragraphs of All Quiet on the Western Front to the class:
    He fell in October 1918 on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.
    He had fallen forward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.
  6. Discuss as a class how this ending is an example of situational irony, ensuring that students notice the following points:

    • It is virtually a calm day on the front. However, this is the day that Paul died.

    • Although devastating to Paul’s family and friends, overall the political statement is that “only” a few died.

    • He is killed on a quiet day, not in a hail of gunfire as would be expected.

    • His expression is calm, not in pain or fear as would be expected.

    • He seems to be glad that the end is come although we can assume that a young man would not want to die.
  7. Arrange students in small groups of 3-4.

  8. Ask them to brainstorm as many ways as possible that the novel could have ended which would also have been an example of situational irony without changing the fact that Paul dies. Examples may include the following options:
    • He is killed by friendly fire.

    • He is killed by a close friend.

    • He is killed while cleaning his gun.

    • He dies of natural causes.

    • He dies while trying to help an enemy soldier.

    • He is killed in action after the war has already been declared over.
  9. After about 10 minutes, bring the class together as a whole.

  10. Discuss the possibilities that groups have gathered, and record their answers on an overhead transparency, on the board, or on chart paper.

  11. Show the ending scene of the 1930 film version of All Quiet on the Western Front to see how the director of the movie depicted the ending.

  12. As a class, on an overhead transparency or on the board or chart paper, write an ending which represents the film’s interpretation of the ending, or use this description of the final scenes:

    As Paul gazed through a hole in the bunker, he fought sleep and depression. He could only think of the friends he had lost and how much he wanted this war to be over. Suddenly, among the rocks and gray sandbags, he spotted a rare sign of a former normal life—a butterfly. As he reached to touch it, a sniper saw his quick movement. Without any warning, only one shot rang out, taking the life of this young soldier, one who had only begun to live life himself.
  13. Using the ending that the class has written or the sample ending, ask students to identify possible titles that might be taken from the final description. For the sample, for instance, students might choose “Without Any Warning” or “Only One Shot.”

  14. To conclude the session, talk about the background of the book’s title. Remarque wrote the novel in German. The English versions of the text are translations, not the original that the author wrote. The phrase “all quiet on the Western Front” is not actually a literal translation of the phrase in the German version, which states, “Im Westen nichts neues” [translation: In the West, nothing new].

  15. Ask students to discuss the differences between the two titles, especially as an additional example of an alternative ending and title.

  16. If desired, share the French and Spanish titles for the novel as well, respectively A L’Ouest Rien Nouveau and Sin Novedad en el Frente.

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Session Two

  1. Review the definition of situational irony.

  2. Reread the ending of All Quiet on the Western Front again, and discuss how well the title is woven into the ending of the book.

  3. Pass out and read the Project Assignment and the Project Rubric. Answer any questions that students have about the assignment.

  4. Review the alternate endings students brainstormed in the previous session. Include any additional endings that students suggest on the class list.

  5. Overview the available World War I reference materials, including the Websites listed in the Resources section, that students can draw on for additional information as they write.

  6. Ask students to choose an alternate ending from the list or another option of their choice, and begin writing a rough draft of the new ending.

  7. As students work, circulate through the room providing feedback and support.

  8. For homework, ask students to complete a rough draft of the ending and bring it to next class session for peer review.

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Session Three

  1. Ask students to brainstorm general information and details that are included on a book cover. If desired, share the details in the Book Cover Guide to supplement students’ observations.

  2. Shift the discussion to more specific details by asking them to suggest details that should be included on the covers of their newly designed covers.

  3. Pass out or display the All Quiet on the Western Front Cover Images and discuss the features of the different covers and how they present the book.

  4. Be sure to connect the details on the cover not only to the symbolism of the novel but also to the audiences for the editions.

  5. Review the Project Rubric and discuss what a good cover for their revised endings would look like.

  6. Once it’s clear that students understand the criteria for the book covers as well as the additional aspects of the assignment, arrange students in small groups.

  7. Pass out and review the Peer Review Guidelines with the class.

  8. Ask students to brainstorm some additional examples of positive feedback.

  9. Have students share their drafts with group members, following the details in the Peer Review Guidelines.

  10. As small groups work, circulate through the room, providing additional direction and support as necessary.

  11. For homework, ask students to reread their endings with the peer review feedback in mind and make the relevant changes to their work. Additionally, they should begin planning their book covers, which will be completed during the next session.

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Session Four

  1. Review the Project Assignment and the Project Rubric, and answer any questions that students have about their revisions or the project.

  2. Demonstrate the Book Cover Creator to the class and discuss the requirements for the project (e.g., complete the front and back covers only, complete a full dust jacket). If computers are not available, use one of the following alternatives for students to create their book covers:

    • Draw the cover on an 8.5” by 11” piece of paper folded hamburger style.

    • Assemble a collage or cutouts to illustrate an 8.5” by 11” piece of paper folded hamburger style.
  3. Allow students the remainder of the session to create their book covers and add their endings on the reverse or inside.

  4. If students have computer access at home or are working on aspects that do not require a computer, they can continue their work for homework. Students should turn their covers in at the beginning of the next session.

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  • Set up a book cover display in the classroom so that students can see one another’s work. If desired, ask each student to read their title and ending paragraphs to the class. After the reading, talk about how the titles worked and perhaps vote on the class favorite.

  • Other novels work well with this idea as well. A few novels that also contain the title in the ending are: Goodbye, Mr. Chips, The Last of the Mohicans, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

  • As an alternative to book covers, ask students to create movie trailers advertising the film with their new title. Show the trailer for the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front and then have students create their own alternatives. If resources make movie trailers a difficult option, have students create movie posters, using the posters on the All Quiet on the Western Front Cover Images as models and comparing to the modern-day posters that they see at the theater. Students can also uses the CD/DVD Cover Creator to design and print new DVD covers.

  • For discussion questions, vocabulary, and other resources related to the novel, see the Teacher’s Guide from Random House.

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  • Focus on observation and anecdotal note taking as students work on their projects to provide ongoing assessment of their progress.

  • Use the Project Rubric to assess students’ final projects.

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