Standard Lesson

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

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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All Quiet on the Western Front ends with a startling and ironic conclusion. Following a chapter that begins with talk of the anticipated armistice, the novel's final short paragraphs unemotionally state that Paul, the protagonist, is killed on a day army reports described as "all quiet on the western front." This ending introduces students to situational irony. After discussing the definition and several examples of situational irony, students explore the novel's concluding passage. Students next choose a possible alternate ending for the book that could still be an example of situational irony. They then retitle the book and rewrite its ending, maintaining the original ironic tone and weaving their new title into the ending as Remarque does. Finally, students design new, symbolic covers for the book, which feature their new titles.

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From Theory to Practice

Endings are perhaps the most important part of any book. The lead may be what draws readers in, but the ending is the final piece that weaves everything together. Ralph Fletcher, in What a Writer Needs, explains that "the ending is far more than the final ribbon that adorns a piece of writing, the rhetorical hair spray to keep everything in place. The ending may well be the most important part of a piece of writing. It is the ending, after all, that will resonate in the ear of the reader when the piece of writing has been finished" (92). At times, as is the case for Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, the ending provides a comment on the entire story. In this lesson, students take a serious look at the end of this novel, not just as a summation of events, but as a poignant irony of the cruelties of war. This explicit study of irony is important to helping students develop as critical readers. As Louann Reid states in her introduction to the May 2004 issue of English Journal, "If you don't understand irony, you don't have access to multiple meanings in literary texts. The abilities to decode words and comprehend literally are essential but insufficient. Secondary readers who are reading only literally are not reading successfully."

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

  • All Quiet on the Western Front. Universal Pictures, 1930.

  • Additional reference materials on World War I




  • Read the novel as a class project, or require the novel for summer reading. This is a great activity for a discussion of the novel as a whole after students have read the book over the summer.

  • Watch the 1930 version of the movie yourself, especially the ending, and decide how to use the film in the classroom:

    • If at all possible, show the final scene of the movie, as a comparison to the ending in the novel. If time is available to show more than one clip, choose a clip showing the battles in the movie, as a comparison to the final scene. Naturally, if your schedule allows, you may want to show the entire movie.

    • If you cannot screen the final scenes of the movie, use the written summary of the movie’s final scene.

  • Make copies or overhead transparencies of the lesson plan handouts: All Quiet on the Western Front Cover Images, Project Assignment, Peer Review Guidelines, and Project Rubric.

  • Review available World War I reference materials to familiarize yourself with the circumstances of the war and the culture of the time. World War I: Trenches on the Web and A Guide to World War I Materials from the Library of Congress provide useful background material.

  • Test the Book Cover Creator on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


  • 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.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • 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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