Standard Lesson

Wartime Poetry: Working With Similes

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Four 45-minute sessions
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The history curriculum can be enriched by using photographs as the starting point for work, and the visual nature of photographs allows students to interpret meaning in new ways. In this lesson, the whole class analyzes a photograph and brainstorms words to describe the characters' senses and feelings. A "hot-seating" drama session follows where classmates interview each other, acting as characters in the photograph, and further exploring the characters' feelings. Students are introduced to the idea of using similes and then work in pairs to describe a character's experience. They then create a simply structured poem using their ideas and similes.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Historical literacy, or the ability to understand and interpret the stories of the past, can be developed during language sessions through the use of a vibrant range of language resources, including picture books.

  • Ensuring that reading and writing are taught in a rich context helps students to appreciate how their language skills can be used as tools for learning about the world.

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).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 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

  • Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti (Harcourt, 1996)

  • A World War II Anthology selected by Wendy Body (Pearson Schools, 1999)

  • War Boy by Michael Foreman (Trafalgar Square, 2000)

  • What They Don't Tell You About the Blitz by Bob Fowke (Hodder & Stoughton Children's Division, 2002)

  • Plain paper and paints/colored pencils

  • Thesauri (at least one for every two students)




1. This series of lessons can start or enhance a unit of study about World War II. Students do not need to have any prior knowledge about World War II to participate in the lessons.

2. Read background material on the subject matter to prepare for the lesson. To summarize the events related to the evacuation of British children during World War II:
During September 1939 nearly 800,000 children were evacuated from the cities to the countryside as the British government feared German bomb attacks and wanted to keep children, pregnant mothers, and elderly or disabled citizens safe. Children and parents often did not know to what location they would be evacuated, and were usually just asked to report to their school with a suitcase packed. When arriving in the country, children would be assigned to the homes of members of the local community. Although some children were treated badly (e.g., beaten, overworked, or underfed), many children enjoyed their evacuation and returned to the countryside to live after the war was over.
3. Consult other informational books about World War II to help you further prepare for the lesson, such as:
  • War Boy by Michael Foreman (Trafalgar Square, 2000)

  • What They Don't Tell You About The Blitz by Bob Fowke (Hodder & Stoughton Children's Division, 2002)
4. Create a transparency of the photograph of evacuated children for use with an overhead projector or enlarge the photograph to use during whole class work. Also, make handout-size copies of the photograph to use during individual student work.

5. Make one copy of the Shared Poem Structure sheet and the Independent Poem Structure sheet for each student to use during Session 3.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Use a range of information sources to describe the likely feelings and experiences of a child evacuated during World War II

  • Identify and explore social and cultural issues of a character's story, discussing the feelings of a character and their reactions to, or resolutions of, issues

  • Understand how figurative language can create moods, arouse expectations, build tension, and describe attitudes or emotions

  • Produce polished poetry through peer-editing and revision by deleting words, adding words, changing words, and experimenting with figurative language such as similes

  • Gain insight and perspective that will prepare them to learn about other aspects of World War II

Session 1. Investigating the photo and excerpt

1. Using the photograph of evacuated children arriving from Bristol, discuss with students:
  • Who is in the photo?

  • Can you see any adults in the photo?

  • Where are they going? Where might they be coming from?

  • When do you think this photo was taken?

  • Why are they wearing labels?
2. At this point you can explain that the photo was taken in 1939, just before the British and German governments went to war. Students should then be able to predict that people might have been leaving to get away from the war. You can then introduce the idea of the evacuation and together read the excerpt from an evacuated child giving a first-hand account of the experience.

3. Have students use information from the photo and text excerpt to discuss the feelings of the evacuees. Ask students to choose one character in the photo, give him or her a name, and describe that character's feelings. Students can describe what the character smells, hears, and sees. They can also describe what the character is feeling on the inside (e.g., sad) or what the character is feeling on the outside (e.g., the wind blowing).

4. Ask each student to choose one character from the photo and write down the feelings of that character in a notebook.

5. At the end of the lesson, have each student share one of the feelings he or she listed for the character.

Session 2. "Hot seat" drama activity and writing similes

1. Have students make evacuee labels for the characters they selected in Session 1. [Suggestions for making an evacuee label can be found on the website, Wartime Evacuation of Children: Making Labels.]

2. Choose a few students to play characters from the photo. Each student then sits at the front of the classroom, wearing his or her evacuee's label. Ask the characters to explain what their label is for.

3. Direct the rest of the class to then ask questions of the "hot-seated" characters, such as:
  • When did you last eat?

  • How long have you been travelling?

  • Do you have any brothers or sisters?

  • Is anyone in your family fighting in the war?

  • What could you hear on the train?

  • What could you see in the distance?

  • Were there any bad smells on the train?
4. Lead the class into discussing the character's emotions by asking questions such as:
  • How did you feel when you left home?

  • Did you feel the same or different by the end of your train journey?

  • Are you feeling just one emotion or a mixture of emotions?

  • Are you trying to hide your feelings inside or do you think they are showing on your face?

  • Do you have a friend to talk to about your feelings?

  • Is there anything that you are glad you did before you left home today?

  • If you could make a wish to change one thing that happened this morning, what would it be? Why?
5. Introduce the concept of similes and comparisons by building on the "hot-seated" students' responses. When "hot-seated" students suggest what they can hear, see, smell, or feel, ask them to give an example of what that feeling is like, so that the audience can create a vivid mental image. The conversations may resemble these:
[T] "How did you feel when you left home?"

[S] "I was scared."

[T] "What was that scared feeling like?"

[S] "Umm, maybe like how you feel when you lose your money for the school trip, but much worse."


[T] "What could you hear on the train?"

[S] "Adults whispering."

[T] "What did that sound like?"

[S] "Like the buzz of a broken radio."

[T = teacher; S = student]
6. Note comparisons that students give during hot-seat sessions on the board so that others can get ideas during the writing time.

7. Ask students to go through their lists from the day before and to add their own comparisons to describe each feeling.

8. At the end of the lesson, ask students to share their most creative comparisons.

Session 3. Review examples of similes and write poems

1. At the start of the lesson, hand out copies of the Shared Poem Structure sheet. Read the poem, noting that each verse describes a sense or emotion. Have students look at their comparisons from the previous session and discuss together creative comparisons to write on the blank lines of the poem. For example, the first verse could be completed as:

I can hear adults whispering,

like the buzz of a broken radio.
Discuss how using a comparison helps to make the image in the poem more vivid. Introduce the term simile-a phrase that compares two objects using ‘like' or ‘as.'

2. Ask students to work on their own poems, using the Independent Poem Structure sheet. Students can use their notes from the previous two sessions to write their own ideas about the characters' senses and emotions on the first blank line of the verse. Then they can use a simile to describe these senses or feelings on the second blank line of the verse. For example, the first verse could be completed as:
Today, I can hear

my friends being crowded onto a train

like rustling red leaves.

Session 4. Edit final versions of poems

1. Review students' progress on poems. Review why we use similes and share a range of images and comparisons from the students' work.

2. Demonstrate how to use a thesaurus to find more creative versions of ordinary words. Thesaurus work goes best when the students have a specific focus, such as replacing all the "tired" adjectives or verbs with more creative choices.

3. Ask students to edit their work with a partner, replacing words and checking that similes are included.

4. Instruct students to write up the final versions of the poems and decorate them with illustrations. To give students ideas for illustrating their poems, have picture books about the war on hand, such as:
  • Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti, pages 10 and 11 (Harcourt, 1996)

  • A World War II Anthology selected by Wendy Body, pages 4 and 5 (Pearson Schools, 1999)
5. You can post the decorated poems alongside a larger version of the photograph of evacuated children to make an impressive display.


  • Students are now ready to write letters as evacuees or as the parent of an evacuee. Use sample letters and ideas from the BBC's Children of World War 2 Evacuee's letters webpage, to get started. Students can use the Letter Generator to type and print the final draft of their letters.

  • Have students explore the Imperial War Museum website to learn more about the Children of World War 2. This interactive website offers games, speaking and listening activities, as well as photos, posters, and sound clips.

  • This series of lessons can easily be applied to other wars, or to other historical subject matter, by simply substituting alternative photos.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Students' understanding of how to create a simile and improve their editing skills can be assessed by marking their poetry. Peer-editing gives students the opportunity to critique their own or their partner's work and works best when students are given specific criteria to look for. A list of such criteria for marking and peer-editing could include the following:

  • Session 1: Have I thought of creative ideas to explain what my evacuee would be feeling?

  • Session 2: Have I written a comparison to describe my evacuee's feelings in more detail?

  • Session 3: Have I used a simile to describe my character's senses or feelings?

  • Session 4: Have I edited my work carefully, using a thesaurus to change "tired" words to more creative choices?

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