Primary Schools Outreach: Animals in World War

By Lisa Berry-Waite

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity along with a number of other History students to be part of an anniversary project commemorating a 100 years of remembrance. The project was organised by Dr Jacqui Turner and involved a number of local primary schools, with Reading students giving lessons on the different types of animals that contributed in World War One. As a follow up to our lessons, there was to be a poster competition, with the children using what they had learnt to create a poster. The two winners from each school won a special trip to MERL to handle World War One artefacts, as well as meeting the other winners from neighbouring schools.

Back in October, we partnered up and were assigned our schools, with me and my friend Nicky Widgery being given Grazeley Primary School. When we found out that one of us would be teaching the infants and the other the juniors, I was relieved to hear that Nicky had volunteered to teach the infants, feeling my skills probably best lied with teaching the older ones. We set about organising our lesson plans, discussing our ideas with Jacqui and the other History students taking part in the project. It wasn’t long before we were just adding the finishing touches to our lesson plans. From pigeons to camels, there was a wide range of animals that contributed to the war effort, with no shortage of information that we could talk about.

Finally the day came along that we were to be teachers for the day and although slightly nervous (it’s been a long time since I’ve stepped into a classroom full of 7-9 year olds all eagerly staring at me) we were both looking forward to delivery our lessons. While researching for my lesson plan, I can across an elephant called Lizzie who was heavily involved in the war effort; so I was looking forward to the children’s reactions once I started talking about her. Once we arrived, we were given a tour around the school by the head teacher Miss Thatcher and chatted in the staff room to the different teachers whose classes we were going to be teaching that day.

Once the bell rang, me and Nicky said our goodbyes and headed to our classrooms where I was met with a sea of eager eyes from the Year 3 and 4’s in Cedar Class. Taking a seat on a small children’s yellow plastic chair that was waiting for me at the front of the class, (hoping that it wasn’t going to collapse on me at the same time), Mrs Tiffin finished the register and introduced me to the class. It was from here on that the stage was mine, or rather classroom, starting off with who I was and what we would be doing in the lesson, as well as the poster competition that was met with excited outbursts. I started off the lesson with some word searches that were filled with the animals that the lesson would focus on. Apart from the misunderstanding where the children thought one of the animals was a pig, when in fact it was a pigeon, the lesson was off to a smooth start. However, the one thing I had forgotten about primary schools was how noisy primary school classrooms can get! Once all the words had been found, and the answers were fed back to me, we talked about the different roles that dogs, horses, camels, pigeons and of course elephants played in the war and how important they were to the war effort.


The lesson then continued with a fun worksheet to make sure everyone had been listening, followed by a pop quiz to round off the lesson. I was extremely impressed by the children’s eagerness to learn and glad that they enjoyed my piece on Lizzie the elephant, as well as Cher Ami, the pigeon that saved the lives of 194 American soldiers. It was now time to say my goodbyes and prepare myself for round two with my second class of the afternoon; Year 5 and 6 in Oak Class.

In Oak Class, I was met with a warm welcome from the staff and pupils, thankfully noticing that there was no yellow plastic chair waiting for me this time. I started off the second lesson in a similar way to the previous one, introducing myself and explaining why I was there. Once again the poster competition grabbed everyone’s attention, with the children very excited at the prospect of getting the opportunity to visit MERL. Once more the word searches were handed out, although these ones were slightly harder than before. The rest of the lesson carried on without any difficulties; with the worksheets being handed out again and finishing off with a slightly more difficult pop quiz this time, with the children being very enthusiastic about the quiz, adamant to get every question right. Before I knew it, it was home time for the pupils, with both lessons having flown by!


After saying my goodbyes to Oak Class and being reunited with Nicky, we met with the head teacher Miss Thatcher again, sharing our experiences from the day and thanking her for the opportunity. This project was a great way for Reading University’s History Department to get involved with the local community and I know that everyone who took part in the project thoroughly enjoyed it. Moreover, I feel that this project was an excellent way to engage these children with the First World War and the importance of commemorating a 100 years of remembrance. From everyone who participated in this project, we would all like to thank Jacqui for making it possible and for all her hard work that went into organising it and the schools who hosted us.

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