Lesson Plans Based on Movies & Film!                                                  

Terms of Use   



Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Other Sections:
      Bridges To Reading
      Links to the Internet
      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Selected Awards & Cast

Go to the Learning Guide for this film.

Helpful Background

The First World War was primarily between two European alliances. The "Central Powers" consisted of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The "Allies" were Britain, France and Russia. Various smaller states and areas outside of Europe were also involved. Turkey came into the war an ally of the "Central Powers" and lost most of her empire as a result. British, French and South African troops conquered German possessions in Africa. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Bolsheviks sued for a separate peace.

The Western Front ran across the face of Western Europe from Belgium to Switzerland for some 300 miles. The front consisted of opposing trenches, sometimes only yards apart. The trench warfare of World War I lasted for three years and took several million lives. The Battle of the Somme, an attack by the Allies trying to break through the German lines, took more than four months. The Allies gained only six miles. British and French casualties were 95,675 Britons killed and 60,729 Frenchmen killed. The defense cost the German army 164,055 soldiers killed.

Overall German casualties during the War (wounded and killed) were 7,142,558, some 65% of all German soldiers who were mobilized. French casualties were 6,160,800, an astounding 73% of all men mobilized. British Empire casualties were 3,190,235, "only" 36% of men mobilized. U.S. casualties were 350,300, a "minimal" 8% of mobilized personnel. Counting all combatants over the entire War, 65 million men were mobilized, 8.5 million killed, 21.2 million wounded, and 7.7 million taken prisoner or missing in action.
Modern historians believe that much of the death toll was caused by the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 - 1920. Concentraing large numbers of men in close proximity in situations in which they were not getting normal food or sleep and in which they were terribly stressed, resulted in high rates of mortality from flu among the soldiers.
The trenches were muddy ditches often flooded with water. The bodies of dead and wounded men and animals fouled them. Corpses lay in the no man's land between the trenches. Enemy snipers, rats, lice, and stench from the decaying bodies contributed to the misery of the trenches. Toward the end of the war the German soldiers had little food.

An attack was preceded by bombardments, some lasting for days. In order to mount an attack, soldiers carrying rifles and packs had to go "over the top." Once in the no man's land they faced barbed wire entanglements, machine guns, bombardment (often by their own misdirected guns), grenades, poison gas and fire from the opposing trenches.

The Western Front was in stalemate until the U.S. entered the war. Fresh troops and abundant hardware and supplies from the U.S. tipped the scales decisively in favor of the Allies. An armistice was signed on November 11, 1918 and the Treaty of Versailles was imposed on Germany in June 1919.

For a summary description of the causes of World War I, see Learning Guide to Paths of Glory.


Additional Discussion Questions:

Continued from the Learning Guide...

5.  During the battle scenes, did you want the Allied soldiers to win or did you want Paul and his German friends to win? What does this tell you about the mental process by which a person reads a book or sees a movie? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response, but any strong response will take account of the pull on our feelings of the German soldiers. People identify with the main characters in stories told in books, movies, and on the stage. This makes stories excellent means for spreading propaganda.

6.  Most people believe that it's a good thing to be patriotic. The young men shown in this movie were motivated by patriotic feelings to enlist in the German Army. What does this story tell us about patriotism? Suggested Response: Patriotism can be misused. After their experience at the front the young men are disillusioned and interested mostly in survival.

7.  When Paul returned home on leave, why did the school boys think him a coward? Suggested Response: A strong response will refer to the ignorance of the boys about conditions at the front and to the empty patriotic slogans mouthed by their teacher.

8.  Were Paul and his friends courageous? Was any one of them a coward? Suggested Response: Any soldier who puts his or her life at risk is courageous.

9.  Compare the courage [patriotism] of a soldier who risks his life with the approval and upon the demand of his society and the courage of a man like Ben du Toit in A Dry White Season who risks his life by turning against his community when he recognizes that it is committing evil, in this case Apartheid, who is virtually alone in his quest for justice, who is perceived by his community and his government as being a traitor, and who risks torture or death for his actions. Who has the greater courage? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response. Each type of courage is different. There is probably more likelihoood of getting injured in a war situation, but soldiers are generally supported by the population and the other soldiers in the unit, whereas a reformer for social change is often alone and isolated. In many situations, social reformers are under great threat, even in stable democracies such as the United States. Look at what happened to Dr. M.L. King, civil rights worker Medgar Evers (see Ghosts of Mississippi) and the women who picketed the White House seeking the vote (see Iron Jawed Angels).

10.  When Paul went home on leave, how do you think he felt about the way his friends and family thought about the war? Suggested Response: Any reasoned and supported response is correct. Paul was conflicted. He knew that they had no idea how terrible it was at the front and that their feelings of patriotism were uninformed and untested by the real horrors of war.

11.  How can war be reconciled with the moral imperative to respect others and to deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements? Suggested Response: War results in contradictions. People are told that they should do things, such as kill or maim others, that are prohibited in other situations.

12.  What does Paul's sympathy and concern for the dying enemy soldier demonstrate? Suggested Response: That the war had not completely dulled his ability to care.

13.  When should the value of caring for another human being prevail over the dictates of war? Suggested Response: Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest moral leader of the 20th century, would tell us that principles of non-violence should prevail all the time. See Learning Guide to Gandhi. But most people admit that they cannot live up to Gandhi's standards. However, it is interesting to note that the standards of war have changed. In World War II, just over 50 years ago, all sides killed civilian populations indiscriminately.. The Germans and Japanese started it and the Allies paid them back many times over causing civilian casualties in the hundreds of thousands bombing Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and many other population centers. This conduct would not be tolerated in today's world in which a drone attack that kills ten or twenty civilians will result in an apology.

14.  Could you think of a better way for Paul to have helped his country other than to go to war? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response to this question.
See also TWM's Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction and TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.

Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions

    See Questions numbered 7 - 9 above.

Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)
(TeachWithMovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner"
and  uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.)

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)
    See questions dealing with patriotism: 1 and 4 in the Learning Guide and questions 5, 6 & 10 above.


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)
    Please refer to question number 11 above.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
    Please refer to quesitons numbered 12 and 13 above.


(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)
    Please refer to question number 14 above.

Bridges to Reading:

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque is an excellent book for good readers in junior high or middle school. Suitable nonfiction books concerning WWI include: A Prose Anthology of the First World War edited by Robert Hull Selector and World War I: "The War to End Wars" by Zachary Kent.

Links to the Internet:

See Encyclopaedia of the First World War

Common Core State Standards that can be Served by this Learning Guide
(Anchor Standards only)

Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: "Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.") CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41,& 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.

Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

Selected Awards: 1930 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Milestone); 1930 National Board of Review Awards: Ten Best Films of the Year; 1930 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Writing. This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" film. This film is ranked #54 on the American Film Institute's List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006).

Featured Actors: Lew Ayres, Ben Alexander, Louis Wolhemin, John Ray, Slim Summerville and Russell Gleason.

Director: Lewis Milestone.


Past Imperfect, Mark C. Carnes, Ed., Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995.

Spread the GOOD NEWS about


© by TeachWithMovies.com, Inc. All rights reserved. Note that unless otherwise indicated any quotations attributed to a source, photographs, illustrations, maps, diagrams or paintings were copied from public domain sources or are included based upon the "fair use" doctrine. No claim to copyright is made as to those items. DVD or VHS covers are in the public domain. TeachWithMovies.org®, TeachWithMovies.com®, Talking and Playing with Movies™, and the pencil and filmstrip logo are trademarks of TeachWithMovies.com, Inc.

TWM grants free limited licenses to copy TWM curriculum materials only to educators in non-profit or public schools and to parents trying to help educate their children. The contents of TeachWithMovies.org may not be copied for any other purpose, including any commercial purpose, without a specific written license from TWM. Check TWM's Terms of Use for a full description of the free licenses. For questions or to obtain a specific license to copy TWM curriculum materials, contact support@teachwithmovies.com.