Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo


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Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

Private Peaceful recalls his childhood as he and his brother fight for their lives and to stay together in the battlefields of World War 1. He remembers his family, his early love and how he and his brother came to be in the Great War.

Reading skill

Suggested activities


Using strategies to decode words they don’t know – phonics, syntax, word recognition and context

  • Word families & word patterns

  • Chunking and breaking down the sounds in a word

  • Dictionary activities

  • Starter activities focusing on word level

  • Re-writing sentences with different syntax

  • Progress Unit on Phonics

  • Cloze

  • Reading backwards and forwards

  • Asking “Does the word make sense?”

Look at words used in idiom; phrase changes over time; use for effect (rhetoric) -

e.g. page 94. Examine the paragraph starting I shan’t beat about the bush looking at beat about the bush…tickety boo…hard’s no picnic..who would you rather see marching through your streets?

Starter based on unfamiliar words, e.g. hun, lice. Try to work out from contextual knowledge.

Pairs find examples of unfamiliar words from pages 9 -10. Substitute words that they understand, then try to work out meaning from the context. Join with another pair and then use dictionaries if necessary. Present findings.

Categorise into word families. Discuss semantic fields.

Re-write creating the opposite semantic field.

Put on cumulative class chart.
Dictionary race starter and plenary – choose words (and associated words) from chapter about to read. Race to find meaning. At end challenge teams to spell, give meaning, use in a sentence.

Engaging with meaning as well as decoding

  • Asking questions – who, what, where, when, why

  • Discussing what has been read

  • Matching illustrations to appropriate sections of text

  • KWEL charts

    • What do I know

    • What I want to know

    • Where will I find the evidence

    • What I have learned

  • Focusing on key words (reverse cloze/fridge magnets)

  • Role play, hot-seating, thought tracking

  • Summary sub-headings

  • Matching quotations to meaning

Page 154 (the gas attack). Select the words and phrases that denote panic (look at use of short phrases). Show pictures of gas attacks from WW1 archives. After discussing what it must have been like, read Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Own and see how the experiences match.
Ongoing timeline of events - at several levels, indicating present, near past and far past. This could be developed as a wall chart, with illustrations for pivotal parts of the novel- e.g. key events; Grandma Wolf leaving the house; the boys go to war; Molly’s pregnancy etc.

Design a KWEL chart from Tommo’s point of view at different points in the text.

Role-play/ hot-seat Charlie’s feelings after the trial.

Role on the wall, post-its of thoughts about Tommo, added to throughout novel.

From page 24, highlight all the ‘ing’ verbs during the fight section. Discuss how this technique creates tension.

Create apt chapter titles to replace times, as you progress through the novel.
Starter based on introductory paragraph – Twenty four minutes past twelve. Ask questions – who, what, where, when, why? Why does the writer choose to start the novel in this way?

Sensing miscues and then self-correcting

  • Guided reading with teacher

  • Paired reading – one listening for sense

  • Using existing knowledge/analogy to decode, then applying to new, similar words

  • Opportunities to prepare a passage to read to group/class

  • Reading buddies

  • Modelling self correction during reading

  • Using tapes to support reading

Pupils to work in small groups (3-4) and select and rehearse a passage that gives scope to all of them for interaction and reading with expression e.g. pages 62-63 Charlie, Colonel and Mother and narrator. From Mother invited him in… to from gate squeaking (page 64)
Pages 28-34. Read in parts- lots of different voices here. Could do this in groups of five, with four reading and one commenting.

Then listen to a taped version, available from publishers.

Tackling extended sentences

  • Modelling how to identify the main clause in an extended sentence – good examples in Dickens

  • Re-structuring a long sentence on cards

  • Re-writing a sentence into visual diagram – showing main clause and how other parts of sentences relate to main clause e.g.

  • Re-writing an extended sentence as a series of short sentences and discussing the difference

  • Reading sentences aloud, using intonation to underpin meaning

Page 141, from Lieutenant Buckland to cannot touch me.

Put passage on OHT for shared reading. Ask pupils to highlight the simple sentences and single phrases.

Look at how they balance the longer, complex sentences. Discuss writer’s reasons for this.

Try joining some of the short phrases and discuss the effect. Which is better?

Compare the opening section of the chapter nearly four o’clock with that of five to five. What effect is the writer trying to achieve in each case? Why is the sentence length important to the effect?
Use an extract from p151 to model how to locate the main clause. Re-write as a series of short sentences. Discuss why the author has chosen this technique and its effect.

Using punctuation, paragraphing and text layout as a guide to meaning

  • Identifying paragraph breaks in an unformatted piece of text

  • Shared reading focusing on punctuation for meaning

  • Pacing the classroom/drama studio, changing direction at each punctuation mark

  • Sentences Progress Unit materials on how punctuation helps us to read aloud
  • Highlighting topic sentences in paragraphs

  • Selection of novel openings – considering differences of structure

  • Sequencing

  • Providing titles for chapters or sections of the novel

  • Removing the punctuation from an extract and asking pupils to make their own choices

Page 134 – present on OHT without speech punctuation or paragraphs.

Read it with the class and ask pupils to discuss any problems they have with the meaning.

Ask individuals to make changes to show where people are speaking. What else could be done to make reading easier?

Show original on OHT and compare ease of reading / understanding.

Remove punctuation and paragraphs from last section of Chapter 20. Look at the effect of chunking the paragraphs in different ways. Could the last sentence stand alone?
Page 93. Use shared reading to investigate how many different punctuation marks are used. Investigate which sentence uses the most unusual structure and the most unusual punctuation. Model these using alternative punctuation – what is lost or gained?
One minute to six­ – Look at how punctuation aids meaning and also helps control the pace – link to emotion of the chapter.

Developing a mental map of the text as they read

  • Flow chart of events

  • Thought map of key ideas

  • Drawing and labelling a map of the setting

  • Drawing a family tree

  • Tracking a character or theme using post-it notes in book

Draw a map of Iddesleigh showing:

      • School p. 10

      • Church p. 84

      • Cleave wood p. 13

      • Cottage p. 28

      • Colonels house p. 30

      • Molly’s cottage p. 45

      • River p. 44

      • Farmer Cox’s farm p. 65

      • The Duke pub p. 79

Discuss what this show the reader.
Thought map the personalities of the men in the regiment.
Draw an ongoing ‘connections tree’ to establish character relationships, with labelled arrows to define the nature of the relationship and supported by occasional quotations.
Use post-its to track references to animals, and discuss their effects, e.g.

  • Birds pp9-15

  • Mouse p35

  • Poached animals pp40-41

  • Bertha p51; pp59-65 & 74-77

  • Wolf (Grandma) p31

Chart animal references, what qualities do they portray, and how does Morpurgo use language to suggest positive and negative attitudes.

    Track a character’s emotional journey – allocate a different character to each small group.

Visualisation and other sensory responses

  • Drama: guided tour; sculptured freeze frames; hot seating

  • Thought maps, Venn diagrams; role on the wall

  • Plot lines, tension graphs
  • Colouring over words which refer/appeal to the senses

  • Prop box or pictures

  • Drawing

  • Walk-in debates

  • Casting the film of the novel

  • Story mapping/living graphs

  • Creating sound effects

Pupils cast the film of the novel, justifying choices and produce the film poster. Pupils are asked to explain their design choices.
Pupils draw a character and annotate with quotes from the text. Explain why quotes chosen.
Play marching songs on tape. Pupils write lyrics for a marching song. Discuss what are the common features and why?
Create sound effects for a range of emotions linked with this novel.
Watch film of trench warfare/Imperial War Museum experience. How well has Morpurgo recreated this atmosphere? How?
Choose a very visual passage e.g. pp 8 + 9, p 56, p84, p86, p 104, p 138 and ask pupils to illustrate it – using colour to convey mood and explain choices in relation to the book.
Pages 122-126. After teacher modelling if necessary, pupils highlight the use of words that appeal to the senses and discuss effects. Create a “senses” flow chart.
Script a section where the soldiers fight, adding sound effects and narrator. Show bias for and against the Peaceful brothers

Prediction, retrospection and speculation

  • Identifying the ‘turning point’ and predicting outcomes of the storyline

  • Gathering predictions (you can tape these!), returning to them later to discuss why the author chose particular resolutions

  • Looking for clues in last chapter as a first activity to predict what will happen in the novel
  • Starting in the middle and considering what might have led to this situation

  • Reading the first few chapters and suggesting what might happen next. Recording ideas in reading journal. Highlighting clues which led to those predictions (evidence base) then filling in reading journal to reflect on original predictions

  • Drama activity – pupils act out their predictions. Rest of class assess whether they are realistic / feasible

Chart events when Charlie has protected others – what does that tell us?
Map story on two timelines – one for framing story (a single night) and one for main narrative (Tommo 5-17 years old). Could do on sticky notes.
Speculate – why is Tommo the narrator? Why does each chapter have a time not a title?
Put all introductory passages on A3 sheet. Ask pupils to underline all predictions.
Use sticky notes to trace any foreshadowing/hints about the future. Re-visit these and review once the novel is finished.
Produce some ‘wide-angle’ questions for the author, during and after reading, and try to puzzle out some answers. Hot –seat a volunteer as Morpurgo.
The opening is ambiguous- speculate and predict what will happen, and which words/sentences/ideas foreshadow later events. Highlight possible omens and return to these later.
Sculpt key scenes; use conscience alley to provide depth to character motivation and language development. e.g. Charlie’s return to camp with injured foot; Tommo’s close shave when he expected to be shot at close range by a German soldier.


  • Shared reading and targeted questions – modelling thought process/answers either orally or on OHP

  • Identifying questions you want answered in the next few chapters
  • Questions based on front cover/title of book, extend to include ‘blurb’ on back re. expectations raised

  • Hot-seating – question the characters - conscience tunnels

  • Thought/speech bubbles for characters at key moments (inner voice)

  • Extracts out of context – what questions do we need to ask about this text?

  • Asking pupils to think of the questions they want to ask at particular points in the text

Untangle innocence and love, courage and cowardice

(on front cover). Who shows which quality and when?

Conscience alley or hot seat the Colonel or persuade Charlie and Tommo to go to war - or not.
Freeze frame key moments in journey to war, e.g. leaving familiar places, family; on board train……….. and add thought tracking then hot seat Charlie and Tommo for their reactions.
Page 105 – why is time so important?
Use the opening section, in present tense, for any chapter. What questions do we need to ask to find out what will happen in the rest of the chapter?

Note use of present tense and past tense, what function does each have in this novel and does it work?

Who is the narrator and how do we know?
Hot seat characters after the dog is stolen (Twenty four minutes past twelve), e.g. Colonel, Thomas, Charlie, Grandma Wolf, Molly.

Passing mental comments and savouring the text

  • Poster of the book

  • Interviewing each other about reactions on ‘where we’re up to in the book’

  • Presentation of a ‘favourite bit’ to a small group – or the class – with some commentary about why it’s dead good!

  • Using post-it-notes to jot down thoughts and keep as markers in the text
  • Cultivating reading journal responses, using a range of strategies to capture responses, ideas, questions, visualisation tools

  • Using symbols on post-it-notes e.g.

? ! to come back to or discuss with a partner

Smiley faces – this part made me feel…….because……..
Reading log of the war time experiences, with reflections on the past and predictions about the future.
Discover the actual events in WW1. How does the novel line-up with reality? What is the skill of the author in recreating this?
Re-write the blurb, with reference to a favourite part of the novel.
Give out blank postcards. On one side, write a postcard home from the battlefield. On the other, write down favourite bit of the story, saying why chosen. Post into “post box”. Teacher or pupils read out.


  • Questioning – (how do you feel about…..?) l

  • Diary extract

  • Role-play (character or theme based)

  • Hot-seating

  • Thought tunnel

  • Letter from one character to another

Write diary extract for Charlie as he awaits his court martial.
Emotional tract using Twenty-five past three. In groups, list every emotion that Thomas experiences. Pick out lines and read them in emotion listed.
Reply to the letters on pages 157-159. Ensure appropriate voice for each response
Script the conversation the family might have after Charlie’s death.
Sculpt key scenes: use conscience alley to provide depth to character motivation and language development. e.g. Mother leaving to work at the Big House

Establishing a relationship with the narrator

  • Hot-seating the narrator

  • Annotating a stick man with words that define the narrator

  • Rewriting part of a third person narrative in the first (or second) person

  • Drama – placing the narrator in a sculpted scene

Revisit scenes where Tommo confronts others he dislikes- Grandma Wolf, The Colonel, Mr Munnings, Hanley. Highlight words/ sentences which convey a negative impression of the character. Discuss reliability of the narrator. Re-write a short section from that character’s point of view.
Draw a diagram (Tommo in the centre) to show who he dislikes most out of those characters - and why! Could also include those he loves. Place the characters accordingly, with supporting quotations
Rewrite the first person narrative into the third person – how does this affect the view of the narrator? Why did the writer choose this narrator?
Draw a picture of Tommo on the board. Pupils come out to place words that describe him around him - close to him if they empathise with him, further away if they don’t. First at end of first chapter, then retrospectively later near middle of novel.

Re-reading, re-evaluating and other clarification activities

  • Guided work on a section they have read previously

  • Timeline, plot mountain, sort events into chronological order/order of significance

  • Re-evaluating the way a character is presented or seen

  • Close questioning

  • Annotation

  • Comparing passages from different sections of the novel

Compare extracts from pages 10-11 and pages 114-115 featuring the bullying characters of Mr. Munnings and Sgt. Horrible Hanley and characters’ reactions to them.

Re-read page 105 once whole novel has been read– what can you now say about events/characters/themes that you didn’t know on first reading?
Compare how Tommo has developed from a section at the beginning of the novel, when he was happy, to one at the end, after Charlie’s court martial. In what ways have his feelings for Molly and Charlie changed. Find evidence to support this.
Re-read the real-time introductions to each chapter (the sections before the butterflies).

Note down clues about what is happening as Tommo remembers the past and builds up to the immediate future.

Reading between the lines and other interpretation activities

  • Shared – then group – then paired – then individual annotation of passages from the text to build independence and confidence with reading between the lines

  • Discussion (following the pattern above) about the symbolism of places, objects, or names if appropriate

  • Choice of symbolically and metaphorically dense text which is multi-layered

  • Role play/thought tracking to understand a character’s motivation

Why does the first chapter end in death? Explore the role of death and funerals in the novel. Contrast with images of life. Symbolism of birds, crows, poaching, stars and mud in first and second parts of novel.
Draw attention in first chapter to two viewpoints – that of child and that of reflective adult.
Twenty-five past three. Use opening passage and explore attitude to God/heaven in the novel. How are Joe’s ideas different to the others? What is the significance of the church tower?
Explore the symbolism of names, e.g. Private Peaceful.
In groups, read sections:

  • p. 54 – 55

  • p. 65- 67

  • p. 71- 74

Group discussions of how reader realises what Tommo does not – that Molly and Charlie are falling in love.

Search for other ‘hints’ earlier in novel.

Page 115 – Explore the metaphor of Horrible Hanley and a wasp.

Relating the text to one’s own experience and knowledge, including other literature

  • Drawing explicit links between texts with similar themes, issues, location, characters, narrative structures etc

  • Teacher to lead on links to own experience. Then draw out pupils’ own reactions. Handle sensitively!

Link to other books by Morpurgo, e.g. War Horse, Friend and Foe plus texts by other writers, e.g. Charles Yale Harrison’s Generals Die in Bed, Theresa Breslin’s Remembrance and Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War.
Link to WW1 poetry.
Put the novel into the context of all other texts which address issues of overcoming adversity, rites of passage and the essential quality of the novel form which focuses on the transition of the central character. (Specifically this might link with Sachar’s Holes in the KS3 context).
Display propaganda posters and contrast with Dulce et Decorum Est./early pro-war Brooke’s poems.

Adopting an appropriate reading stance

  • Keeping a reading journal to develop and express your unfolding responses

  • Creating a ‘freeze frame’ tableau and then invite the reader to physically place themselves in the scene

  • Annotating the text (marginal notes) with responses/chat back

  • Creating “recipe” of each genre
    e.g. horror / sci-fi etc

  • Exploring the book cover for evidence of what it is about / what kind of text it is / what questions you could ask

  • Historical context / social context research

  • Asking questions about the voice in the text after reading first paragraph

Pupils work in groups to find out about:

      • Trench warfare

      • Men shot for cowardice

      • Propaganda

      • Shell shock

      • Court martials

      • Wartime at home

      • Origins of Remembrance Day

Jigsaw or envoy groups to share and reflect on findings. Discuss Michael Morpurgo’s intentions in writing the book.

How have your feelings about war/WW1 changed as a result of reading the book?

Share other war time stories- teacher included. Create a ‘recipe’ for war fiction by identifying conventions.
Reading journal entries as plot unfolds – consider changing views towards narrator and dual storylines – how will they collide?

Developing judgements and preferences

  • Providing provocative statements on cards for discussion/advocacy

  • Comparison with other texts

  • Asking “How would you change the novel?”

  • Reading journal to compare texts on similar themes /same author
  • ‘Sell’ the book to others

  • ‘Statementaire’ to argue / discuss

  • Selecting extracts which represent the whole text’s qualities

Provide the following- pupils to debate in pairs/ as a whole class:

  • Molly was cruel to marry Charlie

  • Grandma Wolf was misunderstood

  • Mr Munnings had a point when he refused to allow Big Joe to attend the school

  • It was Tommo’s fault that his father died

  • Charlie deserved everything he got

  • Morpurgo wants us to feel sorry for Tommo

Re-title the novel – one suggestion each! Enjoy going round the class group to hear the suggestions.

Why was this short-listed for the Carnegie prize? Use criteria to judge and support or criticise.

Sensing of the writer at work, the artifice of the text

  • Activities which focus on language - highlighting/circling/annotating sections of texts

  • Cloze, e.g. remove powerful verbs or adjectives and compare to the writer’s original choice

  • Filling in ‘gaps’ in the story – alternative endings-sequels-prequels – maintaining style, character dialogue as in the original

  • What would you ask the writer if s/he was here?

  • Planned questioning and DARTS to move pupils from personal to critical response

  • Creative writing that imitates the style of the writer

Translate a section into a film trailer that builds to climax using motif of the watch.
Restructure storyline onto timelines – past and present separately.

Write an additional chapter from Tommo’s point of view about the regiment’s push towards the Somme. Adopt the style of Michael Morpurgo.

Cloze passage p124 We find our dugout…..p125 gone at once. Remove adjectives or verbs, pupils select own and compare to writer’s original choice.
Write an additional section, imitating Morpurgo’s style (simple sentences, an opening section in the present tense, understatement) covering Tommo’s return home and his delivery of Charlie’s letter- where he tells them how it really was.
Page 165 It’s like we’re living two separate lives in two separate worlds, Tommo and I want to keep it that way. Plunder this idea; what might Morpurgo mean?

Did Tommo really understand and were the brothers successful in keeping the worlds apart?

Pages 22/23 explore the use of managed tense changes for memories within memories.

Page 154 – Remove verbs - pupils place them back in

(either own choice or matching those provided). Compare to writer’s original choice.

Page 154 - Explore the repetitive use of I + verb, colour or highlight and identify effect.


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