Cecil Slack
The Great War 1914 - 1918

English Reading Teaching Resources

This is the English resources section where you will find teaching activities for English - especially reading.

These are intended for use by teachers and pupils at KS2 and KS3 of the National Curriculum for England and Wales.

They may be helpful for teachers and students working at other levels.

Although this page concentrates on writing, most activities will require pupils to speak and listen and to read at different times.

If you are a pupil, you may be able to work on your own.

If this is too hard, your teacher will help you.

Remember that this site is written for children and grown-ups, in primary, junior and secondary schools, as well as teachers and other visitors.

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Reading for Information

Some of your reading is of imaginative texts - stories, films and poems.

At other times you will read factual texts, which give information.

These texts are sometimes called non-fiction.

The articles on this site are all non-fiction.

They are personal records of things which the writers experienced.

It is up to you to decide how informative and reliable the different accounts are.

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What Do You Want To Know?

Teachers sometimes assume that you know what you want to find out before you start looking.

But this may not be true.

Before you read anything for information, you should think what it is that you want to find out: you don't yet know the answers, but you can know the questions.

Once you study a text, you may realize that it doesn't have the answer to your questions.

For example, the letters and diaries on this site will tell you many things about the First World War, but they certainly won't tell you everything.

You may find the questions below helpful.

You can easily cut and paste the text, and place it in a table or grid, leaving space to put in your answer.

Or you can simply use the text in any software that will accept it (most programs will):

  • What I know already about the First World War
  • What I want to find out
  • What I have found out
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Sorting Out What You Find

It can be hard to make sense of all the information contained in a long text or collection of texts (like those on this site).

Don't try to read too much - read something which is manageable by you.

Here are some things which you may find helpful:

  • As you read, stop at the end of every paragraph, or sentence, even, and list important facts. Make brief notes - you don't need to write in full sentences.
  • Make notes or prompt cards which you can use for speaking or writing tasks.

You can decide for yourself what information is important, but the list below may help:

  • Information about the war, generally.
  • Information about how soldiers lived.
  • Information about people at home.
  • Information about weapons.
  • Information about the army's special rules ("regulations").
  • People's attitudes to the war.
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Comparing Life in The Trenches and Life at Home

The correspondence between Cecil and Dora shows clearly how life for a soldier differed from that of a civilian.

Can you see things which were obviously different?

Can you think of things that were similar?

In some ways this is a difference between the war experienced by young men and that experienced by women, children and older men.

A good way to do this, is to list things you have found out about soldiers and see if they were different, or the same, for civilians. You can then list things you have found out about life at home, and see if it was the same as, or different from, life in the trenches.

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Comparing Cecil's Letters with a Poem

In the Great War, many of the real experiences of soldiers were not reported in the newspapers.

It was only later that the truth emerged - how many men died, and the way they lived and died in the trenches.

But many of the soldiers wrote letters, diaries and poems which told the truth as they saw it.

You can look at some poems written by First World War soldiers at this literature Web site, created by Oxford University.

Choose a poem you like and compare what it says about the war to what you have read in the letters on this site.

List things that are the same, and things that are different.

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Comprehension Exercise

For this task you will study one (or more) of the letters on the site.

First, read the letter below, then answer the questions which follow it.

You may do this as a spoken or written task.

You can find the letter in Volume 3 of the letters on this site.

Click here to find this letter.

After the questions you will find a list of statements.

Do you agree with these statements?

For each one, see what evidence is in the letter.

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Liutenant Cecil Slack to Flossie and Dora, 150th. Brigade, 50th Division, B.E.F.

15 January, 1916

Dear Flossie and Dora,

I arrived here safely on Thursday evening.

"Here" is 40 yds. from the Huns.

There are about 15 of my old platoon left.

We were very glad to see each other again.

The enemy were very quiet the first night, probably having heard of my return, and feeling a bit awed thereat.

Yesterday our guns had a strafe for about 30 minutes, the Germans replying in a very meek and mild fashion.

It is very muddy and wet, and quite cold at nights.

Rats swarm, they come and give one the glad eye when resting in a dugout, and run across one at nighttime.

They feed on bacon scraps and dead men.

We have spells of 4 days in the trenches, 4 days in the reserve, 4 days in the trenches again, and then 4 days rest.

There is nothing to do except keep the trenches tidy, and inspect rifles and gas helmets.

Every morning everyone has to remove his gum boots and socks and rub his feet, otherwise "trench foot" is contracted, and the toes and feet drop off.

I had a couple of shots this morning at what I thought was a German.

I don't know whether I killed anything, but I tried hard.

We are not allowed to speak to the people across the way, but they have recently informed us that the war will be over in one month's time.

Yesterday we had bacon and eggs for breakfast, a luxury which I had not expected.

We have roast beef for dinner.

The joint is passed round and each cuts a chunk off.

The same knife is used for butter, meat, jam, bread and cheese, and for stirring the tea!

Our tea is made from water pumped from the ground.

You know it is tea, because of the tea-leaves.

Shaving water comes from the same source, and you know it isn't tea because there are no tea-leaves.

I met an old schoolfellow on the boat from Southampton.

G. N. Smith is his name.

I think he had a sister at Penrhos.

A piece of shell from one of our guns fell within 3 yards of me yesterday, and quite startled me for the moment.

There is a rumour here today that 3 divisions of Huns have been cut off by the French.

An unexploded shell has this moment dropped outside our dugout.

We are feeling quite pleased.

Kindest regards to your Father and Mother,

Yours sincerely,


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Questions About the Letter

Your answers should be linked to evidence in the letter.

Try to give evidence in your answer: "I think this because..."

  • What is the letter about?
  • Who is the writer and who is the writer writing to? What do you think might be the relationship between the writer and the readers?
  • What things does the writer describe in the letter?
  • What is "trench foot"?
  • What did the rats in the trenches eat?
  • What is the difference between the soldiers' tea and their shaving-water?
  • What things in this letter surprise you, and why?
  • What words in the letter do you not know? Can you guess or find out what they mean?

You may think these are not very good questions.

Perhaps they are too hard for you, or not hard enough.

You can make up questions of your own, either for this letter or another one on this site.

If each group chooses a different letter, then another group can answer the questions they make up!

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Statements About the Letter - What The War Was Like

How much evidence can you find in the letter for each statement below?

It may help if you know that a yd. (yard) is slightly less than a metre in length, and that the soldiers' rifles could fire over half a mile, and were accurate over several hundred yards/metres.

  • Few soldiers died in the war.
  • The British and German front lines were very far apart.
  • Soldiers did not lose their sense of humour.
  • Life in the trenches was hard for soldiers.
  • Standards of hygiene (keeping clean and free of germs) were very good.
  • The soldiers enjoyed their food.
  • The soldiers had excellent clothing to keep warm and dry.
  • British soldiers liked the Germans very much.
  • British soldiers spent all their time fighting the Germans.
  • The soldiers knew when the war was going to end.
  • British soldiers all had beards.
  • The British were on the same side as the French.
  • Trenches were clean, dry and comfortable.
  • Soldiers were very safe in the trenches.
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Further Reading

If you wish to find out more about the Great War, there are many things to read.

You can start by looking for things on the Web, but should make use of printed materials as well.

Your teacher can direct you to these.

Letters and poems are good because the soldiers use them to tell the truth about their experience of war.

You may also look at accounts in histories of the war, in encylopædias and in television documentaries.

The UK comic TV drama Blackadder Goes Forth is not accurate in every way, but does contain a lot of genuine historical detail.

To find resources on the Web, follow this link or use a search engine, like www.google.co.uk.

Your teacher may be able to help you with this.

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Suggest an activity

If you have an idea about how to study the Great War, or war in general, please let us know.

If there is something you think should be here but isn't (yet), tell us.

If you are a teacher, and you would like a particular exercise, so your class can use this site to study English and use Information and Communication Technology, let us know.

To make a suggestion, use the e-mail address at the bottom of the page.

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Except where otherwise stated, the copyright in all of the archives and letters on this site is held by Robert Slack (grandson) and the Slack family. Copyright in teaching resources and materials on this site belongs to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council. Please acknowledge intellectual property rights by giving the URL of any pages you use, and/or include the © copyright symbol. Thank you.

Robert Slack - "I am very happy for (the letters) to be used by others. If teachers ever wanted to see the original letters for teaching purposes etc, I would be very happy to loan them, or send good copies of the originals."

To contact Robert, or to comment on this site, please e-mail Chris.A.Brown@eastriding.gov.uk

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EAST RIDING of YORKSHIRE COUNCIL School Improvement Service, County Hall, Beverley, East Yorks. HU17 9BA.
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