War Horse – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

Last updated

Are you seeking an engaging and thought-provoking story to bring your classroom lessons to life?

Look no further than War Horse, which has captivated audiences worldwide with its powerful narrative.

Based on Michael Morpurgo’s beloved novel of the same name, this story will engage kids in critical reading and discussions about war, camaraderie, hope, and loyalty.

With our comprehensive planning overview for teaching War Horse—including suggestions for pre-reading activities, discussion topics, and assessment ideas—you will have every resource necessary to make your experience successful!

Related: For more, check out our article on Voices In The Park  here.

War Horse

Overview of the Storyline of War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

War Horse is a novel that follows the journey of Joey, a young horse sold to the British army during World War I.

The book is narrated from Joey’s perspective and several other characters, including his original owner Albert.

As Joey travels through different stages of the war, he experiences both kindness and cruelty from humans on both sides.

He symbolizes hope for soldiers on both sides as they struggle to survive in brutal conditions.

Throughout the book, Joey encounters various characters who shape his journey and influence his fate.

These include Captain Nicholls, who initially buys Joey and takes him to war; Topthorn, another horse who becomes Joey’s closest companion; and Friedrich, a young German soldier who shows kindness to Joey.

Meanwhile, Albert joins the army to find Joey after he is sold. He, too, experiences the horrors of war firsthand but remains determined to reunite with his beloved horse.

As the war draws close, Joey is caught in the middle of one final battle between British and German soldiers. The outcome will determine not only his fate but also those around him.

Overall, War Horse is a gripping tale exploring themes such as loyalty, friendship, courage, and sacrifice against one of history’s most devastating conflicts.


Overview of the Main Characters in War Horse

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo features a diverse cast of characters, each with a unique role to play in the story.

Here is an overview of some of the main characters:


Joey is the titular character and protagonist of the novel. He is a spirited and loyal horse sold to the British army during World War I.

Throughout his journey, Joey encounters both kindness and cruelty from humans on both sides of the conflict.


Albert is Joey’s original owner and closest companion. He joins the army to find Joey after he is sold to the military.

Albert remains determined to reunite with his beloved horse despite facing many challenges.

Captain Nicholls

Captain Nicholls is a young officer who buys Joey and takes him to war. He develops a close bond with Joey and treats him with kindness and respect.


Topthorn is another horse who becomes Joey’s closest companion during his time at war.

Topthorn is strong, brave, and fiercely loyal to those he cares about.


Friedrich is a young German soldier who shows kindness towards Joey during one of their encounters.

Despite being on opposite sides of the conflict, Friedrich sees beyond nationalities and recognizes Joey as a fellow living worthy of compassion.

Central Themes in War Horse

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo explores several critical themes relevant to the historical context of World War I and broader human experiences.

Here are some of the main themes that come up in the novel:


One of the primary themes in War Horse is loyalty. Joey’s unwavering devotion to Albert and his determination to survive and return home to him drives much of the plot.

Similarly, many soldiers on both sides of the conflict show fierce loyalty to their comrades and country.


Friendship is another important theme in War Horse. Joey bonds closely with several characters throughout his journey, including Captain Nicholls, Topthorn, and Friedrich.

These relationships demonstrate how friendships can be formed across boundaries such as nationality or social class, even in war.


Courage is a recurring theme throughout War Horse. Characters such as Joey, Albert, and soldiers on both sides display bravery in various ways, whether charging into battle or simply persevering through difficult circumstances.


Compassion is another key theme explored in War Horse. Despite being enemies on opposite sides of the conflict, characters like Friedrich show kindness towards others regardless of nationality or circumstance.

Loss and Sacrifice

Finally, loss and sacrifice are central themes in War Horse. The brutal nature of war means that many characters face heartbreaking losses and must sacrifice for their beliefs or those they love.

War Horse

Teaching Language Features using War Horse

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo is a rich and engaging text that offers many opportunities for teaching various language features.

Here are some examples of how different language features can be prepared using this novel:


War Horse is filled with vivid, descriptive imagery that brings the story to life. Teachers can use novel excerpts to teach students how authors use sensory details to create powerful mental images in the reader’s mind.

Figurative Language

The novel also contains several examples of figurative language, including similes, metaphors, and personification.

Teachers can use these examples to help students understand how figurative language enhances the meaning and impact of the text.


The dialogue between characters in War Horse is authentic and realistic, reflecting the story’s historical context.

Teachers can use these conversations to teach students how discussion can reveal character traits, convey emotions, and move the plot forward.

Point of View

War Horse is narrated from multiple points of view, including Joey’s perspective and those of other characters such as Albert and Friedrich.

Teachers can use this novel aspect to teach students how point of view affects readers’ understanding of events and characters in a story.

Historical Context

Finally, War Horse allows teachers to discuss historical context with their students.

The novel offers insights into what life was like during World War I, including issues such as class differences, nationalism, propaganda, and wartime experiences.

Teachers can use War Horse as a teaching tool for different language features to engage their students with a compelling story while building critical reading skills and knowledge about literary techniques.

Lesson Plan

Topic: Exploring Imagery and Figurative Language in War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Grade Level/year group:



  • Students will be able to identify examples of imagery and figurative language in War Horse.
  • Students will be able to explain how these literary devices enhance the meaning and impact of the text.
  • Students can create their own examples of imagery and figurative language.


  • Copies of War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
  • Whiteboard, markers, or chart paper
  • Handout with definitions and examples of imagery and figurative language
  • Writing materials for students (pencils, pens, paper)


Introduction (10 minutes)

  • Begin by asking students if they know what imagery and figurative language are.
  • Use the handout to provide definitions and examples of these literary devices.
  • Explain that today’s lesson will focus on identifying these devices in War Horse and analyzing how they contribute to the story.

Reading Activity (30 minutes)

  • Distribute copies of War Horse to each student.
  • Ask students to read a selected passage from the novel (e.g., Joey’s first encounter with Captain Nicholls).
  • Have students work in pairs or small groups to identify examples of imagery and figurative language in the passage.
  • As a class, discuss some of the examples that students found and how they contribute to the overall meaning and impact of the text.

Guided Practice (20 minutes)

  • Using a whiteboard or chart paper, model how to create an example of imagery or figurative language based on a scene from War Horse.
  • Ask students to work individually or in pairs to create an example based on a different scene from the novel.
  • After several minutes, have volunteers share their examples with the class.

Independent Practice (20 minutes)

  • Assign students a short writing task where they must include at least one example of imagery and figurative language based on a scene from War Horse that they choose themselves.

Conclusion (10 minutes)

  • Have several volunteers share their writing pieces with the class.
  • Review key concepts covered during the lesson regarding imagery and figurative language in literature.


Student’s ability to identify, explain, and create examples of imagery and figurative language can be assessed through class discussion, written responses during independent practice time, and teacher observation throughout this lesson plan.

Website Resources

Scholastic: Scholastic is a popular educational website providing teacher and student resources. Their page on War Horse includes a book summary, discussion questions, and teaching ideas.

The web page Literacy Shed is a teaching resource for War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. It provides educators various materials to support teaching and learning about the book, including videos, images, and lesson plans.

The resources are designed to help students develop their reading comprehension, writing skills, and critical thinking abilities by exploring themes such as war, friendship, and bravery.


In essence, War Horse is more than just a compelling story—it’s a teaching tool that allows students to explore complex themes and engage in critical thought.

With our comprehensive planning overview, you have the resources at your fingertips to make this teaching experience not just successful, but also deeply enriching for your students.

Remember, the goal here isn’t just to read a book; it’s to open a dialogue, to provoke thought, and to encourage students to see the world from different perspectives.

By using War Horse as a teaching tool, you’re doing more than teaching literature—you’re shaping minds and encouraging empathy, understanding, and critical thinking. So dive in, and let’s embark on this journey together!


Q: Why choose War Horse as a teaching tool?

A: War Horse offers a unique opportunity to discuss complex themes like war, camaraderie, hope, and loyalty in an engaging and age-appropriate way. Its powerful narrative captivates students and encourages critical reading and thoughtful discussion.

Q: What kind of pre-reading activities are suggested in the planning overview?

A: Our planning overview includes a variety of pre-reading activities designed to pique students’ interest and prepare them for the themes they will encounter in the book. These may include discussions about the historical context of the story, exploring the concept of loyalty, or brainstorming about what it might be like to be a war horse.

Q: How can I assess my students’ understanding of the book?

A: The planning overview provides several assessment ideas, including written assignments, group projects, and class discussions. You might ask students to write a character analysis, create a timeline of events, or debate a theme from the book.

Q: Can I adapt the planning overview to suit my class’s needs?

A: Absolutely! The planning overview is designed to be flexible and can easily be adapted to suit your class’s specific needs and interests. Feel free to modify the suggested activities or add your own to create a teaching experience that’s just right for your students.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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