Courage and Fear

A Lesson Plan using The Red Badge of Courage

Last updated 1-9-2024

Subject and Grade Level: English, Grades 11-12

Rationale: This brief lesson description was developed to provide an example for teacher education students of confluent education (the linking of cognitive and affective outcomes in the same lesson). Though it hasn't been tested in a high school classroom, it should be appropriate for students in grades 11-12 of average to above-average ability. The lesson is intended not only to investigate courage and fear as portrayed in the novel, The Red Badge of Courage, but also to allow students to explore the concepts and feelings related to courage and fear from several perspectives as they clarify their own understanding of the two.

Outcome: Through reading Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, students will learn about courage and fear as portrayed in this novel, develop a personal understanding of the concepts and feelings related to courage and fear, and come to realize the complex inter-relationship between the two.

Materials and Resources Needed: Enough copies of the novel for all class members and Internet access.

Time Requirements: Approximately five 50-minute class periods. Students may still be reading the novel during the first two or three days of in-class activities.

Introduction and Pre-Reading:  The teacher will introduce The Red Badge of Courage and tell students that the story depicted in the novel takes place during the Civil War. S/he should then ask them what they have learned about the Civil War in their history classes (e.g. What was the war about? When did it take place? What was the outcome?). The teacher should then note that The Red Badge of Courage is not only about the Civil War, but also about a young man of approximately their age and his personal struggle with courage and fear under the most trying of circumstances.

Students should then be asked to define courage and fear. The teacher will also ask if they believe the two concepts are related. After this discussion, the teacher should provide a brief overview of the lesson activities and explain to the students that in addition to reading the novel they will be exploring and clarifying their own beliefs and feelings regarding courage and fear.

Lesson Procedure: Students will read the novel, The Red Badge of Courage. They will also complete the following activities:

1) interview someone who has been in combat and ask him/her about courage and fear;

2) listen to music that was popular during different wars and write down the thoughts and feelings it evokes;

3) explore Internet sites for drawings and photos of Civil War soldiers and battles. These will be printed and taped to the classroom wall. The following site is a good place to start: American Memory - Selected Civil War Photos (;

4) explore the following web sites (or others you choose) to access and read letters and diary entries from various wars, comparing the thoughts and feelings they express:
Chapman University Center for American War Letters
Letters From the FronT (WWII)
Letters to loved ones (WWI)    

5) discuss in small groups what they have learned from their interviews and the letters/diaries. After a spokesperson for each group shares this information with the rest of the class, students should resume their discussion and describe what they have learned about courage and fear, how their concepts might have changed since reading the book, and compare their own understanding of these concepts to Crane's portrayal of them in his book. (This discussion may take two class periods)

6) if time permits, the teacher may also wish to have students view the film, "The Red Badge of Courage." The 1951 film (directed by John Huston and starring Audie Murphy) is recommended. It is available in video from

Assessment: Students will write an essay which 1) describes something they did that they believe required courage, 2) documents their feelings about this incident, 3) describes their understanding of Crane's portrayal of courage and fear in The Red Badge of Courage, and 4) compares their beliefs regarding courage and fear to those expressed in the novel.

Extensions: Interested students may be directed to other books depicting courage and fear in times of war. Suggested works might include Everything We Had by Al Santoli (Vietnam), Citizen Soldier by Steven Ambrose (WW II), and Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (Civil War).

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Posted by Edmund J. Sass, Ed.D. Last revised 1-9-24.