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The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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The Red Badge of Courage Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Red Badge of Courage Include:

Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage without ever having witnessed combat. However, his use of vivid imagery, color motifs, and his ability to describe the emotional highs and lows of an insecure soldier have earned the novel many accolades. While the novel only takes place over the course of a few days, it is a story of a lifetime for a young private named Henry Fleming. The story of Henry Fleming and his journey from a young fearful boy to a bold young soldier highlights important themes that many students will encounter in their own lives, including overcoming fear, a soldier’s duty and honor, defining manhood, and finding redemption.

The Red Badge of Courage Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Red Badge of Courage Summary


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example The Red Badge of Courage Plot Diagram

Exposition

Henry Fleming, a young man of 18 years old, has finally left his farm and his mother to join the Union Army. However, his regiment largely wanders from one place to another, never really seeing combat. Henry is consumed by fears that he will run away from a true battle, and while he tries to find comfort in other soldiers, especially veterans, the worries still plague him.


Conflict

While Henry fights initially, he is quickly overcome by fear as he sees many of his fellow soldiers fleeing the first battle. His friend, a loud and arrogant soldier named Wilson, also deserts the battle before it really begins. Henry turns and runs away from the battle, fleeing into the woods and plagued by fear, guilt, and shame.


Rising Action

Henry finally meets up with a wounded unit of soldiers. His tall friend Jim Conklin is among them. A tattered soldier tries to befriend Henry. Henry and the tattered soldier follow Jim into the woods, where he dies in a strange manner. Henry soon notices the weakened state of the tattered soldier and abandons him in the woods, alone and muttering to himself. Overcome by his weariness, Henry is led back to his regiment by a cheery stranger. He tells his regiment that he was shot in the head by the enemy, but the wound is from a struggle with another soldier.


Climax

Henry keeps his cowardice from his comrades and becomes a “war devil,” or a fearless soldier. The regimen is then sent to an assignment which most likely means certain death. Henry and Wilson overhear the general calling the soldiers “mule drivers,” and this fuels his and Wilson’s resolve to fight. Henry becomes the color bearer for the next battle by saving the flag from a dying color bearer.


Falling Action

The regiment squares off with rebels hiding behind a farmer’s fence. Their lines are quickly dwindling, so they realize they have to charge the fence. Henry and Wilson lock their sights on the rebel color bearer, and Wilson swoops in to grab the flag as the color bearer is killed. The Union forces win the battle, and a strange calm settles over the land.


Resolution

As they are marching back to camp, Henry is again plagued by guilt for his actions on the previous day. He recalls his cowardice, his abandonment of both Jim Conklin and the tattered soldier, and it starts to cause him despair. However, he begins to see that he has made up for these mistakes in his bravery as color bearer, and he finds peace within himself for his actions.


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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of The Red Badge of Courage.


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



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The Red Badge of Courage Characters


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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!


The Red Badge of Courage Characters

  • Private Henry Fleming / The Youth
  • Jim Conklin / The Tall Soldier
  • Wilson / The Loud Soldier and The Friend
  • The Injured Lieutenant

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Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.


  1. Identify the major characters in The Red Badge of Courage and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character from the "1600s to 1800s" tab to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Physical Traits, Character Traits, and a Quote.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.


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The Red Badge of Courage Literary Conflict Student Activity


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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflicts.

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the storyboard creator. In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.


Examples of Literary Conflict in The Red Badge of Courage

MAN vs. MAN

The primary conflict of the novel is the Union versus the Confederate forces. The battle depicted in the novel is thought to be modeled after the Battle of Chancellorsville in New York. While there are many battles and skirmishes described in the novel, the Union soldiers storming the Confederate hold behind the farming fence is particularly poignant to show the battle between foes.


MAN vs. SELF

Henry is plagued by guilt and shame over his desertion of his comrades in battle, and later his desertion of Jim Conklin and the tattered soldier in the woods. When he is overcome by these thoughts and emotions, he imagines that his fellow soldiers can see his shame. It causes him to lash out in anger at the rebels and even at Wilson.


MAN vs. NATURE

The woods and landscape are both friend and foe to the soldiers on the battlefield. On one hand, it provides shelter for the Union forces during battle; on the other hand, it provides cover for the enemy during battle. As Henry retreats from his first battle into the woods, he imagines that the brush he is walking through is creating such a ruckus that everyone can hear him walking away from battle. He feels betrayed by the woods, much like how he betrayed his regiment.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in The Red Badge of Courage.


  1. Identify conflicts in The Red Badge of Courage.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.



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The Red Badge of Courage Themes, Symbols, and Motifs


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Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.


The Red Badge of Courage Themes to Look For and Discuss

Redemption

While Henry flees from his first battle, as he feared that he might, he finds redemption by joining his regiment again and fighting the following day quite valiantly. He then becomes a color bearer and helps the Union troops lead a charge against Confederates hiding behind a fence. While Henry is overcome with guilt at his desertion of his comrades, he finds a way to make up for his mistake by returning and fighting again.


Defining Manhood

Henry believes that the only way to prove himself a man is to join the army and to fight successfully in a battle. When he fails, he feels that he has not only failed his comrades, but he’s failed himself as a man. He feels that the only way to maintain a semblance of his manhood is to hide his secrets. After he fights with his regiment and becomes the color bearer, he thinks to himself that he will no longer quail in the face of danger. For him, Henry now believes he has finally become a man.


Duty and Honor

Henry held back from enlisting for a long time but was finally compelled by a sense of duty to join the army and help the ailing forces. He believes that his service will instill him with honor and a sense of manhood, despite his mother’s lackluster feelings about war. When Henry doesn’t live up to the duties of a soldier, he feels as if he has dishonored not only himself but his entire regiment.


Overcoming Fear

The first part of the novel deals with Henry’s preoccupation about his fear of deserting his regiment when he finally sees real fighting. He wishes that he could share that fear and be comforted by others, but no one seems to understand the gravity of his concerns, or know how to help him. Henry’s worst fear does come true, but he is able to overcome it in the next battles, which frees him from it.



The Red Badge of Courage Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Colors

Crane repeatedly makes references to the colors red, blue, gray, yellow, and black throughout the novel. The red is usually in reference to war, representing the blood being spilled in battle. The blue is used to hue the colors of the smoke, describe the line of Union uniforms, and juxtapose the bloody battles with a shining blue sky above. The gray is reflected in both the smoke and the Confederate uniforms. The yellow is the sun shining through the darkness, and the color of honorable memories for Henry. The black is in the passion of the men, the oaths of the officers, and the soot of the soldier’s faces.


The Flag

The flag is a beacon that each side looks for when they are disoriented in battle. As long as the flag is waving, the soldiers know the battle is still being fought. Often times the flag is like a soldier itself, struggling amidst the smoke and guns. For Henry who becomes the color bearer, it becomes his symbol of redemption for his cowardice the day before.


The Soldier in the Woods

After Henry deserts his regiment, he wanders into the woods. He comes into a clearing where he finds a sight that horrifies him: it is the corpse of a dead soldier, probably there for weeks. Its eyes seem to bore into Henry’s, and as he runs away, he feels sure that the corpse will yell out after him. In the corpse, he sees his worst fears.

Nature

The woods themselves seem to be a character within the novel. The woods are constantly described as speaking or humming to Henry as he walks through them. Nature is both Henry’s enemy and his friend as he uses the woods to hide, or he feels he is being betrayed by its sounds. Henry sees nature as the religion of peace, the one thing that makes sense in the midst of the chaos and bloodletting of battle.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in The Red Badge of Courage. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Red Badge of Courage you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.



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TWIST Graphic Organizer for The Red Badge of Courage


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that examine Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, and Theme. This activity is referred to with the acronym “TWIST”. In a TWIST, students focus on a particular paragraph or a few pages, to look deeper at the author’s meaning.



Stephen Crane is one of those authors revered for his use of winding language and vivid imagery. Using an excerpt from The Red Badge of Courage, students can depict, explain, and discuss important quotes from the text, and analyze the author’s use of style and word choice to enhance meaning.

TWIST Example for The Red Badge of Courage

The din in front swelled to a tremendous chorus. The youth and his fellows were frozen to silence. They could see a flag that tossed in the smoke angrily. Near it were the blurred and agitated forms of troops. There came a turbulent stream of men across the fields. A battery changing position at a frantic gallop scattered the stragglers right and left… The battle flag in the distance jerked about madly. It seemed to be struggling to free itself from agony. The billowing smoke was filled with horizontal flashes. Men rushing swiftly emerged from it. They grew in numbers until it was seen that the whole command was fleeing. The flag suddenly sank down as if dying. Its motion as it fell was a gesture of despair.


T

TONE

urgent, vivid, sincere
W

WORD CHOICE

tossed, angrily, turbulent stream, frantic, jerked, madly, struggling, agony, dying, despair
I

IMAGERY

The flag suddenly sank down as if dying. Its motion as it fell was a gesture of despair.
S

STYLE

The passage is written in quick, staccato-like sentences, like the orders given by a commander or a newspaper reporter writing about his observations. The imagery is vivid and gives a picture of men swarming about through the smoke with the flag being the only observable figure in the melee.
T

THEME

The action of the battle is coupled with the struggle of the flag which highlights the struggle of the men below it. The flag itself becomes a soldier struggling in the battle, and signals the loss of the men as it sinks.

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Student Instructions

Perform a TWIST analysis of a selection from The Red Badge of Courage. Remember that TWIST stands for Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, Theme.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of TWIST.
  3. Write a few sentences describing the importance or meaning of the images.
  4. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  5. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.



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Overcoming Fear

As students read The Red Badge of Courage, they will notice that the first part of the novel deals with Henry’s overwhelming fear about deserting the fight when it comes to real battles. His fears are not unrealistic: he knows from veterans and seeing wounded soldiers that he could very well be maimed or killed. (Ironically, the only injury Henry receives in the whole novel is in a brief scuffle off of the battle field with another soldier.) One of Henry’s primary issues is that he feels he can’t share his fear with anyone to get help, so he bottles it up inside. Perhaps if he had been given solid advice, or just not felt so alone, he might not have deserted his regiment.

It may help students to identify with Henry by imagining their own worst fears and coming up with an action plan for how to overcome that fear if they are ever faced with it. They can document this in a storyboard like the one below, and share in groups or present to the class. They may be surprised to find out how many of their classmates share the same fear, and there might be great suggestions for how to deal with it!


Example Overcoming Fear Assignment for The Red Badge of Courage


My Fear: I’m running for class president, but I am afraid of making my speech in front of the entire school next week.


Strategy #1 Practicing beforehand several times creates memories in your muscles that will help you when you actually get up to speak. Your voice will remember what to emphasize, and you’ll already know how to place your hands or stand.


Strategy #2: Don’t make eye contact with anyone; instead, look over their heads, just above their eye level. That way, you don’t get distracted by people’s facial expressions.


Strategy #3: Make the font on the page really large, and only fill each page about halfway down. This way you can look up often and you won’t rely on looking down as much. Also, number the pages so if you drop them, you can quickly put them back in order!


Strategy #4: Enlist the help of a friend or family member to listen and give suggestions. They can even record you so you can already see and hear what the audience will see and hear. That way there will be no surprises!


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Vocabulary Lesson Plan for The Red Badge of Courage


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from The Red Badge of Courage. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the novel, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

The Red Badge of Courage Vocabulary

  • trepidation
  • edifice
  • haversack
  • harangue
  • stolid
  • lurid
  • adroitly
  • reproof
  • pallid
  • langour
  • accoutrements
  • impetus

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in The Red Badge of Courage by creating visualizations.


  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



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Realism

One reason why Crane’s writing style is so successful is because it incorporates many elements of the Realism literary movement. Realism is defined as depicting the characteristics of everyday life in their truest form. Realism doesn’t concern itself with supernatural elements like its Gothic predecessor, nor does it try to get too exotic or fancy in its descriptions. It is often referred to as a “faithful representation of reality”. Crane utilizes Realism in his depiction of Henry Fleming’s thoughts and in his journey from coward to hero. Some important characteristics of Realism include:



The Battle of Chancellorsville

While the 304th New York Regiment is fictional, it was thought to be inspired by the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which Stephen Crane utilized to prepare for his novel. The battle that Henry Fleming takes part in is thought to be based off of the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia in 1863. Students can find more information on the battle (and perhaps English and History classes can team up for this, too!) at the following resources:



Essential Questions for The Red Badge of Courage

  1. When can fear become overwhelming?
  2. What is courage? Why is it important?
  3. What are some reasons why people choose to enlist and fight in a war?
  4. Should desertion be considered a crime? Why or why not?
  5. What qualities make a good soldier? A bad soldier?
  6. What defines “manhood”?
  7. Is it possible to find redemption for our mistakes?


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•   (English) The Red Badge of Courage   •   (Español) El Emblema Rojo del Coraje   •   (Français) L'insigne Rouge du Courage   •   (Deutsch) Das Rote Abzeichen des Mutes   •   (Italiana) Il Distintivo Rosso del Coraggio   •   (Nederlands) Het Rode Badge van Moed   •   (Português) O Emblema Vermelho da Coragem   •   (עברית) הטלאי האדום של האומץ   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) شارة الحمراء للشجاعة   •   (हिन्दी) साहस का लाल बैज   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Красный Знак Мужества   •   (Dansk) Det Røde Badge af mod   •   (Svenska) Röda Märket av mod   •   (Suomi) Punainen Kunniamerkki   •   (Norsk) Det Røde Merket av mod   •   (Türkçe) Cesaretin Kırmızı Rozeti   •   (Polski) Czerwona Odznaka Odwagi   •   (Româna) Insigna Roșie a Curajului   •   (Ceština) Červený Odznak Odvahy   •   (Slovenský) Červený Odznak Odvahy   •   (Magyar) A Red Badge of Courage   •   (Hrvatski) Crvena Značka Hrabrosti   •   (български) Червеният Знак на Смелостта   •   (Lietuvos) Raudonasis Ženkliukas Drąsos   •   (Slovenščina) Red Badge of Courage   •   (Latvijas) Red Badge of Courage   •   (eesti) Punane Märk Courage