Key Stage 2

What does it mean to be an evacuee or refugee?

Separate classroom into one of 2 groups: evacuees or refugees. Ask each member to contribute a fact/prior knowledge, related to their team name. Record results on A3 paper. After 10 minutes share the dictionary definitions below and give each team a different coloured pen to record any additional facts on their A3 sheets.

  • Evacuee – a person evacuated from a place of danger
  • Refugee – a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.

Ask students to imagine how they might feel if they were in this position and share their thoughts verbally through a hot-seating drama activity. Each student to start with the line, “On the day I had to leave my home”...


Why were children evacuated in WWII?

Ask students to compile a list of reasons to explain why they believe children were evacuated during the Blitz. Look at the photo of children playing on the Glyndebourne lawns in WWII. These children were sent from London to the relative safety of the Sussex countryside.

Ask students to write a first person narrative, describing the journey from London to Lewes of an evacuee in wartime. Students can use an IT lesson or access to laptop/ipads to create two story boards of images. The first should include: pictures of evacuees and London in 1939, images from the blitz and Victoria train station. The second should include pictures of the Sussex countryside and Glyndebourne, which might have been seen from the train.

How do these two locations differ? Ask students to focus purely on the visual differences and annotate their pictures with descriptive language such as adjectives and a similes.

Photo: Leaf collecting, The Glyndebourne Archive


What can you hear, touch, smell and feel?

Introduce the activity by explaining how authors often use multi-sensory locational writing (MSLW) to enable the reader to imagine themselves in the same position as a character. Follow this by displaying a picture of an evacuee waiting at a train station and demonstrate how this might be achieved.

  • See (the train, the station, concerned parents, other children and their clothes)
  • Hear (chattering children, crying, train conductor, whistle, sound of engine)
  • Touch (itchy woollen clothes, uncomfortable gas mask, weather conditions, weight of suitcase)
  • Smell (polluted London air, smell in the train station, newly washed clothes, mother’s perfume)
  • Feel (Fear, apprehension, confusion, excitement, anxiety, anger or upset)

Ask students to review and compare their storyboards prepared previously. Working in pairs they should take each photograph in turn and describe to their partner what they might hear, touch, smell and feel in that location.


Ask students to complete a MSLW plan which focuses on their initial journey through London from their home to Victoria train station. Students should use descriptive vocabulary in note form, not full sentences. Focus on quality of description, not quantity of observations. Once completed, repeat process for the train journey and arrival in Sussex.

Lead a discussion followed by completion of a second MSLW plan, using prompting questions like: How do the sights and sounds change? Is this their first journey outside of London? What might they see from the train window? Have the seen a sheep before? What might they hear in the carriage? How might emotions differ as they approach their destination?


How can I be successful in this writing task?

Thinking about personal and group writing targets, ask students to:

  • Personal Targets: write down 3 personal writing targets, which they have received over the past 12 months. e.g. To remember to use capital letters for proper nouns, varied sentence starters and commas for clauses. These targets could be from a formal end of year report, verbal feedback in lessons or written feedback in books.
  • Group Targets: Class discussion to compile a list of dos and don’ts which are specific to this writing task. e.g. ‘Do – include MSLW’ -  ‘Don’t start every sentence with ‘I could see, I could hear.’

With these targets in mind, ask students to write a first-person narrative, which describes their journey from London to Sussex. Although they can mention additional characters such as: their parents, teachers, rail workers and chaperones, they should focus on their own experience and emotions as an evacuee.


Key Stage 3

What do the terms evacuee and refugee mean?

Divide the class in half and task each group with writing a definition and list of synonyms for each of these words. They can also nominate one person from their team to draw a picture of a typical evacuee and refugee.

Why choose to tell this story? Explore the opera guide to Belongings and start a discussion in the classroom about the importance of staging such a story. Initiate the discussion with the following:

  • Why tell the story of WWII evacuees? Why not just focus on modern day refugees?
  • Which story line might school children most identify with? That which happened nearly 80 years ago, or that which is happening today?
  • How can the arts help to bring important issues to new audiences?

Students to work in groups of 3 or 4 to compile a list of questions they would like to ask and discuss. Each student should have an opportunity to take the place of teacher, and ask their questions of the class and manage the group discussion.


Why were children evacuated in WWII and where to?

Use the picture of an evacuee drawn previously to prompt discussions about the Blitz and evacuation during WWII.  Why was it necessary to evacuate all children? Was there any resistance from parents? If not, why not? What might be the attitude of parents if it were necessary to evacuate their children today? What might their worries be? Where did evacuees go?

Read the news article ‘Great Estates: How Glyndebourne saved the lives of hundreds of evacuees. ’ Read collectively and explore new and challenging vocabulary as a class.

After reading, ask students to answer comprehension found in this document.

Photo: Green room nursery, The Glyndebourne Archive

Based on their knowledge of evacuees ask students to compile a list of emotions which these children must have experienced during their journeys in WWII. Share vocabulary and create an exhaustive list taking contributions from the classroom.  Ask them to decide which words would not apply to modern day refugees. Would this change if the refugees were older than 15? Why do you think, that for some, empathy decrease as the age of the person suffering increases? Whose journey is most perilous, an evacuee or modern day refugee?

Following this discussion, ask students to research which countries modern day refugees have fled from and why. Using a map of the world, plot location and journeys and discuss the potential dangers they would face.

Read our blogpost: ‘Youth opera team works with refugees in Italy’.  Finish by returning to the question: How can the arts help to bring important issues to new audiences?


Show an animated clip showing the first part of Shaun Tan's book, The Arrival.

Discuss the use of pictures rather than words.

  • What does this encourage ‘the reader’ to do?
  • Where might they be from?
  • Where is the father going and why?
  • How is this clip relevant to modern day refugees?

Students to choose a refugee story from their previous creation and write a diary entry. This should be a first person narrative, from the perspective of a refugee, who is living in a temporary accommodation, part way through their journey.  Students should use the list of emotions worked on previously to structure their narrative.


Key Stage 4

Why is precision of language so important in this topic?

In small groups or pairs, ask students to talk about where they are from; do they come from a family of immigrants or migrants? Ask them to talk about what possibly prompted their decision to move.  Ask students to share the results of their discussions as a class, looking for similarities of experience and dealing with misconceptions related to vocabulary.

Gather vocabulary used in relation to immigration on large sheets of paper. The list should include (but is not limited to) the following: immigrant, migrant, asylum seeker, refugee, persecution, displacement and evacuee. Ask students to write the definition for these words in their books and select those, which apply directly to their own family.

Students could follow this by asking questions about their family history of evacuation and migration at home, bringing any evidence into class for the next lessons.


What motivates evacuation? Why might other types of evacuation occur?

Ask students to work in groups of 4 gathering as many facts as possible about WWII evacuation.  - Why were children evacuated? When? To where? For how long? How did the government persuade parents to agree? What were the pressures at the time?

What might an evacuee wear? How would an evacuee travel? Who supervised them? Were they safe? You can ask them to read the article Great Estates: How Glyndebourne saved the lives of hundreds of evacuees as research

Why might other types of evacuation occur?

Using the example of Hurricane Irma, in the Caribbean and USA, discuss the need for evacuation. Share and list the emotions felt by the evacuees and benefits of taking this drastic measure. Create an evacuation mind map, which details those that were successful in preserving human life and those that were not. The eruption of Vesuvius, evacuation during WWII air raids, Tsunamis in Japan and Thailand.

All students to finish by discussing which modern day refugees might also be accurately referred to as evacuees. What constitutes an evacuation? Does the person have to be in immediate or imminent danger in order to qualify for that term?

Photo: Evacuees on the front lawn, The Glyndebourne Archive

With whom do you most identify?  How might a journey start and end?

Look at the opera guide to Belongings and discuss the dual narrative of the opera. Discuss books that use this technique to tell stories of characters, whom are separated by time or circumstances.

As that the recommended audience age for Belongings is 9 years+, discuss the choices of the librettist and directors. What might make the story accessible? Which experiences of modern day refugees might need to be omitted?

How might a journey start and end?

Ask students to plan a story that has a dual narrative; they should plan this by focusing on the experiences which a WWII evacuee and a modern day refugee might share. This can be written using alternating paragraphs or two separate chapters that share some common themes. Planning should include:

  • The Journey – either partially or in full. Starting from a home setting, they should describe what the child might see, hear, feel and fear. This could span one afternoon or several days. It could also involve more than one method of transport.
  • The Hiatus – Both narratives should have a period of rest and contemplation for their characters, before arriving at their destination.
  • The Arrival – With a focus on: new sights, sounds, people and the location. It should detail their characters emotions, in particular their anxieties related to the next stage of their lives.

Ask students to share which part of the dual narrative they found easier to plan. Do they have more historical understanding of the experiences of a WWII evacuee than a modern day refugee? Read our blogpost and discuss the challenges of a language barrier and the techniques used to overcome it during this trip.

Share the English Language syllabus for their GCSE board. Discuss the expectations for writing and the children’s specific targets related to that syllabus. Ask students to keep these in mind, whilst writing their dual narrative.

All students to ensure that are using: a variety of sentences structures, appropriate paragraphing, detailed character and location descriptions, using specific and adventurous vocabulary, limited and appropriately punctuated speech and a wide variety of punctuation and literary devices for effect. All students to search for an opportunity for their characters to connect in some way, either physically or emotionally across time.


Homework extension

Key Stage 2

Key Stage 3

Key Stage 4

Key Stage 2

For those who wish to delve deeper, students could research the varying experiences of evacuees during WWII through first person accounts and fiction. See booklist attached.

They could then write a letter home to their parents, describing their new home, from a less idyllic destination than Glyndebourne.  


Key Stage 3

For those who wish to delve deeper, students could research the varying experiences of evacuees during WWII through first person accounts and fiction. They could then write a diary entry, following a dramatic moment on their journey. This could be on foot, by rail, coach or a sea crossing. (List of fiction attached).


Key Stage 4

For those who wish to delve deeper, students could research the varying experiences of evacuees during WWII and current migration through first person accounts and fiction.  (List of fiction attached).

Photo credits

Archive images courtesy of The Glyndebourne Archive 
Belongings rehearsal photos by Sam Stephenson