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Your students have probably been reading books about farmyard animals as far back as they can remember. Not, however, quite like this.
Animal Farm articulated the fear we all have that animals are poised, waiting for just the right moment to take over. You know, like a much cuter version of Planet of the Apes.
OK, so perhaps there’s more to it than that.
For many young readers Orwell is a first dalliance into politics – whether it’s this fairytale parable of Stalinist dictatorships, or 1984, a dystopian parable of Stalinist dictatorships and how they betray true socialism.
These early steps into politics and allegory can be confusing for teenagers, which is why the classroom is the perfect setting for studying Orwell’s masterpieces – “So Orwell wrote two classic novels criticising the extreme left, but was still a democratic socialist?” Yes. “So, extreme left bad, right also bad?” Yes, welcome to the world of politics. Not much has changed.
“And, four legs good, two legs bad?” Yes, but we’ll get to that.
If you want to put the novel into political perspective the BBC Bitesize page has a great (and short) video that does the job nicely.
You can find it here.
And for a nice quick overview, with pictures, who the characters and their real-life counterparts, this video will do you nicely.
It’s not exactly hi-def though, so maybe one to watch on tablets rather than projected on a big screen in class.
And do enjoy the jazz score, and the bizarre abrupt shift from that into some country folksy guitar. Not that that matters much, just something I noticed.
Alternatively, you can go into the character representations in more depth using this handy Prezi presentation.
And for a bit more background about Orwell himself (which, of course, also puts the novel into context), this video does a great job in just under 14 minutes.
Something that might be fun to tie in to any political and ethical debate is the rejection letter for the book from Faber & Faber, which concludes on the point that actually the message from the novel is that “what was needed was not more Communism but more public-spirited pigs”.
If nothing else it’s a great example on why students shouldn’t necessarily take rejection to heart.
Read both pages of the letter here.
This PDF includes some activities on how Orwell uses language and style in Animal Farm, including rhetoric, irony, symbols, rhymes and the way political speeches are used to convince the masses that the party wants is in their best interest.
A handy tool for the book, and for life.
Click here to download.
No study of Orwell is complete without looking at propaganda and the coercion of language for a political agenda.
This lesson plan is full of great things you can do on this front with Animal Farm, and includes an introduction to eight linguistic techniques commonly used in propaganda: name-calling, generalities, euphemisms, symbolism, testimony, fear, the ‘bandwagon’ trick (‘everyone else is doing it’) and convincing the audience that the powers that be are ‘one of them’.
Check out the activities here.
And you can find a more in-depth study of these techniques and how they relate to the text (including two tasks for students to tackle) here.
As a bonus, this excellent addition was suggested to us via Twitter:
Animal Farm preface cut by publisher. https://t.co/IMnWg7EoUJ— Gavin Boyd (@gavinboyd2012) November 11, 2017
Animal Farm preface cut by publisher. https://t.co/IMnWg7EoUJ
Everything you need for every subject across Key Stages 3 and 4.