An exploration of "Animal Farm" can be a way to get students thinking about politics, history, and literature.
By Amy Wilding
"Animal Farm" is one of my favorite novels. Perhaps it’s because the novel illustrates what the world might be like if the human and animal roles were reversed. I think it’s the perfect text to use to instruct students on the consequences of achieving the “perfect” society. As you and your students embark on your journey through the text, you can have meaningful discussions and have students engage in projects and activities that correlate to the themes expressed in the book.
Before jumping into a reading of the novel, I like to discuss the idea of equality and social roles. As a group, we try to determine who or what determines where people stand in the social order. “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut is a great short story to spark higher-level thinking questions and activate prior knowledge. Each student has a different perspective on the topic of equality, so expect some heated discussions. You might also want to create a general list of questions to refer to as you read the short story and the novel. It would be interesting to see how the answers change as students progress through "Animal Farm."
In chapter one, “Major” gives his final speech. In order to help students understand the power of language and propaganda, have them find a famous political speech to analyze. Their task is to write a reflective essay or journal. Here are some suggestions of questions that should be answered within the student response—When was the speech given? Was there a call for action? Did the speech evoke strong emotion? Was the speaker a good orator? Then students can share the examples with the entire class.
In addition to the speech, Major sings a song—“Beasts of England.” One fun project is to have students do research on political songs past and present. If possible, play one of the songs in class. Students can write a response explaining the purpose of the song, as well as aspects of the song that encourage a specific behavior.
You can create a visual representation of the new animal hierarchy and list of animal commandments. I find that putting a reference on the wall or chalkboard allows for better discussions and assists in retention of information.
An on-going larger group project is for students to create their own country based on what is written in the text, as well as their own experiences and ideas. I would give each group a clear list of requirements such as landmarks, cities, social groups, population etc . . . You can also have them compose a national anthem. Each group can decide on the type of government as well. Be sure some groups have dictatorships.
A few other ideas—
- Have students do research on a political leader and outline his or her rise to power. Students should explain the events that led to this leader gaining power as well as any specific political goals or achievements. Was this person successful?
- Research various historical landmarks and their significance. Compare these landmarks to the “Battle of the Cowshed.” How does this animal monument reflect the ideals of the new animal government?
- Create a visual representation of the farm and buildings.
- As the new animal society begins to fail, have students outline events that lead to its destruction—Mollie’s disappearance, Snowball becoming the scapegoat, Napoleon’s new anthem, etc . . . Have students research a “strike” from American history. Compare and contrast the situation of the workers/leaders from the real event and the text.
- As an ending discussion, revisit the hierarchy as well as rules that were devised at the beginning of the novel. Compare/contrast them to the rules at the end of the novel. What do the changes tell us? Who or what really creates a social order? Are there ways to challenge your place in society? Is what you want really worth the effort to get it?
Here are some lessons that would go with a unit on this topic.
Animal Farm Lessons:
This is a fun activity for students in which they create a politcal campaign.
This activity explores power, corruption and the consequences. I think it would work as a nice addition to the "create a country" project.
This is a good intro lesson. It follows my suggestion of using "Harrison Bergeron" as a starting story. It can also be easily adapted.
This is a lesson that incorporates higher-level thinking. The lesson uses "Animal Farm" as an example of how literature often is a mirror for historical events.