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Teaching Guide

Teaching 1984

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Welcome to Oceania, where Newspeak is the language and Big Brother is always watching. We hope you enjoy your stay!

Connecting the dots between historical events and this political satire can be challenging for students, so Shmoop is here to make teaching 1984 a little easier.

In this guide you will find

  • reading quizzes to see inside students' minds (the Thought Police would be proud).
  • lesson plans that will leave students fluent in Newspeak, Doublethink, and even Doublespeak.
  • resources to help make Orwell's dystopian novel relevant for today's students.

With the help of this guide, you'll be as all knowing and all-powerful as the Party itself.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: One of the nice things about writers is that they're so meta about their writing. They don't just plunk words down on the page; they think about the hows and whys of it, from vocabulary choice and sentence construction to basic motivation. That's why so many of them have authored books and essays about writing, and George Orwell is no exception.  

In this activity, your students will read George Orwell's essay "Why I Write"  and comment on Orwell's reasons for becoming a writer, the political events that shaped his choices, and the four reasons he provides for making writing one's career. They'll answer critical questions about the piece, participate in a classroom discussion, do a little writing themselves in the form of an essay, and maybe even stage a debate or two around political writing. (That last part is optional.)

You can expect to spend about 30-50 minutes on classroom discussion and possibly one or two more class periods for students to conduct debates.

Step 1: As homework, have your students read Orwell's "Why I Write" essay.

Step 2: While reading the essay, they should take notes and answer critical questions (included in the student instructions below).

Step 3: In class, you'll reintroduce the essay before leading students in a discussion of the piece and their responses to the study questions.

Step 4: Now it's time for your students to write a critical response to George Orwell. Here's the prompt you can use to make sure everyone's on the same page with the assignment:

  • Orwell claims that "Looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally." 
    • What do you think? Does writing have to be political to be good? Make a decision, yes or no, and defend or argue against Orwell's claim. Provide specific examples (from the essay, the novel, your own life, and other sources) to support your stance. 
  • For some helpful ideas see Shmoop's theme sections on "Philosophical Viewpoints," " Power," and "Warfare."

Step 5: [Optional] Students use their essays to enact a debate around the issue of political writing. Need a little help organizing the debate portion of the program? Check out this sample debate format.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade reading standards 1.2, 2.4, 2.5, 2.7, 2.8, 3.8, 3.12; writing 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.9, 2.2, 2.4; listening & speaking 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, 1.9, 1.13, 2.1, 2.2, 2.5; 11th & 12th grade reading standards 2.1, 2.4, 2.5, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9; writing 1.1, 1.3, 1.4, 2.2, 2.3; listening & speaking 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 2.1, 2.3.)

Instructions for Your Students

Why do you write? 

  • To figure out where you stand on complex issues?
  • To amuse your friends with clever status updates?
  • To keep yourself sane?
  • Because your teachers make you?

There are a lot of reasons to write, and professional writers really seem to enjoy explaining theirs. As you'll soon find out, George Orwell is no exception to that rule, and he has very specific ideas about what makes good writing, at least when it comes to his own work. But is he right? And do his personal rules apply to all writing? 

Get ready to take a stand: you can either agree with Orwell or pick his ideas apart. In writing, of course. 

Step 1: As homework, read Orwell's "Why I Write" essay.

Step 2: While reading the essay, take notes and the following questions:

  1. When did Orwell know that he should be a writer? How old was he when he gave up on this?
  2. Why did Orwell make up imaginary stories? How did this affect his social life?
  3. What was the first historical event that prompted a written response from Orwell? What genre of writing did he produce? What was the title?
  4. What "continuous story" did Orwell make up about his own life?
  5. When he was sixteen, what kinds of novels did Orwell decide he wanted to write? How does this image compare to 1984 and its themes? Did he get his wish?
  6. What are the four reasons Orwell lists for writing? Do any of these resonate with why you write? What about with how you express yourself in other ways, through art, music, blogging, texting, or talking with your friends?
  7. How did the Spanish Civil War influence the themes that Orwell explores in his novels? How do these themes play out in 1984?

Step 3: In class, discuss your responses to the Orwell essay and the above study questions.

Step 4: Take a breath and start putting all of your thoughts together. It's time to write your critical response to George Orwell's essay.

  • Orwell claims that "Looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally." 
    • What do you think? Does writing have to be political to be good? Make a decision, yes or no, and defend or argue against Orwell's claim. Provide specific examples (from the essay, the novel, your own life, and other sources) to support your stance. 
  • Need a little more info on the politics of 1984? Check out Shmoop's theme sections on "Philosophical Viewpoints," " Power," and "Warfare."

Step 5: [Optional] Use your critical essays to enact a debate around the issue of political writing. If you're doing this step for class, your teacher will give you the lowdown.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5

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