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Teaching Guide

Teaching Animal Farm

Old George Orwell had a farm.

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Old McDonald and the Farmer in the Dell would have had their hands full on this farm. Actually, they would have been run out of the place by these overbearing animals. We're here to ensure your students don't do the same for you, and you won't even need a pitchfork to keep the discussion under control.

Animal Farm is deceptively simple. Us? We're not here to deceive. We're here to help.

In this guide you will find

  • activities to help students connect animals to historical figures like Trotsky and Lenin—and understand who Trotsky and Lenin actually were. 
  • modern connections on all the different ways Animal Farm has evolved and been adapted over the ages.
  • essay questions about unpacking allegories and exploring the true meaning of free speech.

At the end of the "Farmer in the Dell," the cheese stands alone. You won't be like the cheese. We stand with you.

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  • 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: When you read a book like Animal Farm, which seems like such an obvious choice for bestseller lists now, it's tough to believe that publishers weren't clamoring to sign Orwell to a contract. But they weren't. In fact, one publisher who initially planned to print the book changed his mind upon realizing that it might not be wise, in the early 1940s, to paint Russia in a bad light. 

So the book that makes a great case against censorship ... was, in effect, at risk of being censored.

Your students will get the complete lowdown on this story when they read Orwell's essay, "The Freedom of the Press." They'll answer critical questions about the piece, participate in a classroom discussion, and produce a persuasive essay using outside sources, all of which will give them a chance to analyze the issues of media and censorship that are relevant to Animal Farm

Length of Lesson: One class period, with homework before and after.

Step 1: As homework, have your students read "The Freedom of the Press" (preface) by George Orwell and answer the following questions—in writing:

  1. What is the MOI? Does it have a parallel in Animal Farm?
  2. Was George Orwell successful at first in getting Animal Farm published? (Oops. We kind of gave that away in the intro, but go ahead and answer anyway.)
  3. Why did one publisher change his mind about publishing the novel?
  4. What is the "worst enemy" of any writer? What is Orwell's motivation for writing this essay?
  5. According to Orwell, what was not appropriate to say or write during mid-Victorian times? Can you think of any such examples of things that are not okay to say or write today?
  6. What was the dominant political stance in Britain towards Russia during this time? What's Orwell's opinion on this? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  7. What examples of British self-censorship does Orwell provide? What are some similar examples in Animal Farm?
  8. How does Orwell claim British intellectuals will react to Animal Farm? What's the larger issue at stake in their critical reception?
  9. Does Orwell support freedom of thought and speech or not? Can you find evidence of this in the novel?
  10. Why do you think Orwell excluded this preface from the published book? What are the implications of leaving this opinion piece out? If you were George Orwell, would you have done the same thing?

Step 2: In class the next day, lead a discussion of the Orwell's essay and your students' responses to the study questions.

Step 3: Now it's time for your students to write their own letter to the editor ... errr ... publisher. Here's a prompt:

Consider the rejection that Orwell reports receiving at the beginning of this essay. Write a response supporting or refuting this censorship from your own point of view. Be sure to include evidence from Orwell's essay, Animal Farm, and outside sources (these can be from your own life, research, or the media). Structure an argument and provide specific examples (from the book and other sources) to support your stance.

If you prefer, you can select your own op-ed piece to respond to instead, about a censorship issue today. If you don't have a particular one in mind, here are links to a few opinion pages where you can search for a relevant op-ed:

Whichever approach you choose, be sure your letter/essay is in final copy format, please: edited, revised, and clean. 

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade reading standards 2.2, 2.4, 2.5, 2.7, 2.8, 3.2, 3.5, 3.12; writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 1.8, 1.9, 2.2, 2.4; listening & speaking 1.2, 1.6, 2.3; 11th & 12th grade reading standards 2.1, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.6, 3.8; writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.9, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4; listening & speaking 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.11.)

Instructions for Your Students

"It's not you, it's me." We've all been there. But, "It's not you, it's Russia." Really?! 

Read Orwell's essay about why Animal Farm was so hard to publish and why so many publishers told him to hit the road. And once your done with that, think about the censorship in Britain during the time of Animal Farm and similar issues in the U.S. today.

What do you think of censorship? Is it ever justified? 

If you just answered "Maybe," or "It depends," you should know now that you're going to have to do better than that. But don't worry, we'll help you refine your opinion and find your op-ed voice—one step at a time.

Step 1: As homework, read "The Freedom of the Press" (preface) by George Orwell and answer the following questions—in writing.

  1. What is the MOI? Does it have a parallel in Animal Farm?
  2. Was George Orwell successful at first in getting Animal Farm published? (Oops. We kind of gave that away in the intro, but go ahead and answer anyway.)
  3. Why did one publisher change his mind about publishing the novel?
  4. What is the "worst enemy" of any writer? What is Orwell's motivation for writing this essay?
  5. According to Orwell, what was not appropriate to say or write during mid-Victorian times? Can you think of any such examples of things that are not okay to say or write today?
  6. What was the dominant political stance in Britain towards Russia during this time? What's Orwell's opinion on this? Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  7. What examples of British self-censorship does Orwell provide? What are some similar examples in Animal Farm?
  8. How does Orwell claim British intellectuals will react to Animal Farm? What's the larger issue at stake in their critical reception?
  9. Does Orwell support freedom of thought and speech or not? Can you find evidence of this in the novel?
  10. Why do you think Orwell excluded this preface from the published book? What are the implications of leaving this opinion piece out? If you were George Orwell, would you have done the same thing?

Step 2: The next day, discuss your responses to "The Freedom of the Press" and the above study questions in class.

Step 3: Write a letter to the editor—errr—publisher, that is. Here's a prompt:

Consider the rejection that Orwell reports receiving at the beginning of this essay. Write a response supporting or refuting this censorship from your own point of view. Be sure to include evidence from Orwell's essay, Animal Farm, and outside sources (these can be from your own life, research, or the media). Structure an argument and provide specific examples (from the book and other sources) to support your stance.

If you prefer, you can select your own op-ed piece to respond to instead, one about a current censorship issue. If you don't have a particular one in mind, here are links to a few opinion pages where you can search for a relevant op-ed:

Whichever approach you choose, be sure your letter/essay is in final copy format, please: edited, revised, and clean. 

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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.9-10.3
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.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
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.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
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.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.10
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.3
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.10
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.8.8
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.9
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.10
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.6
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.1
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.2
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.3
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5

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