Animal Farm by George Orwell

animal farmReading level: 9.0
Lexile: 1170
Genre: Fable, satire
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Orwell wrote Animal Farm as commentary on the Russian Revolution, and each of the characters can be compared to an actual person in that time period. Even separate from the historical context, this story is much like 1984 in that Orwell reflects critically on the state of politics and the antics of politicians and ignorant people throughout the world. In Animal Farm, the animals drive out the horrible farmer and lead a democratic, animal-centric life. Slowly, the pigs take charge, one more than others, so that by the end, the pigs are indistinguishable from humans and they’re right back where they started.

I have been burned out on YA lit lately (blasphemy, I know), so I opted to read some adult or at least more “sophisticated” literature in preparation for a YA reading marathon this summer. I had read Animal Farm in middle school because it was short and looked funny, but I didn’t truly understand it until I read it again as an adult.

Wikipedia can tell you all you need to know about how the characters in the book are actually about actual historical figures (Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin), and for a while I thought that Animal Farm would really need to be taught alongside a history unit on the Russian Revolution. However, after some thought and looking at teaching materials, I don’t think this is the case. Even without any of that historical context, Animal Farm is still a striking commentary on how leaders gain and keep power and how the masses are fooled and mistreated throughout history and around the world. This book can help high schoolers learn to think critically about what they are told and “learn” and how to be a conscious voter and thinker.

I did a simple internet search for “teaching Animal Farm” and found lots of information, so I will not think up my own lesson plans or ways to use this book in the classroom. But here is one link from Penguin (the book publisher) that has a fairly detailed, if slightly simplistic, unit plan: Penguin’s Animal Farm Unit Plan.

I’m wondering now, though, about the benefits to teaching Animal Farm over 1984. If one were to teach Animal Farm without the historical context of the Russian Revolution, the important messages seem to be almost identical to those in 1984, though it has been many years since I’ve read it. One advantage is that Animal Farm is very short and might be better for struggling readers and ELLs. Less time reading means more time discussing and researching. Also, because Animal Farm is so short and written fairly simply, it would be easier to stop after each short chapter and talk about the lies and deceptions that happened. Because the character development and plot is not as complex as in 1984, there is, again, more time to dissect and discuss the blatant lies and trickery happening.

It’s certainly a book for high school students, and it’s also one of those pesky classics that ought to be read as a class and discussed in order to fully understand and appreciate it. I feel like I could learn a lot more about it and am no expert as of now, although I take comfort in there being plenty of teaching resources available.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. authorleighmichaels
    Jun 07, 2014 @ 20:07:20

    I had to read this in college for a Poli-Sci class. Class discussion is definitely helpful, as there are a lot of little nuances; some students will pick up on some things, and other students will notice other things. So having them all hash it out together makes for a very educated class :-).


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