Abusing Power: Animal Farm and Wicked History

Students explore human nature through careful study of the Russian Revolution, focusing on the ways in which leaders manipulated and oppressed their own people.

Unit Summary

George Orwell’s Animal Farm has had great international impact for its messages about power and political corruption in the 20th century. Orwell witnessed the atrocities sanctioned by Joseph Stalin under the guise of communism, and his famous novel is a satire of societies that allow leaders to lie, cheat, and oppress the naive, obedient masses. The author’s decision to feature animal characters recalls classic children’s fables, but there is nothing simple or childlike about this story. Orwell’s novel is not intended to entertain; rather, it is a criticism of historical events and a warning to future generations about the dangers of tyranny.

In order to provide students with necessary schema to understand the time period that Orwell satirizes, this unit begins with the nonfiction text Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History), which dives into the history of Joseph Stalin and the Russian Revolution. This text is intended to introduce students to the real-life atrocities committed during this time period and give them a small window into the lives of the tens millions of people who were murdered, starved, exiled, imprisoned, or killed on the battlefield, all at the instruction of Joseph Stalin.

Through their work with these two texts, students will explore questions about the power of language and draw conclusions about the way it can be used as a method of control. They will dig deeply into the use and impact of propaganda. They will explore the genre of allegory, the impact of satire, and the way that historical knowledge can create dramatic irony within a text. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to think about artistic interpretation through two lenses: they will think about how authors use and interpret historical events in a fictional text and they will analyze how a film interpretation can differ from the source text and evaluate the decisions directors make.

As this unit follows directly behind the unit focusing on Elie Wiesel’s Night, students will continue their year-long study of justice/injustice, particularly in the context of extreme human cruelty and suffering. Much like Elie Wiesel’s message that the stories of human atrocities must continue to be told, so too does Orwell’s text continue to act as an urgent, relevant call-to-action.

In this unit, students will think critically about the relationship between language and power. The writing tasks will deepen students’ engagement with this topic through analytical and persuasive writing. In the first writing task, students will reflect on the first text of the unit and take a position on the question of whether language or physical violence was a more powerful form of control during Stalin’s regime. This prompt requires that students choose a side on an issue that isn’t necessarily black and white and respond directly to counterclaims on the level of individual arguments (W.8.1.A). While students have had practice acknowledging counterclaims, this task increases the rigor as they work to clearly differentiate their ideas from opposing viewpoints. Responding to counterclaims provides ample opportunity to experiment with transition and linking words, as students continue to develop their voices as academic writers and thinkers (W.8.1.C). The second writing task blends the genres of narrative and persuasive writing, as students take on the voice of a character from Animal Farm and imagine what she might say in a speech to the other animals - imagining that she fully understands the abuses of power occurring around them (W.8.3.A). Students will learn about persuasive rhetorical techniques, first through reflection on speeches in the text and then within their own speeches. While students worked in groups in the last unit for presentations, this task will conclude with individual presentations of speeches (SL.8.4).

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Texts and Materials

Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • Does absolute power corrupt absolutely?
  • What are the dangers of having an uneducated or naive population?
  • What is satire? What purpose does it serve?

Reading Enduring Understandings

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  • Language can be used to manipulate and mislead others; propaganda is one way of manipulating people through language.
  • Leaders don’t always act in the best interest of those they represent, even if they claim to.
  • It is essential that citizens are educated, informed, and willing to speak out when they see those in power acting against the best interest of the people.

Content Knowledge and Connections

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  • KGB
  • Strike
  • Union
  • Capitalist/Capitalism
  • Laborer
  • Tzar (Nicholas II)
  • Karl Marx
  • Communism
  • Vladimir Lenin
  • Bolsheviks
  • Soviets
  • Russian Revolution (and primary waves)
  • Leon Trotsky
  • Red/White Army
  • Five-Year Plan
  • Gulags
  • Cult of Personality
  • Propaganda
  • NKVD
  • Manipulation

Notes for Teachers

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  • The beginning of this unit is focused on a complex historical period; it would take a lifetime to truly understand all the dynamics at play during the Russian Revolution. Students need not understand every detail of this time period, but it is wise to emphasize the events and people that appear in Animal Farm. Character charts, timelines, and visual anchors will be useful in helping students remember essential details.
  • Animal Farm is a relatively dense text, and students will be expected to read a substantial amount of text each evening for homework. It may be useful to review the gist of each chapter with students at the beginning of each chapter as well as to continue to track specific characters as the text progresses.
  • In addition to asking students to make connections between the text and the Russian Revolution, students should be encouraged to talk about their own reactions to the text. This book is full of infuriating injustices, and students will likely have strong feelings about these. Additionally, it is essential that students think about this book as speaking to the present moment as much as it speaks to a specific moment in the historical past.
  • Supplemental resources that may be useful when teaching this unit are:

Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 3 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Lesson Map

1

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) pp. 1 – 13

    RI.8.5

Explain the impact of structural choices and the purpose of specific sentences in the prologue of Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History).

2

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) — chapters 1 and 2

    RI.8.4

    L.8.4.a

    L.8.4.d

Determine the meaning of unknown words in Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) by using context clues and cross-check the meaning of words in a dictionary.

3

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) — chapters 3 and 4

    RI.8.1

Explain the major events and players of the Russian Revolution, draw conclusions about these events, and provide evidence to support these conclusions.

4

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) — chapters 5 and 6

    RI.8.4

    L.8.4.a

    L.8.5

Determine the meaning of unknown words and figurative language, as well as the impact of specific words on tone.

5

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) — chapters 7–9

    RI.8.5

Explain the impact of structural choices and the purpose of specific sentences in Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History).

6

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) — chapters 10–12

    RI.8.1

Define “propaganda” (and several specific propaganda techniques) and identify ways that Stalin used propaganda to control the people of the Soviet Union.

7

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) — chapters 13-15

    RI.8.2

Create a timeline of events and alliances established during World War II.

8

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) — whole text

    RI.8.2

Determine the central idea of chapters of Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) and the text overall, as well as explain how the author develops those ideas.

9

Socratic Seminar

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History)

  • Socratic Seminar Guide

    SL.8.1.a

    SL.8.1.b

Engage in a Socratic Seminar with classmates, using previous feedback to set goals and reflect on performance in the seminar.

10

Literary Analysis Writing

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History)

    W.8.1

    W.8.1.a

    W.8.1.b

Take a clear position in a thesis statement while acknowledging opposing claims and gather evidence that strongly supports ideas. 

11

Literary Analysis Writing

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History)

    W.8.1

    W.8.1.c

    W.8.1.e

Use clauses, words, and phrases to clarify the relationship between ideas and write a strong concluding paragraph.

12

  • “Satire video”

  • Satire

  • “Allegory video”

  • Allegory

  • “One Human Family, Food for All”

    RI.8.1

Define the literary genres of satire and allegory, and explain their purposes.

13

  • Animal Farm — chapter 1

    RL.8.4

Explain the connotative meaning of words and the impact of these words on Old Major’s tone in the first chapter of Animal Farm.

14

  • Animal Farm — chapter 2

    RL.8.3

Identify specific events and lines of dialogue that reveal character traits, as well as identify the impact of specific events on the story’s plot.

15

  • Animal Farm — chapters 3 and 4

    RL.8.4

Explain the impact of specific words on tone and identify examples of propaganda in Animal Farm.

16

  • Animal Farm — chapter 5

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) — pages 46–49 and 52–53

    RL.7.9

Explain how George Orwell has interpreted and satirized events of the Russian Revolution and portrayed them in his allegorical text Animal Farm.

17

  • Animal Farm — chapter 6

    RL.8.4

Explain how Napoleon and Squealer use language to manipulate the other animals in Animal Farm.

18

  • Animal Farm — chapter 7

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) — chapters 9 and 12

    RL.7.9

Explain how George Orwell has interpreted events of the Russian Revolution and portrayed them in his allegorical text Animal Farm.

19

  • Animal Farm — chapter 8

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) — chapters 13 and 14

    RL.8.6

    RL.7.9

Explain how a reader's knowledge of historic events impacts a reader's point of view of events in Animal Farm and how that point of view differs from that of the characters in the text.

20

  • Animal Farm — chapter 9

    RL.8.3

Explain the significance of specific lines and events in Animal Farm and what they reveal about characters and the plot.

21

  • Animal Farm — chapter 10

    RL.8.3

Explain the significance of specific lines and events in Animal Farm and what they reveal about characters and the plot.

22

  • Animal Farm — whole text

    RL.8.2

Determine themes in Animal Farm and explain how the author develops those themes over the course of the text.

23

  • Animal Farm — chapters 1 and 2

  • Animal Farm

    RL.8.7

Identify places where the film version of Animal Farm differs from the original text and evaluate the choices that the director made.

24

  • Animal Farm — chapters 3-7

  • Animal Farm

    RL.8.7

Identify places where the film version of Animal Farm differs from and stays faithful to the original text.

25

  • Animal Farm — chapter 7-end

  • Animal Farm

    RL.8.7

Identify places where the film version of Animal Farm differs from the original text and evaluate the choices that the director made.

26

Socratic Seminar

  • Animal Farm

  • Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History)

  • Socratic Seminar Guide

    SL.8.1.a

    SL.8.1.d

Engage in a Socratic Seminar with classmates, using previous feedback to set goals and reflect on performance in the seminar.

27

Narrative Writing

  • Animal Farm

    W.8.1

    W.8.1.a

    W.8.3

    W.8.3.a

Begin to plan speeches by drawing on knowledge of Animal Farm

28

Narrative Writing

  • Animal Farm

  • “How to Identify Ethos, Logos and Pathos by Shmoop”

    W.8.1

    W.8.1.a

    W.8.3

    W.8.3.d

Use persuasive, rhetorical techniques in speeches. 

29

Narrative Writing

  • Animal Farm

    W.8.1

    W.8.3

    SL.8.4

Present speeches using appropriate volume, eye contact, emphasis, and pronunciation.

30

2 days

Assessment

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.8.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • L.8.4.a — Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word's position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.

  • L.8.4.d — Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).

  • L.8.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.8.1 — Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RI.8.2 — Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RI.8.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

  • RI.8.5 — Analyze in detail the structure of a specific paragraph in a text, including the role of particular sentences in developing and refining a key concept.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.8.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.8.3 — Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

  • RL.8.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

  • RL.8.6 — Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

  • RL.8.7 — Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.

  • RL.7.9 — Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.8.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • SL.8.1.a — Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.

  • SL.8.1.b — Follow rules for collegial discussions and decision-making, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.

  • SL.8.1.d — Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views in light of the evidence presented.

  • SL.8.4 — Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

Writing Standards
  • W.8.1 — Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • W.8.1.a — Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

  • W.8.1.b — Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

  • W.8.1.c — Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

  • W.8.1.e — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

  • W.8.3 — Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

  • W.8.3.a — Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.

  • W.8.3.d — Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events.