What do talking animals and the Russian Revolution have in common? Include Animal Farm, by George Orwell, in your syllabus to find out! Animal Farm is an excellent example of an allegory; even Orwell himself admitted that this work was intended to be a satirical tale reflecting on Stalin’s brutal reign over the Soviet Union. It is important to thread an allegorical needle through the entirety of Orwell’s novella. In the case of Animal Farm, overanalyzing is a good thing; every character, every event, represents something beyond the scope of the book itself. Take note that the animal farm is a microcosm of human society, specifically Russia under the rule of the Communist Party. The barn, which is continuously painted over, symbolizes a nation’s collective memory. The windmill relates an array of symbolism, from representing comfort to signifying psychological manipulation. Do not leave any song unsung (literally, because the songs in the novella are important, too!).

Although Animal Farm has confirmed ties to Orwell’s disdain of the Stalinist era, its allegorical themes could just as easily be applied to other examples of dictatorship and cult of personality in history. How might these themes relate to the Revolutionary War, World War II, or even current events? You can either scaffold students’ understanding by providing them with alternate historical events, or encourage them to make the connections themselves and discuss in class.

Below, you’ll find Prestwick House’s 9 Simple Goals for How to Teach Animal Farm.

1. Summarize Animal Farm

Tired of their lazy, drunken leader Mr. Jones, the animals plan an uprising against him at the suggestion of the wise, elderly pig, Old Major. Old Major has a dream that all the animals will take over and run the farm equally. After he dies, this dream turns into a nightmare, as ruling the new Animal Farm as equals proves nearly impossible for the remaining animals, and attempting to do so yields absolute chaos.

Content Warning: Animal Farm contains some violence.

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching Animal Farm:

  • Pinpoint instances of satire in the book, analyzing how Orwell ridicules his targets.
  • Understand what a microcosm is and how it applies to this allegorical novella.
  • Compare the characters in Animal Farm to real people in history.
  • Define cult of personality and explain its significance in Animal Farm.
  • Contrast Orwell’s objective tone with the volatile events of the novella.
  • Brainstorm other times in history that the allegory Orwell presents could echo.

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1945
  • Length: 139 pages
  • Lexile® Measure: 1170
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9-10
  • Time magazine’s 100 best novels (1923-2005); Retrospective Hugo Award (1996); Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (2011)

Literary Elements

  • Allegory
  • Caricature
  • Euphemism
  • Irony
  • Microcosm
  • Parody
  • Satire
  • Symbolism

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • Power – The novel explores power in many ways—examining the abuse of power, the struggle for power, and the danger of power.
  • Political Uprising – Specifically, what happens when the underdogs (and pigs, and horses…) win, but have no idea how to self-govern?.
  • Language – Orwell relates the idea that language can be used as a tool of twisted manipulation.

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of Power

Theme of Political Uprising

Theme of Language

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • Orwell’s witty, satirical vision
  • Talking animals. Talking animals are fun and ridiculous.

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • Making the connection between the events of Animal Farm and those of the Russian Revolution, especially if students haven’t learned about this time in history
  • Taking it seriously; the novella appears deceptively simple.

9. Order Animal Farm Resources from Prestwick House:

Resource Format
Animal Farm Paperback Student Edition
Animal Farm Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Animal Farm AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Animal Farm Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Animal Farm Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Animal Farm Levels of Understanding Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Animal Farm Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Animal Farm Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

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