Monday, May 6, 2013

Teaching Animal Farm: Common Core-Style

When I was in high school, I studied George Orwell's Animal Farm through the lens of the Russian Revolution. I'm sure you did too. We had to learn which character represented whom. You know, Old Major represents Lenin... or was it Marx? See, almost 20 years later I can't remember.

If I can't remember, I should not expect my students to learn and memorize facts that will not be important to their lives after high school.

Previously, I wrote about close reading resources to support the Common Core. Animal Farm is one of the richest books we have on our shelves to teach two key concepts: rhetoric and satire.

This year, we had our students read the entire book, then we went back and taught rhetoric and satire through specific speeches. We didn't worry about which character represented whom in history; our objective was to get students to closely read and analyze the rhetoric in the speeches the characters delivered.

1.We used this lesson to teach rhetoric: the rhetorical triangle, appeals, and rhetorical strategies/fallacies.

2. Of course, the first major speech is from Old Major, imploring the animals to dream of a better future. Here is the text from the book that students performed a close read of Old Major Text.

3. After the close read, students then wrote about the text through a rhetorical precis. The rhetorical precis is a writing template that forces students to write about the text through the rhetorical triangle: author, audience and text. Here is a great template with power verbs that I found online. This is another fantastic explanation from Oregon State University.

4. After practicing with Old Major's speech, we did a summative assessment with two of Squealer's speeches combined: Squealer text. Students did a close read and then wrote another rhetorical precis over the speeches, analyzing the appeals and persuasive techniques. Here is the rubric we used to grade Squealer's speech.

5. Once we taught rhetoric, we switched gears to satire. We used a portion from Chapter 8 to teach satire: Chapter 8 text. Our purpose was to have students identify Orwell's elements and objects of satire. He uses satire throughout the book; however, the aftermath of the Battle of the Windmill is particularly rich.

Even after teaching Animal Farm this year, I still can't remember if Old Major represents Lenin or Marx. I don't care if my students can remember it either. However, I hope that they can take the skills that we taught them, such as close reading and analyzing rhetoric and satire, and apply them to much more challenging works as they move on through high school, college and beyond.


  1. I teach history and English. In history, we were teaching about the economic philosophers of the Industrial Revolution at the same time we were teaching Animal Farm. One day, I started teaching my Karl Marx history lesson in the English class. About 3 minutes in, I figured it out. Well before the students, at least. I think going with teaching rhetoric would allow us to forgo the history lesson in English class.

    My rhetoric classes while attending Oregon State were great. Go Beavs.

  2. Have you ever thought about adding the fourth rhetorical précis: kairos (the timing)? It puts the other three in context and if changed may make the world of difference to analysis and new insights. It makes it really easy for students to then jump to the what ifs ... and still speak and write academically.

  3. I'm having trouble with the link to the rubrics for the close reading and rhetorical precis. Could you post again?

  4. Thank you for this. I really like the close reading strategies and the Animal Farm excerpts. As a class, we did the Ch. 3 and Ch. 5 texts today. I was wondering if you type these up yourself or if there is a place to get the pages to look the way you formatted them. I am looking for an excerpt for Ch. 7. Thank you!