Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Amp Up Animal Farm: Teaching Animal Farm Like It Is Your Civic Duty

I view teaching Animal Farm as my civic duty. With fake news running rampant, social media propagating herd mentality, and political apathy growing by the day, I believe this book is more important now than it ever has been. Here are some ideas to ensure your students connect with and learn from the political messages in Animal Farm.

Ways to Amp Up Animal Farm for Optimal Political Impact :

1. Focus on Preventing Herd Mentality- Before I begin planning for any unit, I ask myself what is the number one theme I want my students to understand. If they only remember one thing ten years from now, what would I want it to be? It's not keeping up with the character names and who they represent in the Russian Revolution; it's not learning the vocabulary. No, to me, the most important theme in Animal Farm is how "herd mentality" can lead to a country full of people who don't know how to think for themselves. After reflecting on the most important part of the unit, I then focused on ELA standards that are best suited for recognizing, analyzing, and preventing herd mentality.  

First, students analyze Orwell's characterization of sheep and then look at how political cartoonist use sheep to send messages as well. Just google "Political Cartoons with Sheep" and a bunch of examples will come up: 

Next, students read an informational text on herd mentality to learn how it works and how it can be prevented.

An article I wrote with test prep questions to accompany. 

Lastly, using StoryBoardThat or their own artistic gifts, students can create their own political cartoon to satirize and show understanding of herd mentality. 
Student showing off his StoryBoardThat political cartoon

2. Use The Commandments to Model Vigilance- Another thing I like to do is display the commandments either in my room or on my door during our Animal Farm Unit. I put them up and change them every time a commandment is altered on the farm, but I never draw attention to them or mention them once they are up. Undoubtedly, students forget about them and don't notice when they change...until the last one. Since the last sign is drastically different, it's so much easier to notice. This leads to a wonderful discussion in which students recognize how important it is to follow the news and take a stand when something goes against our constitution. 
You can find these posters with my unit plan here: Animal Farm Unit Plan 

3. Analyze and Recognize Propaganda - As another way to promote critical thinking in the real world, students learn to recognize propaganda and analyze how it's used for political agendas. First, students analyze how Squealer is able to persuade the animals not to speak up against the missing milk. They look for ethos (emerald green), pathos (pink), and logos (light blue) then break apart his speech into specific propaganda techniques. 

To keep with the same topic for a clear comparison, I then show three milk commercials all of which predominantly use ethos, pathos, or logos. Next, we look at specific propaganda techniques and discuss how this level of analysis should go into every political persuasion attempt we encounter. 
Here's a way for students to track appeals throughout the novel by creating a literary bar graph. Follow me on Instagram @BsBookLove for more ideas like this one. 

4. Combat Fake News- The important lesson of spotting fake news pairs nicely with Animal Farm (think fake updates on Snowball and hiding food shortages). Students will easily pick up on the fake news within Animal Farm, but I want them to extend this analysis to the real world. To do that, we look at this amazing fake news infographic, study fake news techniques on Snopes, then synthesize learning by creating fake news tweets from Squealer. 

"You won’t believe how much milk and apples a pig needs for optimal brain health!"

"The shocking amount of food Animal Farm has produced this year!"

"3 reasons Snowball is the most wanted pig in England."

5. STEM with Meaning- I'm a huge advocate of designing STEM projects for the ELA classroom. As I was thinking of a project to use with my Animal Farm unit, I immediately pictured the windmill. There are so many ways to incorporate a STEM Windmill project into this unit. These ideas can range from in-depth and cocurricular or small and in-house.

*(in-depth) Use this guide to build a windmill at the start of the unit. Have students test their durability and efficiency. As with Animal Farm, their windmills probably won't hold up very long. Have students work to make their windmills stronger. Once you get to the attack on the windmill in Animal Farm, ask students how they would feel if you destroyed their hard work. Next, ask students to research which agencies might benefit from destroying clean energy initiatives in the U.S.

*(easy but also meaningful) Have students think about the symbolism of the windmill and create a paper version of their own. The back of the paper is used to answer what the windmill represents in Animal Farm while the front is used to artistically express dreams for their own country. The results are really beautiful.
Windmill project with Animal Farm

6. Practice Political Growth Mindset- While I've always found the themes in Animal Farm important, I have a hard time leaving my students with the cryptic ending. It wasn't until recently that I realized I could change this. Benjamin the donkey provides the ultimate example of a fixed political mindset. He doesn't believe he can make a difference and just sits back and watches as his country falls into despair. This is the exact opposite of the mindset I want to instill in my students. Therefore, I want my students to recognize the pitfalls of a fixed political mindset and work to change theirs to a growth political mindset. This can be done with a fun role-playing activity.

First, students don these rediculous Benjamin the Donkey hats and act how he would respond to motivational quotes such as, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Next, students look at passages from the text and reword Benjamin's fixed mindset into a growth mindset. Lastly, students put on the "wise owl" hat and respond to negative quotes such as, "If voting helped anything, they would make it illegal."

7. Connect Animal Themes to Modern Day Issues- There's no point in reading Animal Farm if students can't connect the text and theme to issues in their lives. To help them find connections, I like to find modern-day pairings that use animals to spread political messages in the way Orwell does. Two really good examples of this are Zootopia (free on Netflix right now!) and a Ted Talk I found called "How the Teddy Bear Taught Us Compassion" 

If you haven't seen Zootopia or if you've only watched it as a children's cartoon, then you might be surprised to realize there are lots of important messages in this film. Most important is their use of animals to illustrate inequality in a world perceived as equal. This plays very well into Orwell's message of "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
Students hate when teachers ruin a good movie with "comprehension questions," but they respond better when it's "doodle notes" Ha! ;)

The TED talk I found also uses animals to illustrate topics such as global warming and animal conservation.  Both of these Animal Farm pairings help students to think about Orwell's purpose and craft then apply that knowlege to issues that are important to them today. 

Ted Talk Paring Guide 

I hope that these ideas help you to make a difference with your Animal Farm unit! If you would like the resources mentioned here as well as my complete unit on Animal Farm, you can check that out here: Animal Farm Unit Plan .

Animal Farm Unit Plan

I designed this unit so that it can be printed or used in a digital classroom! 

Let's use Animal Farm to make a difference! 
xoxo, Ashley Bible