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George Orwell

Theme: The Potential Dangers of Government
Grades: Grades 9-10

This novel sounded a warning and left its mark on the language. The term Orwellian sums up the chilling vision of a future totalitarian society, a world where the government can control individual thought and even reality itself. 1984, a modern classic and the culminating work in Orwell's life as a novelist, remains timely and continues to stir the imagination while asking fascinating questions about human nature.

Note: This novel contains intimate scenes that some readers may find objectionable. You may wish to preview the novel before assigning it to your students.

  1. Keeping a Diary.
    Ask students whether they keep or have ever kept a diary, and then discuss the purpose of a personal diary. Explain that the main character in 1984, Winston Smith, starts to keep a diary, which in itself is a political act of rebellion. Suggest that as they read Part One, students keep a diary to exercise their privacy and freedom of expression and also to understand Winston's process of self-awakening that the diary begins.
  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: The Role of Government.
    Begin by asking students to think about the word government. Have students work in small groups to answer the following questions: Who or what is government? What does—or what must—government do? What different kinds of governments are in the world today? How does government affect you personally? Ask students as a class to share the information gathered in their groups. If time permits, have volunteers share stories about dealing with government agencies.
  1. Brotherhood Cartoons.
    Ask students to create political cartoons that may have appeared in a secret publication of the Brotherhood. Encourage them to use contemporary political cartoons from newspapers and magazines as models.

  1. Be Warned!
    Let students design posters or T-shirts that express the warnings of 1984 that relate specifically to our time. Suggest that their creations include both visual and verbal warnings and that they are specific about what they are warning against. Encourage students to use language and images from the novel.
  1. Communist Leaders.
    Instruct students to research one of the key personalities in world communism: for example, Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, Alexander Dubcek, Mikhail Gorbachev, Eric Honecker, Wojciech Jaruszelski, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, or Pol Pot. Have them write a biographical sketch that includes a discussion of how the life or ideas of this leader relate to 1984.

  2. Communism in the United States.
    Have your students find out about the Communist Party in the United States: its beginnings, its history, its key personalities, membership during the Stalin era, the McCarthy years, and the party today. Instruct them to combine what they learn into a report.