Orwell Essays Teaching Ideas

If you teach 1984, George Orwell’s nightmarish novel of complete obedience in which Winston Smith’s quest for freedom, humanity, truth, and genuine emotion are annihilated in the face of totalitarian opposition, then comb your way through my list of teaching resources for the novel.

It includes recent articles, supplementary books, teaching guides, videos, and biographical and critical essays. Orwell’s harrowing novel is the one that my students enjoy reading most.

If you teach it too, I hope you share your favorite resource in the comments section below.

Recent Articles

“Prof. Stefan Collini, a professor of intellectual history and an expert on Orwell at the University of Cambridge, said that readers see a natural parallel between the book and the way Mr. Trump and his staff have distorted facts.”

“Thinking about Edward Snowden on Sunday, it wasn’t much of a leap to imagine him and his colleagues working in some version of Oceania’s Ministry of Truth, gliding through banal office gigs whose veneer of nine-to-five technocratic normality helped to hide their more sinister reality.”

“Not surprisingly, 1984 has found a nervous readership in today’s “post-truth” era. It’s an era in which misinformation and fake news have proliferated on the web; Russia is flooding the West with propaganda to affect elections and sow doubts about the democratic process; poisonous tensions among ethnic and religious groups are fanned by right-wing demagogues; and reporters scramble to sort out a cascade of lies and falsehoods told by President Trump and his aides — from false accusations that journalists had invented a rift between him and the intelligence community.”

“My classroom becomes a totalitarian state every school year toward the end of October. In preparation for teaching 1984 to seniors, I announce the launch of a new program aimed at combating senioritis, a real disease with symptoms that include frequent unexplained absences, indifferent reading, and shoddy work.”

Books

Why I Write (Penguin Great Ideas)
Whether puncturing the lies of politicians, wittily dissecting the English character or telling unpalatable truths about war, Orwell’s timeless, uncompromising essays are more relevant, entertaining and essential than ever in today’s era of spin.

 

 

 

 
1984 (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations)

A biographical and critical review of George Orwell’s 1984 with expert analysis by Harold Bloom.

Teaching Guides

Videos

1984 Apple Commercial

Thug Notes 1984

SparkNotes 1984 Summary

TED Ed — What Orwellian Really Means

The School of Life — George Orwell

Biographical/ Historical Context/ Critical Essays

Orwell and Me — Margaret Atwood cried her eyes out when she first read Animal Farm at the age of nine. Later, its author became a major influence on her writing. As the centenary of George Orwell’s birth approaches, she says he would have plenty to say about the post-9/11 world.

1984 thoughtcrime? Does it matter that George Orwell pinched the plot? — George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a classic – but it owes its plot, characters and conclusion to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1920s novel We.

1984: George Orwell’s road to dystopia — A decade of political chaos shaped George Orwell’s vision of a totalitarian future, writes David Aaronovitch.

An Excerpt from Time Magazine’s Original Review of 1984

Huxley’s Review of 1984

 

Categories BLOGTags 1984, literature, novels, resources

I assigned a classic text, but I did not throw students all the way back to the Gorgias. (Next time!) Instead, I gave them Orwell's "Politics and the English Language." Some readers may expect an explanation of this choice, which I will give in a future Blogging Pedagogy post.

Here's how the day should go:

Students read the essay as homework. When they arrive at class, hold a discussion.

First, define and discuss Orwell's chief terms, like dying metaphors, mixed metaphors, operators or verbal false limbs, pretentious diction, and jargon. Discuss concreteness and abstractness, cliches, and the overall message of avoiding "ready-made phrases" and automatic writing. Discuss Orwell's insistence on usefulness as the measure of good style, and his rejection of attempts to save archaisms or more firmly entrench a standard codified English. 

Second, discuss the political aims of Orwell's essay. Address Orwell's equation of political writing with bad writing. Discuss the notion of the "party line." Discuss the use of high-sounding, dramatic phrases, the use of euphemisms for actions and events that involve human suffering and death. Discuss Orwell's claim that fuzzy writing can encourage fuzzy thought, just as much as the latter produces the former. And lastly, discuss Orwell's final dictum, "Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." 

After this robust discussion, students log onto their computers, and onto their CritiqueIt accounts. They seek an opinion/editorial article published in the news that day, or the transcript of a speech or a press release, on a topic of interest. They paste the text of the article into a Word document and upload it to the Document space in CritiqueIt. Within the program, they transfer the Document to the Group space for peer review, which is necessary to enter into critiquing mode. Then, using the editing tools in the program, they critique their articles (and other students' articles), indicating places where Orwell's six rules of advice apply to improve the article's style:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. 
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. 

Afterward, hold a concluding discussion, especially with the chance to answer questions that students raise about ambiguities that arise, how to apply these style lessons in their own writing, and what kinds of exceptions to note. 

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