Tips and ideas for teaching high school ELA

picture of red barn; text overlay reads 8 engaging activities for teaching animal farm

One of my favorite parts of British literature is teaching Animal Farm.  It’s short. It’s accessible. It’s always a hit. One of the great things about Animal Farm is that there is more to it than meets the eye. At the surface level, it’s a fun novel (novella?) about a bunch of farm animals who grow tired of their alcoholic farmer/owner mistreating them, so they stage a coup and run him off. On a deeper level, it’s a wonderful allegory of the Russian Revolution and the beginnings of the Soviet Union. With topics of power and corruption, Orwell’s novel is an excellent tool for allegorical and literary analysis.

Below are some of my favorite ideas for teaching this classic allegorical novel. 

Introducing animal farm: background/pre-reading

Before getting into the actual reading, I always started with some background information and context. I would review this presentation and have students take notes. My thought process was that students would be able to better understand the allegorical meaning of the text if they were able to recognize the historical counterparts and events. 

I recently read, however, of a teacher who didn’t do any of the historical background until after the class has read the novel. This allows the students to focus on the literary analysis side without getting tripped up on trying to keep the allegorical characters straight. Next time I teach Animal Farm, I may try this method. Either way, historical background/context is vital. 

 I also like to start every novel unit with a little author biography to provide additional context. You can check out the Britannica biography of George Orwell here

Another activity for teaching Animal Farm that my students really enjoyed was this Make Your Class Animal Farm lesson plan from Teachers.net. The last time I taught the novel I had a small class (special education resource), so this activity didn’t really work. My first time though? It was a huge success. The things high school students will do for some candy. It can be brutal. 

The basic premise of the activity is this: the class is divided into groups – human, dog, raven, horse, or pig. Each group “runs” to become the leading party. Once the party is chosen, their privileges increase while their responsibilities decrease (similar to the novel). After students finish reading the novel, they do research on their historical counterparts: 

    • Pigs = Bolsheviks 
    • Dogs = White Russians 
    • Horses = Proletariats 
    • Humans = Tsars 
    • Ravens = Russian Church 

during reading

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You have the background information/context. Now for the fun part: reading. 

Make Your Classroom Animal Farm

The great thing about this activity is that it lasts the entirety of the novel. The lesson plan breakdown covers six weeks, but could easily be adjusted to accommodate different schedules.  

Student Workbooks 

Have students interact with the novel using student workbooks. These workbooks were designed to engage students by allowing them to go beyond basic comprehension questions and dig into the novel. 

Character Analysis 

Animal Farm is ripe for character analysis. Have students analyze each character throughout the text. Alternately, assign students a specific character to focus on – even better if you can tie their character(s) into their “animal” from the Make Your Class Animal Farm project! 

These character analysis graphic organizers are a perfect way for students to hone their analysis skills and provide textual evidence for their stances. Students provide examples of indirect characterization, chose and analyze a key quote, trace the character’s impact on theme development, and more. 

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Political Cartoons 

One of the recurring motifs is the herd mentality of the sheep. A quick Google search will reveal tons of examples of political cartoons involving sheep. Have students use a method such as OPTIC to analyze the cartoons. This is also a great time to review satire. Then, have students use a program such as Canva to create their own political cartoons about a theme from the novel.  

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Film Adaptations

What student doesn’t love movie day? There are several film adaptations of Animal Farm – this 1999 live version.  and  this 1954 animated version.

after reading activities

It’s time to put it all together. Here are two of my favorite after-reading activities when teaching Animal Farm. 

Escape Room 

If you’re looking to bring some engagement and competition into your classroom, escape rooms are the way to go! (Read more about how to use escape rooms in the classroom here). 

During my last time teaching Animal Farmstudents reviewed the novel by completing an escape room. They started off with their introduction – they were playing as an animal who lived through the Rebellion and Napoleon’s reign. Each of the four tasks (plot, characters, close reading, and encrypted message) moved them through a different stage of their life as this animal. The winning team got candy and a few extra points on their test. You want to see some cut-throat competition? Offer seniors peppermints and Jolly Ranchers

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Soundtrack Project 

Another review/wrap-up activity that has been met with great success is a soundtrack project. The great thing about this project is that it can be repurposed for any novel. 

Students chose a minimum of 6 songs:

    • theme
    • setting 
    • 3 characters 
    • 1 event

They then create a soundtrack using songs that relate to each category. For each song, they had to include: 

    • song name and artist
    • track 
    • lyrics (they could just choose the ones that best fit the purpose) 
    • reasoning behind choosing the song 

Other Resources for teaching animal farm

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In addition to the novel itself, I like to bring in supplemental resources – especially in the way of nonfiction. If you’re looking for additional texts, check out CommonLit.org. They have a whole section of related texts for Animal Farm

For connections to real life, check out this Life under Stalin video. 

So there you have it. Some of my favorite activities for teaching Animal Farm

Interested in student workbooks and escape room mentioned above? Check out the Animal Farm Unit Bundle. 

Looking for more Brit Lit curriculum ideas? Check out 7 Units for a Complete Brit Lit Curriculum.

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