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TeachNet NYC  |  Lesson Plans  |  Teachnet
TeachNet: 1984, by George Orwell - Fact or Fantasy?

Project URL: http://teachersnetwork.org/teachnet-lab/FKLANE/pmaslow/1984/compare.htm

How it works:
In his classic book, 1984, George Orwell includes specific methods and behaviors used by those who controlled Oceania that are based on history, as well as others he created himself. Students do research to show that the methods and behaviors Orwell depicted are based on the behavior of other dictators. Students also show that some of the leadership's methods and behaviors in Oceania are not found in any existing government, past or present.

Students first read 1984 and study it as a work of literature. As they read, they should be aware that they will eventually write a paper comparing the totalitarian regime of Big Brother to that of one other dictator, past or present. They will need to take notice and take notes when they see the human rights abuses and methods used by the totalitarian government of Oceania in 1984. After students are close to finishing their reading of the book and analyzing it in class, they  choose a country whose dictator or totalitarian regime is similar to Oceania's leaders. Using links provided and doing their own searching, they find information on the country and dictator they choose. They take notes, writing the sources down as well. They also review their own notes on the human rights abuses and methods of the government in 1984, making sure they have appropriate quotations and examples to prove their points.

After several days of research, the students create an outline of their paper and then write at least two drafts. There is an evaluation rubric already posted on-line, but this can be changed depending on student input. Their papers are to be handed in at specified dates.  So students can see each other's first drafts, they are also posted on Nicenet.org. Final drafts are turned into a student-created web page and then uploaded to the Internet. For students who have never created a web page before, more time should be allotted to this activity, and a template can be created for them to use as well. The teacher then creates a class web page and all the student web pages are linked together there.

Standards addressed:  
In this unit, students use the Internet for research, judge websites for reliability, read for information, write to synthesize information while using correct English, and create a web page.

Materials used: 
Required materials include a computer with Internet connection and web browser, web-authoring software such as Netscape Composer or MS FrontPage, and word processing software.

The students:
Students who have to ability to read 1984 are probably above-average students or in upper classes. The project itself is not so difficult, but reading the book takes the good skills that high school students need to have. The web page design and searching on the Internet are not that difficult for those new to these activities.

Overall value:
Thankfully, there are very few papers on this topic yet sold or available on the Internet.  Only one student obviously plagiarized, submitting a paper comparing China's Mao Tse-tung and 1984. The rest of the students went through the entire process of looking for information, evaluating it, and then organizing and writing their papers. They zeroed in on the essential tenets of a totalitarian government such as using a scapegoat, using torture, and other abuses of human rights. Reading 1984 and doing this research paper helped focus them on the abuse of power that comes with dictatorships. There is a likelihood that these students will not take their freedoms for granted in the future. The use of Nicenet.org and the Internet web page where everyone can see each other's work is also valuable. Students want to do their best in front of an audience of their peers and they learn a great deal from each other.

The fact that there are real historical parallels in this book motivates students to see if they can pinpoint them. Students get especially interested by the explicitly "physical" scenes that start in book two, so you can "dangle a carrot" by telling them if they get through book one, they are really going to be enthralled by book two. Also, remind students when taking notes to write down their sources so they don't have look for them again when doing a bibliography.

About the teacher:
Peggy Maslow recently retired after over 25 years of teaching English literature and using technology for much of that time. She continues to be involved in staff development, helping teachers to incorporate technology in the classroom.

E-mail: pmaslows@gmail.com

Subject Areas: 
Social Studies   

Grade Levels: 9-12


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