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1984 Essay Planner

1984 Unit



1984 in 2004?

Prefatory Statement: Written in 1949, George Orwell’s dystopic novel 1984 has always been a book of high interest; but, never before have its eerie details seemed more accurate and relevant than in today’s society of technology, surveillance and suspicion. In our post-9/11 world, everyone seems to be watching someone else and some believe the government gains more power every day. Also, as we keep rapidly developing new technologies for use in all areas of life, some things become obsolete. One of which seems to be a connection between generations, which gives youth a tie to their history and aids in the development of a strong sense of self. The combination of all these forces makes it increasingly important that students are aware of not only their rights to privacy and free speech, but of the treasures that are held in their own local and familial history. The reading of 1984 will give students a venue through which to express some of their experiences, thoughts, concerns, and questions, relating to a variety of topics. 1984 opens up a door through which students will learn about totalitarian rule and some ways that people or groups ascend to positions of power and control. The students will study and reflect upon ways in which different forms of media affect and perhaps control parts of their lives. Since 1984 deals heavily with the revision or erasure of history (re-writing the news is Winston Smith’s job), it is important that we discuss history and the different opinions and perspectives that are held regarding certain events. This also opens up the topic of our own local and personal history, which leads to another exciting aspect of this unit—the local/personal history section which asks students to define and explore a part of their personal or familial life story that is too important to ever be erased from history.

1984 is an excellent text to use in the classroom because it revels in exploring the power of language in many different forms. By showing what happens when the power to freely utilize language is taken away, 1984 opens up discussion about many significant areas of life including, but not limited to: government and other forms or groups of power; work and careers; family life; societal roles and constraints; and the many uses for technology. I believe that it is important for students to think about, discuss, and reflect upon each of these aspects of life as a part of developing a personal and worldly awareness that will aid in their development into informed and concerned citizens who are astutely aware of the world around them.

Class Specification: This unit is appropriate for students in the upper grades of high school, preferably 11th or 12th grade who are interested in government and societal structures, individual freedoms, and the power of language. There are areas of the text that are sexual or violent in nature, and the overall mood of 1984 is, to say the very least, incredibly somber. 1984 is appropriate for students of any socio-economic group, as it discusses topics that are relevant to all human beings, regardless what their race, gender, social status, etc. may be. 1984 is a text through which students may learn more about themselves, their history, and basic needs and human rights.

Significant Assumptions: My mission as a teacher is to give all students the knowledge, tools, and abilities to help them reach their goals and be successful in life. I believe that students learn best in an environment where they are both mentally and physically comfortable. In designing this unit I have assumed that students have both the ability and desire to read and write, and that they have the basic skills necessary to utilize word processing programs and complete internet searching tasks. I assume that they are interested in and able to process some complex ideas including power, control, censorship, freedom, and privacy. Some concepts of the unit may force thought to move outside of the “box,” and outside of students’ comfort zones. To help students ease into this, a safe environment in which sharing, questioning, and discussion is encouraged must be developed, a place where there really are no “right” or “wrong” answers as long as ideas are supported. I will assume that the students have had some background in different types of government (this should have been covered in their earlier social studies or civics courses), and that they are aware of the basic rights we are given as American citizens.

Desired Outcomes/Standards/Objectives to be met:
After completing this unit of study, students will have:
* Read, analyzed and evaluated a contemporary work of literary merit from British literature;
* Analyzed, interpreted and evaluated the use of figurative language and imagery in fiction and nonfiction selections, including symbolism, tone, irony and satire;
* Used print, electronic databases and online resources to access information, organize ideas, and develop writing;
* Researched and processed information regarding the rapidly changing status of privacy and privacy rights; and
* Been exposed to the genres of science fiction and dystopia.

Possible Whole-Class Activities: I feel that this text necessitates a great deal of discussion in order to realize and process fully some of the ideas, themes, and concepts that are contained in it. Therefore, there will be much class discussion. Preferably students will participate in a “think, pair, share” or brief writing activity to get their minds on task and give them time to think a little more and develop their thoughts before talking in the larger classroom scale.
At the end of the unit, there will also be a class debate where current issues of privacy and surveillance are debated.

Possible Small-Group Activities: Students will be involved in many “think, pair, share” activities and will also be working in smaller groups during the privacy debate (grades for the debate activity and prior research will be given on an individual level to hold students accountable for their own work, and each student must verbally participate at least once during the actual class debate in order to receive a grade at all).

Possible Individual Activities: Students will be doing individual research on and writing/documentation of a personally relevant individual, event, or tradition that they find so important to themselves, their family, or on a larger scale, that it should never be erased from history. By writing these people, events, and things down, the students are allowing the stories to go on forever through the written, published word (as long as no one destroys their work a la 1984, that is!)

Ongoing Activities: The research project will be one that occurs throughout the unit. In addition, students will also be asked to keep notes regarding the text. These notes will help them recall their questions, concerns, and comments about the text and keep things fresh in their minds for use during classroom discussions. There will also be an essay quiz after each part of the book has been read (this quiz should be easy to answer if the student has done the reading and, therefore, will encourage them to keep up with their work).

Student Resources:
Students will need access to:
• individual copies of 1984.
• paper and writing utensils.
• computers with internet capabilities.
• (possibly) notecards and/or highlighters.

Unit Launch/Anticipatory Set/Set Induction: The unit will begin (as explained in Lesson Plan One) with a surprise attack by their teacher who will instill tyrannical rule over their classroom, forcing them to adhere to unusually stringent rules and answer invasive personal questions. Of course, as stated in the lesson plan, their responses to these questions are for their eyes only and should never be seen by the instructor, although it is imperative that they believe they must answer them.

Organization of the Unit: Below is listed a week-by-week suggested plan for "1984 in 2004?" Depending on the reading rate and discussion tendencies of your students, you may want to stretch this out over one-and-a-half to two weeks, especially considering that students will need time to work on their research projects.

Lesson Plan One:

Lesson Plan One: Unit Introduction
(adapted from http://www.penguinputnam.com/static/html/us/academic/index.html)

By the end of this lesson, students will have learned:
• some of the feelings associated with lack of privacy and control.
• the implications of having rights taken away.
• concepts of privacy and control.

• As students enter the room, tell them to sit down and not say a word.
• Once class has started, tell them the new classroom rules. This can be done verbally or via overhead or handout. Examples of new rules could be “You may not communicate with other students without the teacher’s permission,” “You may not get out of your seat for the entire class period.” The more restrictive the rules, the better. Be sure state that very severe consequences (a referral, or trip to the principal) will be given to students who disobey or question the rules. For additional affect, you could have the principal prepared to deal with “rule breakers.”
• Have the students complete a worksheet that invades their personal privacy. It would not be appropriate for you to even see their work (if they actually answer the questions), but they should believe that you would be reading through it. Ask questions like, “What is your household income?” “What will you be doing every day after school this week?” “Who are you friends with?” “What have you done which your parents would perceive as bad?” and so on.
• Undoubtedly this line of questioning will raise more than a few eyebrows. There should be resistance from the students.
• After 15-20 minutes (or however long you can effectively enforce the “new,” overly strict classroom rules), have students discuss the exercise. They may put away their worksheets, at this time as well.
• Have students write or journal about the emotions raised by this exercise for 10 minutes or so. How did it make them feel about you, their teacher and new tyrannical leader? What was the worst part of this exercise for them?
• As a group, ask students to share their writing. This opportunity can be used to discuss some of the freedoms students (and citizens in general) are granted, as well. What freedoms or rights are they denied? Who controls the system(s) that govern us? How do we fit into that system?
• Ask the students what happens when the power to govern gets into the wrong hands. Guide this discussion into an introduction to 1984, as an example of everything that can go wrong when too much power is given to one group over one another.
• Have the students read the first chapter of the text and come to class with some predictions about what will happen. Ask them to make note of any unusual words or phrases that are used in 1984 that have been instilled into our popular culture today.

Assessment: There is no formal assessment for this lesson; it is an activity designed to gain interest in 1984, as well as to help students relate to what will be read in the text. Participation by all students, though, is required. Teachers will know that students have done their work through their quizzes and class participation.

Prior to beginning the text, you should:
• Ensure that students have an idea of what symbolism, tone, irony, and satire are (in preparation for locating them in the text—part of completing a MN Standard). If they need it, give them a mini-lesson on these literary elements.
• Ensure that students know what genre is, particularly science fiction and utopia or utopic novels.

During the FIRST WEEK, you should:
• Complete the unit launch activity (see Lesson Plan One)
• Have students begin reading the text (or read the beginning pages to them—capture their attention, and get them interested) and help them gauge how much (how many pages) to read each night in order to keep up with the text, and keep everyone on the same or a similar page. I suggest that each Part of the book is read over one to one-and-a-half weeks, with a short essay quiz to follow on the “due” date to hold students accountable for their reading.
• Explain any “housekeeping” issues, including such things as daily work or quizzes and the note-keeping requirement.
• Share some brief historical background on the text with the students (it was written in 1948, published in 1949, etc. as well as some biographical information on Orwell and explanation of the different types of writing he did).
• Explain a bit about the genre of 1984—it is both a work of science fiction and the opposite of utopian, dystopia.
• Make connections between Winston’s job as a type of news story revisionist, and our perspectives on history and introduce the personal history research assignment (see Lesson Plan Two).
• Discuss some of the important concepts and terminology found in 1984 including, but not limited to: the daily two minutes hate, the preparation for hate week, mob mentality, the slogan “WAR IS PEACE / FREEDOM IS SLAVERY / IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH,” telescreens, Big Brother, Newspeak, Doublethink, etc.
• Hold students accountable for their reading. A possible short-essay cluster question could be “What is the significance of Winston’s diary? What is so special and important about what Winston writes? What is significant about the physical items that Winston writes in and with? Why does Winston write in this diary? What are the risks associated with his actions (what consequences could he face for doing such a thing?)? Why is he taking these risks?
• Conference with students to make sure they have a “do-able” topic to research and to discuss their plan to research information and complete the assignment.


Lesson Plan Two:

Lesson Plan Two: History Project Introduction

By the end of this lesson, students will understand:
• the significance of keeping accurate historical records.
• at least one reason it is important to be an informed and critical reader/consumer of media information.

• Write the words “Christopher Columbus” on the board.
• Ask students to think about what they know about this person and his accomplishments, pair up with a partner, and share their thoughts with each other.
• Bring class back together to share with the group as a whole. Things that are likely to come up are: “in fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” that Columbus discovered America, that Columbus named the people, indigenous to North America, Indians because he thought he had found a faster route to India, that Columbus helped prove that the world was round and not flat.
• Talk about how opinions on Columbus and perspectives on his actual achievements have changed over the years. For example, Columbus really landed in Cuba, he was terrified of the savage native at first, but eventually took some people with him to enslave them, etc.
• Ask, “Why have opinions changed? The facts are still the same, aren’t they?”
• Talk about what Winston would have done to keep the perspective on Columbus from changing. Perhaps he would have erased Columbus day from the calendar (although in 1984, they didn’t really have any calendars), or perhaps he would have changed contemporary (15th/16th Century) documents to say that Columbus landed in North America and befriended the Natives, and that they really wanted to sail the ocean with him.
• Next, erase “Christopher Columbus” from the board and replace it with “Holocaust.”
• Briefly remind students that the Holocaust supposedly occurred in the mid 20th century during the WWII era where work and extermination camps were set up throughout Europe and were at the very bottom line, run by Adolph Hitler and his troops of German Nazi soldiers.
• Let them know that, to this day, there is still question over whether or not millions of European Jews were killed.
• Ask them, “How could this be?”
• One of the problems, of course is the question of “Why didn’t anyone know about it?” or “Why wasn’t anything done sooner?”
• Some people say that the high rate for people in the “work” camps was due to disease such as typhus. The purpose for gathering such large groups of Jewish people together was not to kill them, but rather to expel them from Germany.
• Firsthand accounts, such as Anne Frank’s diary, or The Pianist, by Wladyslaw Szpilman, of course suggest otherwise.
• Read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs to students.
• Discuss how the wolf’s version compares to the version that we all grew up with.
• Ask students to re-write a fable, fairy tale, or other story that everyone should be familiar with, from different perspective.
• Have volunteers share their re-writes, and as a class discuss the significance of a different spin on or perspective of events.

Assessment: Students will be assessed informally on their classroom participation and sharing. Their re-written stories are a means of assessing their ability to get into someone else’s head and understand that there are many ways that one event or series of events may be seen or understood.

During the SECOND WEEK, you should:
• Discuss power and control, and get students thinking about how a massive takeover begins. How does such a large group of people become so completely submissive to the body of power that governs them?
• Discuss some of the steps taken to ensure that there will be a next generation of Party followers. Ask them how this is done. Have them think about examples that depict ways in which the children are taught to obey the Party. What are some examples that it is clearly working?
This necessitates a discussion and/or mini-lesson on Propaganda. Some possible historical examples of propaganda use include Hitler and the Nazi Party’s use of it to gain power and the spread of McCarthyism or the Red Scare throughout the nation in the 1950’s. The site http://www.propagandacritic.com is a good one for resources. Media industry plays a large role in the perpetuation of propaganda, so methods of transmitting information to large amounts of people should also be discussed.
Also, connections should be made regarding how Winston’s job may or may not help feed into this media propaganda.
• Hold students accountable for their reading. A possible short-essay question could be, “Where is Winston and Julia’s ‘special’ place? Why is it so important to them? What is significant about its physical location? What freedoms are granted to them there? What about it makes them feel safe?”
• Conference with students to see that they are making progress in completing their research project and are pacing themselves well.

During the THIRD WEEK, you should:
• Define “symbolism, tone, irony, and satire” (MN state standards) and find examples of these literary elements that are evident in the text. Discuss why these elements were used in the way they were. What makes them so effective?
• As a group, discuss what makes 1984 a dystopic novel. (Dystopia is “An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror,” (www.dictionary.com)).
• Have a group discussion about the past. Throughout the text, Winston tries to learn more about how things were. Why does he do that? In the third part of the text, the existence of the past is brought into question. We are forced to consider whether the past (or history) exists if no one remembers it. This is similar to the question “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?”
• Make connections to the past of 1984 and the students’ individual research projects. By writing down their stories and sharing them with others, the chance that the stories will have greater meaning are increased drastically. The more people who know, the more difficult it is for the stories to ever be erased.
• Remind students that the finished product of the research project will be due soon.
• Hold students accountable for their reading. A possible short-essay question could be to ask students “What would be in Room 101 if you had to go there? How effective do you think this form of “persuasion” is in the text? In what other ways is fear used in 1984?
• Discuss the ending. Brainstorm what meaning(s) this end result has.
• Discuss the prophetic nature of 1984 (see Lesson Plan Three).


Lesson Plan Three:

Lesson Plan Three: The Prophetic Nature of 1984, etc.

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
• identify ways in which 1984 is “prophetic” in nature.
• list/describe ways in which the Party maintains its power over the general population.
• define, on an individual basis, what they deem to be the most important aspect of 1984, and
• answer the question, “What makes this book important for modern readers?” (Why do we read it today? What benefit to we receive from doing so? How are we different after reading it?)

• Define prophecy/prophetic.
Prophecy: “A prediction.” “knowledge of the future (usually obtained from a divine source)”
Prophetic: “foretelling events” (www.dictionary.com)
• Have students, on an individual level, list as many instances of “Orwell as prophet” as possible, including instances of modern technologies now available that occurred in 1984, as well, but were not available in 1948-49. Current events are fair game as well.
• Have individuals pair up and compare lists with each other. Have them try to come up with at least one more example together.
Some things on the list may include:
Telescreeens – we have two-way televisions today that are used for the news, web- conferencing, and “satellite” television appearances, etc.
Spies/Thought Police –the Red Scare of the 1950’s had everyone suspicious of everyone else for being a Communist. The USA Patriot Act allows anyone simply suspected of crimes to be surveilled and inspected without their knowledge.
Biometrics – the “emerging field of technology devoted to [the] identification of individuals using biological traits, such as those based on retinal or iris scanning, fingerprints, or face recognition” (http://stat.tamu.edu/Biometrics/).
Webcams, Cell Phone Cameras, Security Cameras – self-explanatory.
• Ask students to keep these things in mind as they progress through the WebQuest they will soon beginning.
• Ask students to find and list the different ways the government of 1984 maintains power over its people. Ask them to also consider how the “overthrow” began and became effective in the first place.
Some things on the list may include:
Limited language
Constant monitoring of personal space—both mental and physical space is constantly being watched by someone, to the extent that even an out-of-sorts facial expression could be grounds for action.
Their world is void of emotion—Love is taken out of the equation, friendship is discouraged, conformity is greatly encouraged. Also, the limited vocabulary and threat of being “found out” makes creating and/or expressing any form of emotion difficult.
Vaporization—Those who do disobey or step out of line are tortured and/or vaporized, meaning that they were displaced, abandoned, or more than likely, killed.
Rationing of supplies—The rationing of food and other necessary supplies (the constant shortage of razor blades throughout the text; the rationed chocolate) makes the people dependant upon the government.
The filtering of literature and informational documents—Any data read or heard by the people was more than likely created by the party itself and okayed for dispersal amongst the masses.
Hectic scheduling—Extremely long work days, mandatory workouts and other community activities leave no time for individuals. Also leaves no time for mischief.
Erasure of all things past—Everything in Oceania is different from how it used to be. Common trinkets and household tools are gone, war and lack of trading mean that different foods and goods are no longer available (Julia has seen an orange, but never a lemon…), old pastimes have been eradicated, etc.
The list could go on and on…..
• Ask students to imagine what would happen if the telescreens malfunctioned. What would the people of Oceania do if they could go back and read unaltered accounts of history? What would happen if the Proles united together?
• Have them write a one to two-page story or essay containing their thoughts about what would happen in Oceania if just one aspect of the Party’s control were erased or deemed ineffective.

Assessment: Students will be assessed on their classroom participation and their creative stories or essays containing their predictions for what “could have been” in Oceania. This assignment demands that students consider both the reading and the forms of control enacted by the Party. It will also serve as a lead-in to the WebQuest activity.

During the FOURTH WEEK, you should:
• Have (willing) students share their research results and finished written product with the class. It is important not to force any one to share, but perhaps an incentive (extra credit?) could be given to encourage participation.
• Have students complete the 1984WebQuest tasks.
(Found at www.d.umn.edu/~hold0098/WebQuest.htm)
• Debrief on the major themes discussed over the past few weeks, including individual freedoms, different forms of power, propaganda/media influence, history and memory, truth, privacy, etc.
• Discuss the big question of “Why is this text important? Why are we still reading it, so many years after its publication?”

Additional Teacher Resources:

Some of these links lead to articles which are biased in opinion. They may or may not be relevant to the classroom, but are, at the very least, interesting.

"George Bush Channels George Orwell," an opinion article by Daniel Kurtzman
Found at: http://www.tompaine.com/op_ads/opad.cfm/ID/6256

"Learning to Love Big Brother," an essay by Daniel Kurtzman
Found at: http://www.tompaine.com/feature2.cfm/ID/6243

Other books that could be useful in a lesson of this type:
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
Lois Lowry’s The Giver
Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
Jack London's The Iron Heel

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“1984” is a novel about totalitarianism and the fate of a single man who tried to escape from an overwhelming political regime. The book was written by the British writer and journalist George Orwell in 1948 and had the Soviet Union as a prototype of the social structure described in it.

Events in the book take place in London, a capital of Airstrip One, which is a province of the state of Oceania. The year is 1984, and the world is engaged in an endless omnipresent war. The political regime called Ingsoc (a misspelled abbreviation for English Socialism) constantly seeks out ways to control the minds and private lives of its citizens. The regime is run by the Party, headed by a half mythical Big Brother. The main protagonist of the novel is Winston Smith, an editor in the Ministry of Truth, which is responsible for propaganda. He has doubts about imposed dogmas that are shared by the majority, and at heart, he hates the Party and the Big Brother.

Winston buys a thick notebook where he writes down his thoughts about the reality that surrounds him. In his world, each step of the individual is controlled by the Thought Police, whose main function is to punish people who think differently from what is contained in the official propaganda. Everyone reports on each other, and even children are taught and encouraged to denounce their parents. Winston knows he commits a crime when he denies the Party’s slogan: “War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Ignorance is Strength,” but still he writes in his diary: “Down with the Big Brother.”

At work, Winston recalls recent “Two Minutes Hate” periods of time, when all Party members must gather in special rooms where they watch a short film about Emmanuel Goldstein, the former leader of the Party, who betrayed it and organized the underground movement called the Brotherhood. People are obliged to express hatred towards Goldstein’s image on the screen. During one of these periods, Winston fixates on O’Brien—a member of the most powerful Inner Party. For some reason, Winston imagines that O’Brien could be one of the leaders of the Brotherhood. He wants to talk to him, and he even has a dream in which O’Brien’s voice says: “We shall meet at the place where there is no darkness.”

After the Two Minutes Hate, he received a note from a girl named Julia that reads “I love you.” Julia is a member of the Anti-Sex League, so at first, Winston treats her with mistrust, and he even considers her to be a member of the Thought Police. However, she manages to prove to him that she hates the Party too and they start a love affair. It brings Winston to the thought that they are both doomed, because free romantic relationships between a man and a woman are prohibited. Julia is more optimistic about their situation, because she simply lives in the present moment and does not think about the future. They meet in an old second-hand shop in the Prols’ district—a place where people who have not yet joined the Party life. They seem to be more free and light-hearted than the rest of Airstrip’s One population.

Eventually, Winston and Julia get arrested. They are held separately, tortured, and interrogated. Winston is beaten by jailers and he is forced to confess to various crimes, legitimate and fictional. But still, the physical pain is nothing for him compared to the shock that he experiences when he meets O’Brien and finds that he is a loyal servant of the Big Brother. O’Brien uses a special device that causes incredible pain to “re-educate” Winston, make him love the Big Brother and adopt all the Party’s false dogmas. Winston resists and he declares that despite the fact that, under torture, he has betrayed everything he valued and believed in, there is one person that he is still devoted to: Julia. But here, Orwell depicts the Party’s endless possibilities to monitor the thoughts of each citizen in Oceania. The Party knows exactly what Winston fears most, though it is a secret for Winston himself. O’Brien puts a swarm of rats in front of his victim’s face and, driven to panic and horror, Winston finally cries: “Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off and strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!”

The novel ends with a description of how Winston is sitting in a cafe, drinking gin. Sometimes he meets Julia occasionally, but they dislike each other now because they know that both of them are traitors. Winston looks at the screen, where an announcer gladly informs everyone that Oceania has won the recent war, and he understands that he now loves the Big Brother. The system managed to break and completely remake Winston.


Orwell, George. 1984. London: Penguin Books Limited, 2005. Print.

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