Animal Farm is “a dystopian allegorical novella by George Orwell. Published in England on 17 August 1945, the book reflects events leading up to and during the Stalin era before World War II.”1 Because World War II and the Cold War are major components of our 7th grade history curriculum, the students are grounded in the book’s setting. To discover and understand Orwell’s commentary on revolution and corrupt leadership, however, the students were charged with teaching the novel to their peers.
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Because Animal Farm is the final book assigned in 7th grade English, the teaching exercise is a culminating event for the course. Using a Discussion Group model that was employed throughout the year, students were broken into groups of 3-4 and assigned two chapters for which to create a lesson plan to teach to their class. To ensure that all members of the group contributed and were held accountable, the assignment was carefully framed on the Animal Farm Project Wiki:
Directions: Each group member will be responsible for 1-2 of the jobs listed below. The work must be evenly and fairly distributed. EVERYONE will be assessed on the “Lesson Plan.” ALL of your work should be loaded onto the wiki. Your grade will be based on your individual contributions on the wiki and during the discussion, but all the parts need to work like a single, fluid lesson plan. Please use the guidelines below to help you accomplish your tasks. This is the rubric on which I’ll grade your work.
Directions: Each group will have to write a formal Lesson Plan that identifies the goals for the lesson and the chronological plan for the class. You MUST publish a final copy on your group’s wiki page no later than the day before your discussion. For each part of your plan, include the approximate time you intend to spend. Check the schedule for the day of your discussion to be sure you have filled the time.
Directions: There are two components to this job. On the wiki, you will write a variety of factual (3-5), interpretive (3+), and evaluative (1-2) questions and their answers on the wiki. Write questions that will help your class better understand what happened in the novel and why. You might work with the Passage Finder to mix questions with important passages. Your answers should be based on specific details from the book. During class, you will be responsible to leading the discussion during class. As you lead, be sure that you develop the conversation, give students time to think, and draw everyone into the conversation.
Directions: For this job, you should identify three important passages from the assigned chapters. You might choose these passages because they reveal character/plot development, irony, foreshadowing, interesting language, etc. During the discussion, be prepared to share these passages with the class. You might work with the discussion leader to see if you can choose quotes that lead to or answer a question. On the wiki, explain why you chose each quote in a paragraph. Why is this passage important for the lesson about these chapters?
Historian: Allusions in Animal Farm
Directions: Since Animal Farm is an allegory, its story is a mirror of many historical events that happened in Russia from the Revolution through the Cold War. Your job is to identify as many of these historical events as possible. Use what you’ve learned in history class or what you can find through research to help you identify these allusions. On the wiki, list the historical allusions in your chapters and explain briefly how the story in the book relates to the historical event in the chart provided. During the discussion, work with the passage finder and discussion leader to incorporate your findings into the conversation. If you find a great visual to go along with the historical event, you might use it as part of your “Wow!” factor.
Directions: What makes learning fun? What captures your attention, helps you remember an important idea, or makes a concept clearer? This is what we call the “Wow!” factor of a lesson. To save your lesson from being boring, create on Wow! moment. You have a lot of creative latitude with this. It might be a visual, song, comic, or movie clip. It might be a creative activity to involve everyone in the discussion or get the discussion started. It might even be a game. The key elements to the “Wow!” factor are 1. That it engages and impresses the class with its creativity, and 2. It is relevant to your chapters and works with your lesson plan. Be sure that you work with your Discussion Leader, Passage Finder, and Historian to complement their work.
Directions: Find five words form the assigned chapters that you think would make good vocabulary words. On the wiki, define each word, provide the sentence from the novel that uses the word, and write an original sentence using each vocabulary word. Use the chart below to complete your work. During the discussion, point out each of the words. It would be great if the words were a part of a passage that will be highlighted during the class, though this is not a necessity.
Why a Wiki?
Group work and cooperative learning are not one in the same; for students to truly “cooperate” they need to collaborate. Because this project spanned several days, involved work outside of class, and required that all group members were aware of all five tasks/roles, the project was organized using MediaWiki. Unlike Wikispaces, MediaWiki (upon which Wikipedia is built) allows pages to be broken into separately editable sections. For a lesson plan, having everything flow on one page is preferable to clicking through multiple links for each sub-set of the lesson (the template for the wiki page is available here). Additionally, group members were able to work on their specific assignments (synchronously or asynchronously) yet easily see the progress of their peers.
Editing in MediaWiki does require a basic knowledge of wiki syntax and is a bit more involved than GUI tools like Wikispaces or PBworks. Because this exercise is predominately text-driven, however, the learning curve is gentle and given some guidance, students will quickly master the essential elements of the tool.
Presentation and Assessment
As a culminating activity, each group presented their lesson to the class and was assessed using the following rubric:
Evaluating collaborative projects can be difficult, especially if students have uneven abilities or levels of participation. For that reason, every student was given a group and individual grade. Because the lesson plan was a cooperative learning endeavor, everyone in the group received the same grade for the lesson’s overall design and execution (i.e. they were assessed as a team). Each student was then individually assessed on his/her area of responsibility on the wiki (i.e. they were assessed on their own merits). This two-pronged approach goes a long way toward fostering a true collaborative mentality and the idea that the whole is only as strong as the sum of its parts.
Just as the To Kill a Mockingbird project is easily adapted to other works, so too is our approach to Animal Farm. If you would like to modify our efforts to meet your needs, I would invite you to visit the Animal Farm wiki and explore wiki-fueled collaboration.