“The dystopia [Oceania] described in George Orwell’s nearly 70-year-old novel 1984 suddenly feels all too familiar. A world in which Big Brother (or maybe the National Security Agency) is always listening in, and high-tech devices can eavesdrop in people’s homes… A world where fear and hate are drummed up against foreigners…where the government insists on defining its own reality and where propaganda permeates the lives of people too distracted by rubbishy tabloids.” M. Kakutani, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“1984 shot to No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list this week, after Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to Trump described demonstrable falsehoods told by the White House press secretary Sean Spicer — regarding the size of inaugural crowds — as ‘alternative facts.’
It was a phrase chillingly reminiscent, for many readers, of the Ministry of Truth’s efforts in 1984 at ‘reality control.’ To Big Brother and the Party, Orwell wrote, ‘the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense.’ Regardless of the facts, ‘Big Brother is omnipotent’ and ‘the Party is infallible.’
As the novel’s hero, Winston Smith, sees it, ‘The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.’ (George Orwell 1984 chapter 7-Part One)
Freedom, he [Winston] reminds himself, ‘is the freedom to say that two plus two make four,’ even though the Party will force him to agree that ‘TWO AND TWO MAKE FIVE’ — not unlike the way Mr. Spicer tried to insist that Mr. Trump’s inauguration crowd was ‘the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration,’ despite data and photographs to the contrary.
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 Trump and his aides — from false accusations that journalists had invented a rift between him and the intelligence community (when he had compared the intelligence agencies to Nazis) to debunked claims that millions of unauthorized immigrants robbed him of a popular-vote majority…In this world, 2 + 2 does = 5, as Orwell noted, and the acceptance of bad arithmetic simply becomes a testament to the power of rulers to define reality and the terms of debate.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- In the novel 1984 Orwell describes Oceania as a dystopia.
- Demonstrable falsehoods were told by the White House.
- Propaganda permeates the lives of people.
- Religious groups are fanned by right-wing demagogues.
- Orwell presciently argued that people needed to be vigilant.
- There are several government agencies are involved in environmental issues.
- Of course, all of these developments are being constantly updated.
- This mixture of gullibility and cynicism are dangerous.
- Some people do not particularly object to being deceived.
- This aspect of government is a despairing vision.
Reading Comprehension: Fill-ins
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following paragraphs taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
“Orwell had been ___about the___that would become 1984 as early as 1944, when he wrote a letter about ___and Hitler, and the___of emotional ___and a tendency to ___in the existence of objective___ because all the ___have to fit in with the words and___of some infallible führer.”
WORD LIST: horrors, truth, nationalism, thinking, prophecies, novel, disbelieve, Stalin, facts,
Grammar: Word -Recognition
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
Of course, all of these developments/developers are beginning/being constantly updated, with regular/regularly flurries/flowers of news and deny/denials and counter-denials — a confusing steak/state of affairs that itself would not have surprised/suppressed Orwell, since he new/knew the value of such confusion to those in powerful/power.
III. Post Reading Activities
Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following statements. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following topics.
- Create a list of freedoms that you currently enjoy in your home, in your neighbor, school and in this country (USA).
- Is there a possibility of these freedoms ever being denied? Discuss why or why not.
- The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights grant freedoms to all American citizens. Make a list of these rights. In your opinion is the current government upholding these rights? Discuss why or why not.
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.