Secondary Snowball Your Students Reading Comprehension with CommonLit’s Book Pairings for Animal Farm
Provide students with historical background, and other relevant resources for Animal Farm by George Orwell.
The CommonLit library offers over 100 “Book Pairings”, or sets of literary and informational texts that support teachers when introducing books to the classroom. With the help of Book Pairings, students can hit ELA curriculum targets and create powerful cross-text connections. Book Pairings are a simple way to build reading comprehension while deepening students’ perspective on the historical and social landscape that shaped the novel.
In this post, we will walk through the Book Pairing for Animal Farm by George Orwell. This Book Pairing includes a summary about the new passage, how the new passage is relevant to the novel, and where in the book to introduce the selection to the class. The pairing also poses questions to prompt students into conversations that go beyond the facts of the novel.
CommonLit’s Book Pairings for Animal Farm
Animal Farm is a literary classic for high schoolers. George Orwell wrote Animal Farm as a satirical allegory for Stalinism in the 1940s. Farm animals on Manor Farm rebel against their farmer, in the hopes of creating a more just society. However, the revolution falls apart when one pig, Napoleon, becomes power hungry. The original principles of the uprising deteriorate into one credo, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal.” Ultimately, the other farm animals could not tell Napoleon apart from their original oppressors.
Build Relevant Background Knowledge about World Events
At first glance, Animal Farm might seem farcical – pigs sabotaging farmers, and dogs learning to read. But, once the reader has the historical context, Animal Farm evolves into a harrowing reflection of real events. These texts allow students to draw comparisons between the world Orwell created and the actual revolution he based it on.
“Stalin: A Brutal Legacy Uncovered” by Mike Kubic
This informational text provides insight into the rise of one of Russia’s most brutal tyrants, Joseph Stalin. The text details the bloody atrocities Stalin committed, and provides insight into how Stalin cultivated a larger-than-life persona through ambition and fear.
Have students read this text before they begin the novel. Students will then be able to draw connections between Stalin's reign and the allegory that Orwell spun. This is a great opportunity to define an allegory with the class. Ask students why Orwell used satire and allegory to comment on historical events.
“The Russian Revolution” by Mike Kubic
This informational article explores the events leading up to the 1917 Russian Revolution. The passage details the complete upheaval of Russian government and society.
This text can be introduced once students have completed the novel. Ask students to compare the events of the Russian Revolution with the central conflict on Manor Farm. In what ways are the events of the Russian Revolution similar to the smaller revolution on Manor Farm? Do the pigs employ any of the same strategies that Vladimir Lenin used to attain power over the Russian people?
Prompt Reflections about the Human Condition
Animal Farm may be about pigs, but students will quickly realize that the mindset of the farm animals is a reflection of the human condition. Navigate themes surrounding the need to conform and the power of education through these informational and literary passages.
“Conformity” by Charlotte Harrison
Most people feel a powerful urge to conform to society’s standards. This informational text about that urge explains why people tend to acclimate their actions and beliefs to those around them.
Introduce this text after students have read Chapter 2 of Animal Farm. At this point in the novel, the pigs have assumed leadership of the farm and the other animals have begun to conform to “Animalism,” the principles the pigs have created to dictate their society. Ask the class to consider how the three major types of conformity apply to how the animals on Manor Farm adapt to the rules created by the pigs. How did the pigs ascend to power without objection from the other farm animals? Can the class think of any examples of their own conformity to the environment around them?
“Herd Behavior” a CommonLit Original
"Herd Behavior" describes how individuals change when they are part of a crowd. This informational text uses historical examples of herd behavior and explains how Hitler manipulated the power of herd mentality to his advantage.
After students read Chapter 5, when Napoleon successfully overthrows Snowball and begins to manipulate the other animals and the history of the farm, introduce this text. Prompt students to ask why the animals on Manor Farm are mindlessly following Napoleon. Why do the pigs want the other animals to exhibit herd behavior? Ask the class to prove whether or not the followers of Napoleon are Orwell’s satirical representation of human behavior and use this text and the novel as evidence.
Connect Animal Farm to other Movements and Experiments Around the World
While Animal Farm was written as an allegory for Stalinism and the Russian Revolution, there are many themes and plot lines that are still applicable today. Here, we provide additional resources that allow students to think critically about the themes and actions in the novella and how they relate to the world at large.
The Ten Commandments are a set of Biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, playing a central role in Christianity and Judaism. This section of the Bible depicts God speaking the commandments to the people.
Introduce the Commandments after reading Chapter 2, when the animals create the values for the animals to live by. Ask students to compare the principles of the Bible with the principles of Animalism. How are both sets of commandments used to model behavior? How are the responses of both sets of commandments similar or different?
“The Third Wave” a CommonLit Original
In 1967, a high school history teacher created The Third Wave, an experimental social movement intended to explain how the German people could accept the Nazi regime. This text explains how, as the movement grew outside his class and began to number in the hundreds, Jones began to feel that the experiment had spiraled out of control.
This text can be paired with the novel once students have read Chapter 8, in order to analyze how control and influence are exerted on others. Ask students to discuss how individuals and small groups are able to manipulate larger groups for their own gain. How are Napoleon and Ron Jones able to control large groups of people? What are the similarities and differences between their approaches? What practices do the pigs carry out in order to support their dominance? How do these practices compare with how Ron Jones exerts control?
Check out our 360 novel unit if you would like a full unit to help you teach Animal Farm. This unit includes chapter comprehension guides, full lesson plans, writing prompts and much more!
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