Abusing Power: Animal Farm and Wicked History

Students explore human nature through careful study of the Russian Revolution, focusing on the ways in which leaders manipulated and oppressed their own people.

Unit Summary

George Orwell’s Animal Farm has had great international impact for its messages about power and political corruption in the 20th century. Orwell witnessed the atrocities sanctioned by Joseph Stalin under the guise of communism, and his famous novel is a satire of societies that allow leaders to lie, cheat, and oppress the naive, obedient masses. The author’s decision to feature animal characters recalls classic children’s fables, but there is nothing simple or childlike about this story. Orwell’s novel is not intended to entertain; rather, it is a criticism of historical events and a warning to future generations about the dangers of tyranny.

In order to provide students with necessary schema to understand the time period that Orwell satirizes, this unit begins with the nonfiction text Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History), which dives into the history of Joseph Stalin and the Russian Revolution. This text is intended to introduce students to the real-life atrocities committed during this time period and give them a small window into the lives of the tens of millions of people who were murdered, starved, exiled, imprisoned, or killed on the battlefield, all at the instruction of Joseph Stalin.

Through their work with these two texts, students will explore questions about the power of language and draw conclusions about the way it can be used as a method of control. They will dig deeply into the use and impact of propaganda. They will explore the genre of allegory, the impact of satire, and the way that historical knowledge can create dramatic irony within a text. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to think about artistic interpretation through two lenses: they will think about how authors use and interpret historical events in a fictional text and they will analyze how a film interpretation can differ from the source text and evaluate the decisions directors make.

As this unit follows directly behind the unit focusing on Elie Wiesel’s Night, students will continue their year-long study of justice/injustice, particularly in the context of extreme human cruelty and suffering. Much like Elie Wiesel’s message that the stories of human atrocities must continue to be told, so too does Orwell’s text continue to act as an urgent, relevant call-to-action.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


This assessment accompanies Unit 3 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions


  • What is propaganda and how can it be used as a tool of social control?
  • Other than propaganda, what techniques do corrupt leaders use to establish and maintain power over people?

Reading Enduring Understandings


  • Josef Stalin was the violent, tyrannical communist leader of the Soviet Union during and after the Russian Revolution, who is remembered by many as “the greatest criminal in history.”
  • Language can be used to manipulate and mislead others; propaganda is a powerful way to influence people’s behavior and beliefs.
  • It is essential that citizens are educated, informed, and willing to speak out when they see those in power acting against the best interest of the people.




benevolent charismatic complicit dissident eminent envision enmity exile exile ignominious intermediary manipulate morose perception treacherous tyrannical tyranny

Literary Term

allegory dramatic irony satire verbal irony


inter- mal-

To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 8th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Notes for Teachers


  • The beginning of this unit is focused on a complex historical period; it would take a lifetime to truly understand all the dynamics at play during the Russian Revolution. Students need not understand every detail of this time period, but it is wise to emphasize the events and people that appear in Animal Farm. Character charts, timelines, and visual anchors will be useful in helping students remember essential details.
  • Animal Farm is a relatively dense text, and students will be expected to read a substantial amount of text each evening for homework. It may be useful to review the gist of each chapter with students at the beginning of each chapter as well as to continue to track specific characters as the text progresses.
  • In addition to asking students to make connections between the text and the Russian Revolution, students should be encouraged to talk about their own reactions to the text. This book is full of infuriating injustices, and students will likely have strong feelings in response to events and characters. Additionally, it is essential that students think about this book as speaking to the present moment as much as it speaks to a specific moment in the historical past. We encourage you to draw on relevant current events as you teach this unit.

Lesson Map


  • “An Introduction to Communism”

  • “Capitalism”


Define and articulate the differences between capitalism and communism.


  • Joseph Stalin pp. 1 – 31



Explain the events, ideas, and social conditions that began to shape Stalin’s behavior and beliefs about the world.


  • Joseph Stalin — Chapters 4-6



Identify the events, ideas, and social conditions that led to the Russian Revolution, and explain Stalin’s role in the establishment of a new communist society and government.


  • Joseph Stalin — Chapters 7-9



Explain the purpose of Stalin’s Five-Year Plan, its impact on the people of the Soviet Union, and how author McCollum uses specific text features to develop key ideas about this time period.


  • “Propaganda is Everywhere”

  • “11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting”

  • “Types of Propaganda”




Summarize information about different types of propaganda and present that information to classmates.


  • Joseph Stalin — Chapters 10-12


Identify ways that Stalin used propaganda to control the people of the Soviet Union.


  • Joseph Stalin — Chapters 1-12


Determine the central idea of individual chapters of Joseph Stalin (A Wicked History) and the text overall, and explain how the author develops and supports these ideas.




Conduct a short research project on an element of propaganda.




Summarize and interpret research through an infographic.


  • “Satire video” — sections I, II, IV, VI, VII)

  • “Allegory video” — (sections I, II, III, VI)

  • “One Human Family, Food for All”


Define the literary genres of satire and allegory, and explain their purposes.


  • Animal Farm — Chapter 1


Explain how Orwell uses descriptive language to develop Old Major’s perspective, and make connections between Old Major’s argument and economic systems.


  • Animal Farm — Chapter 2


Identify specific events and lines of dialogue that reveal character traits, as well as identify the impact of events on the plot of Animal Farm.


  • Animal Farm — Chapters 3-4



Explain the impact of different propaganda techniques the pigs use in Animal Farm.


  • Animal Farm — Chapter 5

  • Joseph Stalin — pages 44–49, 52–56


Explain how George Orwell has interpreted individuals and events from the Russian Revolution and portrayed them in his allegorical text, Animal Farm.


  • Animal Farm — Chapter 6



Explain how Squealer uses language and propaganda techniques to manipulate the other animals, and how the author uses this manipulation to develop dramatic irony.


  • Animal Farm — Chapter 7

  • Joseph Stalin

  • “Propaganda is Everywhere”



Explain how George Orwell has interpreted events of the Russian Revolution and portrayed them in his allegorical text Animal Farm.


  • Animal Farm — Chapter 8



Explain how the pigs have betrayed the original principles of Animal Farm, and how their betrayal and manipulation of the other animals creates dramatic irony.


  • Animal Farm — Chapter 9




Explain how Squealer uses language and propaganda techniques to manipulate the other animals, and how the author uses this manipulation to develop dramatic irony.


  • Animal Farm — Chapter 10



Explain the significance of specific lines and events in Animal Farm and what they reveal about characters and the plot.


  • Animal Farm — Whole Text


Determine what Orwell wants the reader to understand about the Russian Revolution and human nature more broadly, and explain how he develops these ideas in Animal Farm.


  • Animal Farm — Chapters 1-2

  • Animal Farm


Identify places where the film version of Animal Farm differs from the original text and evaluate the choices that the director made.


  • Animal Farm — Chapters 3-6

  • Animal Farm


Identify places where the film version of Animal Farm differs from the original text and evaluate the choices that the director made.


  • Animal Farm — Chapter 7 - end

  • Animal Farm


Identify places where the film version of Animal Farm differs from the original text and evaluate the choices that the director made.


Socratic Seminar

  • Joseph Stalin

  • Animal Farm



Engage in a Socratic Seminar with classmates, using previous feedback to set goals and reflect on their performance in the seminar.






Explain the expectations of the writing task and begin to gather evidence from supplemental texts.





Construct a strong thesis statement and compose effective body paragraphs.








Draft an introduction and conclusion and revise essay for clarity, mechanics, and organization.


2 days


Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.8.1.c — Form and use verbs in the indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional, and subjunctive mood.

  • L.8.1.d — Recognize and correct inappropriate shifts in verb voice and mood.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.8.2 — Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RI.8.3 — Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories).

  • RI.8.5 — Analyze in detail the structure of a specific paragraph in a text, including the role of particular sentences in developing and refining a key concept.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.7.9 — Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.

  • RL.8.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.8.3 — Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.

  • RL.8.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.

  • RL.8.6 — Analyze how differences in the points of view of the characters and the audience or reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

  • RL.8.7 — Analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story or drama stays faithful to or departs from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.8.1.a — Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.

  • SL.8.1.d — Acknowledge new information expressed by others, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views in light of the evidence presented.

  • SL.8.4 — Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

  • SL.8.5 — Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.

Writing Standards
  • W.8.1 — Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • W.8.1.a — Introduce claim(s), acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

  • W.8.1.b — Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

  • W.8.1.c — Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

  • W.8.1.d — Establish and maintain a formal style.

  • W.8.1.e — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

  • W.8.7 — Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

  • W.8.8 — Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Spiral Standards