1984 by George Orwell

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

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1984 Lesson Plans

Student Activities for 1984 Include:

In a world where computers rule our lives, communication is instant, and there is a camera right in most people’s back pockets, it’s sometimes easy to envision the world George Orwell paints in his dystopian novel 1984. Published in 1949, shortly after the end of World War II and during the rise of Communist powers such as Russia and Korea, Orwell’s novel warns readers of important issues that become the novel’s key themes, including government overreach, propaganda, and the importance of free thought and speech.

1984 Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram Graphic Organizer for 1984

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A common activity for students is to create a plot diagram of the events from a novel. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of a plot but to reinforce major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard that captures the concept of the narrative arc in a story by creating a six-cell storyboard which contains the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in a sequence using Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Example 1984 Plot Diagram


Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth, the government propaganda/media center, editing old history to make the government and Big Brother look truthful. He comes home and begins writing rebellious thoughts in a journal, which is thoughtcrime in Newspeak. A woman who also works at Ministry, Julia, sends Winston a note telling him she loves him.

Major Inciting Conflict

Winston and Julia begin an affair, which is treasonous against the government. They begin to question the government, and Winston wants to find out more about the rebellion called “The Brotherhood”, headed and influenced by a mysterious figure named Emmanuel Goldstein. Julia is less interested in revolting against the Party, but she is having a good time with Winston.

Rising Action

Winston places his trust in a man named “O’Brien”, a member of the Inner Party whom Winston believes is collaborating with the Resistance. O’Brien provides Winston with a copy of Goldstein’s book, and Winston and Julia take it to their room over Mr. Charrington’s shop in the Prole district to read. The book does not shed any new light on the Resistance, nor Ingsoc’s need to control the people.


After reading the book, Winston decides that if there is any hope to overthrow Big Brother’s government, it lies in the proles because they are the greatest in number, and they are not being watched as closely. All of a sudden, the picture on the wall begins speaking, and Winston realizes it is Mr. Charrington, who is a member of the Thought Police, and who set Winston and Julia up. They are arrested.

Falling Action

Winston and Julia are brought to The Ministry of Love, where they are tortured. O’Brien is in charge of the questioning and torture, which crushes Winston. The torture brainwashes Winston, which is the Party’s ultimate goal: they turn those who are traitors before they kill them. This way, says O’Brien, there is no heresy left. Winston is brought to Room 101, where his biggest fears await him: rats. When the rats are brought close to Winston’s face, Winston tells O’Brien, “Do it to Julia!...I don’t care what you do to her.” O’Brien knows that Winston’s re-education is complete.


The novel ends with Winston sitting at the Chestnut Tree Cafe, devoid of all emotions. He and Julia ran into each other once, but they were both so changed by their torture that they do not have feelings for each other anymore. Winston absentmindedly sips Victory Gin, listens to the telescreen, and thinks to himself, “But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of 1984.

  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

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Character Map Graphic Organizer for 1984

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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a Character Map) allows students to recall relevant information and details about important characters. With character mapping, it’s easy for students to follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

Use a character map to help track the different characters that are discussed in 1984. Have the students provide the character’s physical traits, internal character traits, and a quote for support.

Winston Smith

  • Physical Traits:
  • 39 years old; varicose ulcer above his right ankle; works in the Ministry of Truth, changing historical records and newspapers to make Big Brother look truthful; not very healthy physically; wears blue overalls of the Outer Party

  • Character Traits:
  • Initially introduced as sort of a dull man, he eventually shows another side when he comes home, hides himself from the telescreen, and writes in a journal: “Down with Big Brother.” He meets Julia, becomes enamored with her and with the idea of overthrowing Ingsoc.

  • Quote
  • “theyll shoot me i dont care theyll shoot me in the back of the neck i dont care down with big brother they always shoot you in the back of the neck i dont care down with big brother--”

Other characters included in this map are Julia, O’Brien, and Big Brother

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Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in 1984 and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Physical Traits, Character Traits, and Quote.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

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Newspeak Vocabulary Lesson Plan for 1984

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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from 1984, in particular from the strange language of Newspeak. Often times throughout the novel, Newspeak words carry a lot of weight for the characters because of their implications, such as thoughtcrime.

Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the novel, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

Vocabulary words from 1984:

  • orthodoxy

    to think in an orthodox (or acceptable) manner

  • crimestop

    the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought

  • crimethink/thoughtcrime

    thoughtcrime is death; thoughts that run contradictory to the ideology put forth by the Party

  • doublethink

    to hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously

  • unperson

    a person who has been “vaporized” and written out of existence

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in 1984 by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

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Themes, Symbols, and Motifs Activity for 1984

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Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

1984 Themes, Motifs, and Imagery to Look For and Discuss

Government Overreach

One of the novel’s key themes is the dangers of governmental overreach. When the government can communicate with you via telescreens, watch your every move, punish you for thoughtcrime, and indoctrinate children to believe nothing is more important than The Party, quality of life, the sharing of ideas, and simple things like freedom all become repressed. The government continues to maintain control of its people by making them think they are constantly at war, but no side ever wins in this war. When there is a common enemy, there is camaraderie. In addition, rather than focusing on emotions like love and tranquility, the government fires people up through exercises such as Two Minutes Hate, and Hate Week. While there is no resolution to this absolutist tyranny in the novel, it does lay out the dangers of allowing a government, political party, or dictator gain too much control over citizens’ privacy and lives.


The media reports in Oceania are all propaganda, because they are all controlled by the government. For example, Winston is sent a few short missives that come down a mysterious pneumatic tube. The first reads “times 17.3.84 bb speech malreported africa rectify.” According to Winston, his job is to go back into old news items and change them to make them true, even if they were not. In the first message, it appears that on March 17th, Big Brother had predicted a Eurasian offensive to be launched in North Africa; in reality, the offensive had been launched in South India instead. Winston must change, or “rectify” this discrepancy so that Big Brother is never incorrect. In addition to rewriting history, other propaganda includes: Ingsoc’s slogans of “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”, and “Ignorance is Strength”; large posters of Big Brother everywhere, reminding citizens they are being watched at all times; the constant stream of news telling the citizens of Oceania who they are at war with that week; entertainment is provided solely by the government; and children are indoctrinated from a very young age and even encouraged to turn in their parents for any instances of thoughtcrime.

The Importance of Free Thought and Speech

If nothing else, this novel warns about what a society could potentially become if freedoms of thought and speech are repressed. The loss of individuality, privacy, and the complete control of thoughts, well-being, and even physical movements are highlighted as consequences of letting a dangerous government or dictatorship take control. The inability to share or debate ideas, to choose one’s marriage partner, to fall in love, and to speak freely are scary to those of us who live in free societies. Equally scary is the loss of a free media to share important information with the public, which oftentimes counters what the government would like it to say. Embracing the right to do all of these things is a reminder of how special these free societies are, and how we must do everything to protect these basic human rights.

Ministries of Truth, Love, Peace, and Plenty

The names of these organizations/buildings are paradoxes: the Ministry of Truth changes the truth through propaganda constantly; the Ministry of Love tortures people; the Ministry of Peace is where wars are planned; and the Ministry of Plenty is a lie because the rations for the people are always running out. The Ministries hold the truth about the government: it is one big lie. These buildings are also used to help suppress any incidents of free thought or speech.

Big Brother

Big Brother represents the power of the Party, and the pinnacle of the propaganda machine. It is unsure of whether or not he truly exists, since he never seems to age, and since readers are privy to what goes on at the Ministry of “Truth.” He is plastered in posters and on telescreens all over Oceania, and citizens are constantly told that “Big Brother is Watching You”, a reminder to control their thoughts and actions at all times.

Goldstein’s Book

For Winston, Emmanuel Goldstein’s book represents hope, a potential way to revolutionize and overthrow this oppressive government and bring back free thought and personal independence. However, once Winston actually reads the book, he feels let down because he gets a history of how Ingsoc came to be, but he doesn’t get the why it came to be, or even what can be done about it. He thinks the book will hold the key, or some answers, to solving their current predicament.

Room 101

Room 101 holds everyone’s deepest fear, and it depends upon the person what that fear is. For Winston, it is rats. Room 101 is where people who have been tortured for weeks are taken to finally break their spirits completely. When Winston is faced with a cage full of angry, hungry rats coming towards his face, he tells O’Brien to do it to Julia instead. With these words, he finally gives up all of his private loyalties, and dedicates himself fully to Big Brother. Room 101 represents the broken spirit and the complete loss of free thought and speech of the people of Oceania.

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in 1984. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from 1984 you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.

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Elements of a Dystopian Society Lesson Plan for 1984

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Dystopian literature is a rapidly growing sub-genre of popular fiction. Authors often use dystopias to convey a message about the world we live in today.

Dystopias are extremely flawed societies. In this genre, the setting is often a fallen society, usually occurring after a large scale war, or other horrific event, that caused chaos in the former world. In many stories, this chaos gives rise to a totalitarian government that assumes absolute control. The flaws in this sort of a dystopia are center around oppression and restrictions on freedom by central authorities.

Example of Dystopia in 1984

The people are restricted from independent thought and action.

Example: “The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about. We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them.”

The government in control is often oppressive.

Example: “One of these days, thought Winston with sudden deep conviction, Syme will be vaporized. He is too intelligent. He sees too clearly and speaks too plainly. The Party does not like such people. One day he will disappear. It is written in his face.”

The setting is often futuristic, or in a fictional universe.

Example: The novel was published in 1949, after the end of World War II. It purports that an atomic world war occurred during the 1950s, and envisions a world in 1984 that has been split into three sections: Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia. One section of territory in Northern Africa to India is disputed and fought over constantly.

Contains elements of conformity, or extreme equality.

Example: “At this moment the entire group of people broke into a deep, slow, rhythmical chant of ‘B-B!...B-B!...’ It was a refrain that was often heard in moments of overwhelming emotion. Partly, it was a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother, but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise.”

The government portrays their society as a utopia.

Example: “The Party claimed, of course, to have liberated the proles from bondage. Before the Revolution, they had been hideously oppressed by the capitalists, they had been starved and flogged, women had been forced to work in the coal mines… children had been sold into the factories at the age of six.”

The protagonist wishes to restore the people to conventional life.

Example: “We believe that there is some kind of conspiracy, some kind of secret organization working against the Party, and that you are involved in it. We want to join it and work for it. We are enemies of the Party. We disbelieve in the principles of Ingsoc. We are thought-criminals.”

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows the six elements of a dystopia in 1984.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify events or characteristics of the story that fit into the elements of a dystopia
  3. Illustrate the examples for each event or characteristic.
  4. Write a short description below each cell that specifically relates 1984 as a dystopia.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

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Literary Conflict Graphic Organizer for 1984

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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflict. Have your students choose an example of each literary conflict and depict them using the Storyboard Creator.

In the storyboard, an example of each conflict should be visually represented, along with an explanation of the scene, and how it fits the particular category of conflict.

Examples of Literary Conflict in 1984


Winston and other adults are wary of children. In particular, Winston notes the Parson children across the hall, who enjoy playing games where they arrest people for thoughtcrime. “With those children, he thought, that wretched woman must lead a life of terror. Another year, or two years, and they would be watching her night and day for symptoms of unorthodoxy. Nearly all children nowadays were horrible.”


Winston is plagued by memories where he believes he killed his mother. He remembers how much his mother had loved him, and how he had been too selfish to love her in return. After running off with a full ration of chocolate, he returned to find his mother and toddler sister gone. He isn’t sure what happened, but has a feeling that “the lives of his mother and sister had been sacrificed to his own.”


As Winston continues to write in his diary, carry on his affair with Julia, and learn more from O’Brien, he finds himself less and less content with the Party and Big Brother. He envisions a society where the proles rise up and overcome the government: “I don’t imagine that we can alter anything in our own lifetime. But one can imagine little knots of resistance springing up here and there—small groups of people banding themselves together, and gradually growing, and even leaving a few records behind, so that the next generation can carry on where we left off.”

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in 1984.

  1. Identify conflicts in 1984.
  2. Categorize each conflict as Character vs. Character, Character vs. Self, Character vs. Society, Character vs. Nature, or Character vs. Technology.
  3. Illustrate conflicts in the cells, using characters from the story.
  4. Write a short description of the conflict below the cell.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

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Researching Modern Day Government Overreach

In June 2015, Americans were rocked by the disclosure of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) unabashed data mining of phone records from ordinary American citizens. A former government contractor named Edward Snowden, who worked for the NSA and stole classified documents, and disclosed the revelation to journalists who work for The Guardian and The Washington Post. Americans who were already leery of their government’s growing reach were instantly reminded of the Orwellian dystopia pictured in 1984, and the novel saw a resurgence in retail sales and classroom applications.

Have students research some government or political scandals like the 2013 NSA scandal example below, and document how the government or leaders overstepped their bounds. Have them document the scandal in a Storyboard using historical photos from our Photos For Class search engine, or using characters.

Sample 7-Cell Storyboard Timeline for the NSA Scandal

Cell 1

Edward Snowden, a government contractor hired to work for the National Security Agency, comes across troubling documents that he steals.

Cell 2

Snowden makes contact with two journalists, one from The Guardian in the U.K., and one from The Washington Post. After many clandestine meetings, on June 5, 2013, The Guardian publishes the secret court order that reveals spying on all Verizon calls, even of innocent U.S. citizens.

Cell 3

On June 6, 2013, both The Guardian and The Washington Post publish information on an NSA program called “PRISM”, which provided direct access to the servers of major internet companies to collect anything, from emails to photos. The uproar is palpable.

Cell 4

On June 30, 2013, The Guardian reveals that not only has the NSA been spying on regular Americans, but they’ve been spying on foreign embassies, and foreign government communications as well.

Cell 5

On February 19, 2015, The Intercept reports that Great Britain’s program GCHQ and the NSA conspired to steal the encryption keys found in millions of SIM cards in cell phones.

Cell 6

Congress passes the USA Freedom Act on June 2, 2015, in an attempt to end bulk data collection of calling records by the NSA. It is the first time in over 30 years that Congress approves a bill placing “restrictions and oversight” on the NSA’s surveillance powers.

Cell 7

Snowden is currently granted asylum in Russia, ironically a nation with a terrible human rights’ record and very little freedom of the press. He is considered by many to be a hero, and by many to be a traitor. Regardless, his actions have severely impacted the government’s clandestine operations, and forced the government to be more transparent. The NSA has also scaled back, or been forced to scale back, many of its operations and programs. According to the U.S. government, this release of information has also negatively impacted intelligence operations.


Lesson Enhancement

After reading 1984, have students read the “Lesson of the Ants” Arthur experiences in Book I of The Once and Future King. Have students create a storyboard that compares and contrasts the language of Newspeak with the language of the ants. Ask students to analyze the impact that the restriction of language has on both societies, and on the citizens’/ants’ thought processes.

Additional Lesson Idea

Have your students analyze how much information they put online via social media sites and services. Never before in history have we provided so much private, personal information about ourselves to be viewed publicly! Ask them a popular question that many have asked in the wake of services such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram:

Have we become Big Brother?

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1984 Summary

The year is 1984, and the world is in a post-atomic war era. The novel takes place in former Great Britain, now known as Airstrip One, in the zone called Oceania. The world is divided into three zones: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. All of the zones are constantly at war with one another, with no clear winner ever seeming to emerge. Oceania is run by the Party, which asserts complete and total control over its citizens, right down to their thoughts. They enforce their new way of thinking by changing the language to reduce words which express free thought, issuing new slogans that seem to contradict one another, erasing and changing newspapers to reflect “new truth”, and employing a fearsome figurehead called Big Brother to remind citizens that he is watching them at all times.

Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party, is a records editor at the Ministry of Truth. He soon finds himself struggling internally with the thought control and slogans of the Party, taking serious issue with how they handle “truth.” Winston’s doubts are amplified when he meets Julia, with whom he falls in love, which in and of itself is another crime. Together, they begin an illicit affair which seems to awaken their spirits, and they soon seek to rebel against the Party. They begin talks with a member of the Inner Party called O’Brien, who seems to have connections with the Resistance. However, O’Brien sets Winston and Julia up, and through a series of elaborate torture techniques, including starvation, physical pain, and a visit to a terrifying room called Room 101, breaks their spirits—and their free thought—once and for all. At the end, this victory over Winston and Julia reasserts the Party’s dominance over the minds of the people in a frightening display of psychological power in the hands of a totalitarian government.

Essential Questions for 1984 by George Orwell

  1. What are some of the essential warnings readers should take from this novel?
  2. How can changing vocabulary also change thought?
  3. Why is government-controlled media so dangerous?
  4. Can individuals influence change in their society or government?
  5. What are some warning signs for when a ruling group or government is becoming too powerful and overstepping its bounds?
  6. Why is propaganda dangerous? How can it define a society’s beliefs?
  7. Why is maintaining individual privacy so important?
  8. Why is it important to question many leaders, laws, and systems, rather than to always willingly accept them?

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