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Shooting an Elephant By George Orwell

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Student Activities for Shooting an Elephant Include:

”Shooting An Elephant” by George Orwell is a seemingly biographical account of Orwell (real name Eric Blair) and his experience as a Burmese police officer in the British Indian colony. While there have been debates as to whether or not Orwell was actually the officer depicted in the story, or if it was a colleague, the focus of the story is on the narrator’s internal struggle to complete his duty as an officer of the British Empire in order to avoid looking like a fool in front of the Burmese people. While the narrator knows that he needs to carry out certain duties because of his position, he does not necessarily feel that the British oppression of the Burmese people is the right thing. However, the Burmese people do not make his job easy because they resent his position as an oppressor, and this creates an ugly cycle of escalating ill-treatment on both sides. Thus, British Imperialism as a whole comes under fire in the narrative, a common theme of Orwell’s writings. In this short story, Orwell explores important themes such as the evils of imperialism, the crisis of conscience, and the struggle with pride.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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East India Company and British Colonialism

The East India Company was established in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth I to share in the spice trade. Eventually, the company became a foothold for the British Empire’s spread into the Indian subcontinent. The British Empire, at its height, became the largest empire in the world; however, its exploitation of native peoples in its territories led to disastrous consequences. In India, famine became a regular occurrence, and the economic policies of Britain led to severe poverty. Students can read more about impact of the East India Company and the British Raj at the following sites:


The Telegraph has great photos for students to view of life in the British Raj. The obvious class differences between the British and native Indians is startling.


Essential Questions for “Shooting An Elephant”

  1. Why is imperialism damaging to the native people of a country?
  2. Why is following one’s conscience important?
  3. How can pride get in the way of making good decisions?
  4. What kinds of resentments can build up between an occupied people and their despotic government?
  5. What is a dilemma?
  6. How do dilemmas reveal important characteristics and personality traits?

Shooting an Elephant Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

“Shooting An Elephant” Summary


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example “Shooting An Elephant” Plot Diagram

Exposition

As a young British Imperial police officer in Moulmein, Burma, the narrator is routinely subjected to hateful stares, jeers, and insults. The Burmese people have an intense disdain for their British oppressors, but while the narrator internally agrees and sympathizes with them, he also knows that he has a job and a position to uphold for the time being.


Conflict

The narrator is called about an elephant that has gone “must”, or mad, and has been showing aggressive behavior in the local bazaar. The mahout, the trainer and caretaker of the elephant, had gone out searching for the elephant after it escaped, but he went in the wrong direction. The narrator takes a rifle and goes out in search of the elephant, but isn’t sure what he will do when he finds it.


Rising Action

The narrator comes across the elephant who has just killed a native Dravidian coolie. The narrator sends someone for an elephant rifle and a crowd gathers. While the narrator initially sent for the rifle for defense, the gathering crowd follows him as he finds the elephant peacefully eating grass in the field. While the narrator knows the elephant is no longer a danger, the 2,000 people behind him want a show. If he simply walks away, he will look like a fool.


Climax

The narrator does not want to shoot the elephant. The elephant is an important and expensive possession, and the narrator sees no sense in killing him. But, his pride and his position as a white police officer makes him decide to shoot anyways. The narrator doesn’t know how to shoot to kill an elephant, and the elephant falls to the ground in agony, but does not die.


Falling Action

The narrator continues to shoot the elephant in places where he thinks the death will come quickly, but he’s not totally sure of the elephant’s anatomy. Several shots to his chest and head don’t work. The elephant continues to suffer until finally the narrator has to walk away. The Burmans strip the dead elephant to the bones.


Resolution

The narrator recounts the aftermath of the shooting. The owner was furious, but the owner was an Indian, so his opinion did not count for much. Because the elephant had killed the coolie man, the narrator was legally in the right for killing the elephant. One European man mused that it was a shame to kill the elephant for killing a coolie, because the elephant is worth more financially. The narrator knows he did it because he didn’t want to look like a fool.



Plot Diagram for "Shooting An Elephant"

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of “Shooting An Elephant”.


  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.



Plot Diagram Template

Example

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Analyzing the Narrator’s Dilemma in “Shooting An Elephant”


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Often in literature, characters have to make important choices, even when the outcomes are equally unpleasant. This is called a dilemma, and many students will be able to identify with being stuck “between a rock and a hard place”, much like characters are in their various conflicts in a story. Have students analyze the dilemma the narrator encounters in “Shooting An Elephant” as they read and speculate on the potential outcomes of the narrator’s choices. Have them incorporate their findings into a storyboard like the example below.


Introduction
The narrator sees the elephant has calmed down, and no longer poses a threat, but the crowd behind him is anxious for him to do something.


Problem 1
If the narrator tries to gauge the elephant’s aggression, he could get stuck in the mud, panic, and be killed by the elephant in front of the spectators who will probably just laugh. If he walks away, he will also be seen as a fool and a coward.

Problem 2
If the narrator shoots the elephant, he will be harming the owner financially because the elephant is an important labor animal. In addition, the narrator doesn’t want to kill the animal-- he feels guilty for shooting an animal for being an animal, and especially because he no longer poses a threat.


Analyzing the Narrator's Dilemma in "Shooting An Elephant"

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that analyzes a dilemma that a character is facing in "Shooting an Elephant".


  1. Identify the problem and depict it in the "Introduction" cell.
  2. Show and discuss the character's possible choices under "Problem 1" and "Problem 2".
  3. Save and submit the assignment.



Dilemma Template Grid

Example

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Literary Conflict Student Activity for “Shooting An Elephant”


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Storyboarding is an excellent way to focus on types of literary conflicts.

Having students create storyboards that show the cause and effect of different types of conflicts strengthens analytical thinking about literary concepts. 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 “Shooting An Elephant”

MAN vs. SELF

The narrator is in conflict with his pride and his conscience over whether or not to shoot the elephant. The elephant’s “must” has passed and he is now peaceful; it would be relatively easy to keep an eye on him until the mahout returns. However, the crowd behind the narrator waiting for him to show his muscle as a police officer makes him scared that they will laugh at him if he simply walks away or allows himself to get killed by the elephant.


MAN vs. NATURE

An elephant in “must” (spelled musth), is in a state of heightened aggression in young male elephants. Elephants in musth have been known to violently attack other elephants, other animals, and people who get in their way. The elephant in the story has already knocked down a hut, killed a cow, knocked over a garbage van, and eaten the stock from fruit stalls. When he kills the Dravidian coolie, his aggression has reached its peak.


MAN vs. SOCIETY

The narrator is a police officer for the occupying British leadership, but he finds himself empathizing and siding with the plight of the oppressed Burmans. He hates his job and he hates the terrible side of the dirty work of the Empire. He has to keep his beliefs to himself, though, even though he also hates the way that the Burmans treat him because of the position he holds.


Literary Conflict in "Shooting An Elephant"

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows at least three forms of literary conflict in “Shooting An Elephant”.


  1. Identify conflicts in “Shooting An Elephant”.
  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.



Literary Conflict Template

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Themes, Symbols, and Motifs Student Activity for “Shooting An Elephant”


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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 story, and support their choices with details from the text.


“Shooting An Elephant” Themes to Look For and Discuss

The Evils of Imperialism

The story highlights the evils of imperialism, including the dirty work of neglected prisoners and bamboo beatings. The narrator is plagued with guilt over the part he plays in perpetuating the treatment of the Burmans. The story also highlights the cycle of resentment that comes with a people who are being oppressed by a despotic government: the more they rebel and mistreat the occupying forces, the more the occupying forces’ disdain increases and the punishments become more severe. This leads to more resentment by the people, and more resentment by the occupiers. The Burmans are unarmed, totally reliant on the British government, impoverished, and subjugated. The narrator is a part of this imperial machine, but he hates it because he sees its downsides and its victims.


The Crisis of Conscience

The narrator struggles with his conscience over killing the elephant. After he shoots the elephant, he finds that he didn’t do it correctly, and the suffering of the animal causes him to eventually have to walk away. He finds out later that the elephant took a half an hour to die; he is plagued by this guilt for many years afterwards because he knows that he made the wrong decision for all of the wrong reasons.


The Struggle with Pride

The narrator struggles with his conscience because he doesn’t want to look like a fool by walking away from the elephant in front of the Burman crowd. Even worse, he doesn’t want to accidentally be killed by the elephant, which the crowd would observe with laughter. He muses that his predicament is a reflection of the “futility of the white man’s dominion in the East.” He sees himself as a puppet whose strings are being pulled by the crowd, and that even though his position is supposed to put him in control, he very much is not in control of anything at all.



“Shooting An Elephant” Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Elephant

The elephant can be seen as a symbol of the people oppressed by British Imperialism. The elephant is chained up but breaks free, and follows its natural behavior. When it has expended its energies and revenge, it is peaceful. However, despite its calm and peaceful demeanor, it is punished not because of its sins, but because of the arbitrary ideals of the man holding the rifle, who is desperately trying to hold on to his semblance of power – much like the despotic government itself.


The Crowd

The Burmans are not merely spectators to the scene; they act as a catalyst for the narrator’s decision to take action against the elephant. The narrator knows that if he stands in front of the elephant and it doesn’t charge him, then the elephant is over his rage; however, to simply walk away from the crowd without doing anything would make him look stupid. The crowd’s expectations challenge the narrator’s ego and authority, and causes him to violate his conscience.



Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in "Shooting An Elephant"

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in “Shooting An Elephant”. 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 “Shooting An Elephant” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.



Template: Theme

Example

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Vocabulary Lesson Plan for “Shooting An Elephant”


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from “Shooting An Elephant”. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the story, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.


“Shooting An Elephant” Vocabulary

  • imperialism
  • bazaar
  • despotic
  • mahout
  • labyrinth
  • coolie
  • miry
  • garish
  • sahib
  • betel
  • Raj
  • supplant

Vocabulary in "Shooting An Elephant"

Example

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in “Shooting An Elephant” 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.



Vocabulary Template Blank

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