We hope teachers will find the Orwell Youth Prize programme a valuable way of introducing students to writing independently, as well as Orwell’s own work. But there are many other ways of using Orwell in the classroom.
Whatever your subject – politics, English, history, citizenship, drama to name but a few – whatever the age group – the Orwell Foundation website also has a wealth of additional resources about Orwell and his work These are available free to everyone, regardless of whether you or your school are currently involved with the Youth Prize.
Our resources include works by George Orwell, works about George Orwell and video of events run by the Orwell Prize on politics and literature. Below we provide a useful guide to material that might be of particular interest in the classroom; much more is available through the publishers of Orwell, Penguin and Harvill Secker, and the works below are reproduced under copyright of them and the Orwell Estate and with their kind permission.
Works by Orwell
There is a dedicated webpage for each of Orwell’s six novels – Burmese Days, A Clergyman’s Daughter, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Coming Up for Air and of course Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four – and three major non-fiction works – Down and Out in Paris and London, The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia.
Additionally, a selection of other essays and short works (including poetry) by Orwell is available.
There are also three blogs of diaries written by Orwell:
- 1938-42, includes eyewitness accounts of the Blitz and the run up to WWII (as well as Orwell’s time in Morocco and his experiences of keeping animals and growing vegetables…)
- Hop-picking (1931), follows some of Orwell’s tramping exploits and his experience of picking hops in Kent, which many urban workers and their families would do in the summer
- The Road to Wigan Pier (1936), includes Orwell’s research for the book of the same name
Works about Orwell
Our Big Brother The Orwell Foundation has links to analysis, reviews and other material based on Orwell’s life and work; the most relevant to individual novels and diaries should already be linked to from the relevant novel and diary pages.
Orwell Foundation events
Many of our Orwell Foundation events based on Orwell’s life and work and might be useful. These include:
- events comparing Orwell and Dickens (2009 and 2010)
- events comparing Orwell and Kipling (2011 and 2012)
- an event comparing Orwell and Waugh (2010)
- Chris Durlacher on producing George Orwell: A Life in Pictures (with the original here)
- Orwell’s son Richard Blair in conversation with biographer D. J. Taylor.
The Orwell Youth Prize also filmed our own exclusive interview with Richard Blair, which you can see here. Additionally, there are events based on themes Orwell wrote about (such as 2012’s ‘Poverty then and now, Orwell and his successors’), events about political writing more generally (such as ‘Autopsy of a Story’ with three shortlisted journalists dissecting their work and debates like ‘What makes a good political novel?’ with a critic and political novelists), and many events discussing different aspects of politics and society.
Below are a few examples of works, or combinations of works, which could work particularly well in the classroom or workshops. They have been selected based on the depth of what we have available, but also the sorts of exercises that they could be used for (e.g. comparing source material with the finished product) and curriculum relevance.
For historical source analysis – especially World War II – we have Orwell’s 1938-42 diaries. These also include other interesting contemporary sources, or links to them, such as a public information leaflet on masking windows in July 1939. Most striking are the newspaper articles Orwell references (and which the Diaries blog includes) in the approach to war, summer 1939, e.g. the surprise as the Nazi Soviet Pact is signed in August 1939.
These could help pupils improve their reading of historical sources, contribute to their historical understanding and be used to stimulate wider discussion. Orwell’s diaries can also be read as preparatory work for his longer essays and work, which could be an engaging way of comparing rough drafts with finished products.
For instance, The Road to Wigan Pier diary and Orwell’s other notes (e.g. Barnsley) were obviously kept with The Road to Wigan Pier in mind. Orwell’s Morocco diary (September 1938 to March 1939, part of the 1938-42 diaries) provides the basis for the essay ‘Marrakech’, while the Hop-Picking diaries are used for Down and Out in Paris and London, A Clergyman’s Daughter and essays including ‘Hop-picking’, ‘A Day in the Life of a Tramp’ and ‘The Spike’ (and the links from the Hop-Picking blog include newsreel and other materials).
A simple question would be: how does Orwell turn this material into essays and books? More complex questions might touch on the motivations, ethics and effects of this editing is. This extract from chapter one of Wigan Pier could be a starting point, as is this Observer article, which considers Orwell’s fact and fiction, and articles by Orwell winners, Timothy Garton Ash and Neal Ascherson on journalist Ryszard Kapuściński.
Individual essays that could prompt discussion – a few suggestions
Orwell wrote a number of compelling, accessible essays about language and literature: what do we think of Orwell’s rules? What should the role of literature be?
- Why I Write
- Politics and the English Language
- The Freedom of the Press
- The Prevention of Literature
- Inside the Whale
Eyewitness/descriptive essays: how does Orwell use imagery and other techniques?
Orwell’s essays about politics and ideas (these could be particularly useful in 20th century history – WWII; The Cold War; decolonization etc):
- In Front Of Your Nose
- You and the Atom Bomb
- Reflections on Gandhi
- In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse
- My Country Right or Left
- The Lion and the Unicorn
He was also a master at writing about the particular to make a more general point:
- The Art of Donald McGill
- Food, for example – what does it tell us about politics/society?
- Books vs Cigarettes – the London Word Festival once did an event which reimagined the ‘Books vs…’ contest for the 21st Century.
Reviews of authors on the curriculum
Orwell’s best-known pieces of criticism include his essays on Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling; lesser-known reviews include an essay on W. B. Yeats.
Works about particular novels
We have a wealth of background material on all of Orwell’s works, many of which are curriculum stalwarts.
- for Nineteen Eighty-Four we have Orwell’s essays about language, politics and culture, works by others adapting it, reviews and analysis which could all give a fresh perspective
- for Animal Farm we have essays concerned with similar themes, Orwell’s proposed prefaces, reviews, analysis and the stories behind the rejections and adaptations
Related works by others
We have pieces about other works contemporary to Orwell. For example, how does Orwell’s reportage in Down and Out (e.g.) compare to other similar works? How was it received by similar authors? And how do Orwell’s dystopias/representations of politics compare to others? (Not least those, like Zamyatin and Koestler, whose works he reviewed.)
We have some material on adaptations. How have others adapted Orwell and his work? For example, Mike Radford and the BBC on Nineteen Eighty Four, Chris Durlacher on adapting Orwell’s life, the story about the cartoon film of Animal Farm. How would you adapt Orwell?
And we have pieces by those inspired by Orwell. How have others followed in Orwell’s footsteps? For example, Emma Larkin in Burma, Stephen Armstrong and others to Wigan. How would you approach a similar project?
English Language Practice Papers
We have prepared these GCSE AQA-style exam practice papers to give you a helping hand – and to promote the Orwell Youth Prize (registered charity 1156494).
Scripts – which would allow performance
Many radio scripts by Orwell exist, such as adaptations of Animal Farm and various fairy tales. These can be found in the Orwell Archive and in editions of the Complete Works.
However, online we have a Christmas edition of his radio poetry programme, Voice as well as his own poetry. We also have a short one scene piece by a young Orwell called ‘Free Will’. There is also one chapter of A Clergyman’s Daughter, set in Trafalgar Square, which is written entirely in dramatic form.