Animal Farm Socratic Seminar
Here’s your chance to put your literary analysis, listening, and speaking skills to the test and impress your instructor and your peers.
What is it?
A Socratic Seminar is a student-led discussion that is based on an “essential question.” A seminar consists of four elements:
1. The text – George Orwell’s Animal Farm
2. The questions
- How does the desire for power corrupt humans’ desire for social ideals?
- How does human nature undermine our desire for peace, equality, and justice?
3. The leader - Offers the initial question then plays a dual role as leader and participant.
4. The participants - Study the text in advance, listen actively, and share ideas using evidence from the text for support.
Your task: Answer the essential questions above through a close reading of the text.
In order to prepare for the Socratic Seminar for Animal Farm you will need to gather significant quotations and examples from the book. I will be grading you, in part, on your level of preparedness.
STEP #1: FINDING EVIDENCE FROM ANIMAL FARM
Column 1 — Quotation / Synopsis of scene
Record the quotation or write a synopsis of the scene that speaks to the questions, and record the page number(s)
Column 2 — Connections
Record connections to the essential questions, to other parts of the text or the text as a whole, to other texts (written, visual, or oral), to personal experience (self), or to the world. You should also record any deeper questions that the passage raises. These deeper questions do not have yes/no answers; rather, they beg answers that are thoughtful, meaningful, insightful, and require critical thinking.
STEP #2: COMPILING THE BEST EXAMPLES OF EVIDENCE
Find within your annotations the best specific examples from the book that help to answer the above essential questions. For the seminar, you must have a total of 3 “quote sandwiches.” A quote sandwich consists of an introduction, the quotation, its context, and commentary on the quotation.
Suggested examples or ideas:
- How does the issue of power appear in this section? How is it acquired or exercised? Who has it? Who doesn’t? Who abuses it? (context)
- How does Orwell want you to feel about power in this section? How do you know? (commentary)
- How do things go wrong in this section? Why do the animals’ original utopian ideas fail? (commentary)
In Old Major’s speech to the animals of Manor Farm, he gives a clear indication of the relationship between those in power and the powerless. It is this relationship that undermines any chance of peace, equality, or justice. He says: “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing….Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself” (29). In his speech, Old Major sets up a dichotomy: the workers, or producers, and the owners, those who own and control the means and yields of production. The animals are powerless to keep the products of their bodies and their labor, while man uses the animals for his own benefit, neglecting those who made the benefits possible. Orwell wants his readers to see this relationship as patently unfair. This is evident in the language Old Major uses to describe the situation when he says: “the whole of the produce of our labor is stolen from us by human beings.” It is further elucidated when Old Major goes on to say that, should the animals remove man from the picture, “the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever.” Finally, Old Major says: “all the evils of this life of ours spring from the tyranny of human beings.” Peace, equality, and justice are antithetical to the values of the tyrant, whose power is often exercised cruelly and unjustly. This speech sets the stage for the Rebellion, which should bring about an utopian society in which “all the produce of [the animals’] labor would be our own” and in which all the animals would be “rich and free.”
STEP #3: COMPILING GOOD DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
Write down 5 discussion questions that are related to the essential questions and that you might introduce to the group during the seminar. Remember, good discussion questions are “open ended” and produce more than just yes/no answers or answers that are easily found in the book. They require critical thinking, recognized in Bloom’s taxonomy as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. They are “so what” questions.
What are you supposed to do when you’re in a Socratic Seminar?
Refer to the text when needed during the discussion. A seminar is not a test of memory. You are not “learning a subject;” your goal is to understand the ideas, issues, and values reflected in the text.
- Ask questions about the reading or issues related to the reading.
- Ask for clarification of something you don’t understand.
- Make judgments that can be defended with the text.
- Locate facts and examples that can be cited as evidence for an argument.
- Connect the reading to the real world
- It’s OK to “pass” when asked to contribute.
- Do not participate if you are not prepared. A seminar should not be a bull session.
- Stick to the point currently under discussion; make notes about ideas you want to come back to.
- Move the seminar forward—avoid repetitions.
- Don’t raise hands; take turns speaking.
- Listen attentively and patiently.
- Exhibit mature behavior with patience and self-control.
- Speak up so that all can hear you.
- Talk to each other, not just to the leader or teacher.
- Be aware of time in terms of how long you speak and in terms of the needs of others to speak.
- Use specific examples when you speak and avoid generalizations.
- Avoid speaking for the group; use “I statements” when possible.
- Avoid interrupting someone when he or she is speaking and avoid side conversations.
How will you be graded?
1. By coming to the seminar prepared with…
- 5 excellent discussion questions (10 points)
- 3 quote “sandwiches” (35 points)
- your annotations (double-entry journal) of Animal Farm (30 points).
2. By participating at least 3 times in a meaningful way during the seminar. To participate in a meaningful way means to make a comment, make a connection to the text, ask a question that builds on what other participants are saying, etc. (15 points)
3. By being an academic participant. I will be watching your conduct and grading you accordingly (10 points). Do you…
- Speak loudly and clearly?
- Stick with the subject?
- Avoid inappropriate language (slang, technical terms, sloppy diction, etc.)?
- Seem prepared/interested?
- Listen to others respectfully?