Getting your young readers hooked on a good story doesn’t have to be too difficult, but sometimes comprehending the story isn’t enough. Sometimes comprehending the meaning behind the story requires us to think on a deeper level. For me, those are the best kinds of books.
One of my favorites in that respect is Animal Farm by George Orwell.
Basically a political treatise disguised as a children’s fable, Animal Farm has all the things. And since it does, it might take a little work to get your readers thinking about it and understanding it the way they should.
Don’t worry. I got you. But first let’s talk about some of the key strategies for reading comprehension that you should implement no matter what you’re reading.
Comprehension strategies explained
Real quick, let’s go through these strategies and see how they help your littles. (Then I promise, a whole slew of fun activities for Animal Farm.)
Summarizing is just what it sounds like–being able to read a chapter and then tell what it’s about in a few short sentences. Think of the synopsis on a back book cover. It covers the main events of the story without too much detail. Summarizing requires your child to determine what’s most important in the story and use her own words to relate the important parts. For an in-depth looks at summarizing, check out Summarizing: What is it and How do I Teach It? from Jen at Happy Teacher Mama.
Sequencing is just listing the events of the story in order. It’s the beginning-middle-end part of comprehension. Sequencing helps your child organize the information and ideas of a story without getting confused.
Making inferences is basically just drawing conclusions based on experience. Inferring while reading is a way to steer your child toward problem-solving skills. Inferring requires him to take various specific pieces of information and put them together to draw a conclusion. For a brilliant look at using storyboarding to teach inference, check out How to Teach Inference Through Storyboarding from Ginny at Not So Formulaic. To learn how to use a KWL chart, check out Activating Prior Knowledge from Vicki at Babies to Bookworms.
Comparing and Contrasting
Comparing and contrasting parts of the story, characters, settings, or even one story to another is great for leading your young readers to inferences and deepening understanding of the text. You can use charts, Venn diagrams, or even a simple opinion essay to get your reader thinking of the differences and similarities of the required subjects.
I mean, see inferencing. You can, of course, draw new conclusions that will help with the story, but we almost always need some kind of background reference for that.
This is basically just a set of steps the reader takes to generate, think about, predict, and answer questions based on the text being read. For instance, as you’re reading the story do you wonder why a character said or did a certain thing? Do you take a moment to ask yourself the question and try to infer the answer? For questions you can ask to get your littles thinking, check out 8 Questions to Increase Reading Comprehension from Erin at My Storytime Corner.
This just means using information within the text and from your own experience to understand meaning. As your child begins to problem-solve while she reads, she will read more accurately, more fluently, and with better comprehension of the text.
This is exactly what it sounds like: having your littles visualize the story in their heads. For more information, read A Sure Fire Way to Visualize with the Senses by Allison at The House That Lalli Built.
Distinguishing between fact and opinion
This might not be quite as important in fiction as in nonfiction, but even in a story it helps if you can tell what is really happening versus how the character feels about what is happening.
Finding the main idea, important facts, and supporting details
Sometimes kids have trouble knowing exactly what the main idea of a passage is. It can help to have them list the important facts and work backwards. Recognizing what is important, what details support it, and how that all leads to the single main idea is maybe the most important strategy for reading comp. Because if you don’t get the main point, how are you really getting anything else?
Animal Farm Activities for Learning
Each of these ideas will support one of the above comprehension strategies. Your child certainly does not have to do them all in order to get a better grasp of Animal Farm by George Orwell, but doing a few from each category would make for a much better understanding of the book. Teaching comprehension strategies can be as simple as having the right tools.
- Write an entry in your diary describing the farm as it is at the beginning of the story from the point of view of one of the animals
- Pretend you are an animal listening to Old Major’s speech and write an entry about how the speech made you feel
- Write an entry about the success of the rebellion and how it felt to destroy all the trapping that made the animals man’s slaves
- Write an entry about what the animals discovered in the farmhouse and how you would feel if you discovered such luxuries were nearby but kept from you for no apparent reason
- List the 7 commandments and describe what each would mean to you if you were one of the animals
- What might it be like to be one of the less literate animals and have to have everything explained to you rather than getting your ideas from the source? Write an entry about it.
- Write a diary entry about the Battle of Cowshed from one of the animal’s point of view.
- Write bout the Battle of Cowshed from one of the men’s point of view.
- Write an entry about what it’s like to work on the windmill project, including how it feels to have rations cut.
- Write an entry describing the storm that toppled the windmill.
- Write an entry telling about the extreme hunger of winter and how the animals keep their situation from the surrounding farms.
- Write an entry describing Napoleon’s inquisition and purge of the animals from Boxer’s point of view.
- Write an entry about Mr. Frederick’s attack on the farm and the final destruction of the windmill.
- Write an entry describing the patriotic celebrations held by the animals after the battle with Mr. Frederick.
- What would you do if someone you cared about was supposed to be getting help but in truth was sent somewhere bad or dangerous? Write an entry from one of the animals’ point of view when they watched Boxer leave in the cart.
- Write an entry describing the Spontaneous Demonstrations from the point of view of the sheep.
- Write an entry describing the life of the animals on the farm at the end of the book.
- Research Joseph Stalin
- Research Leon Trotsky
- Research Karl Marx
- Research the Socialist movement
- Research early 20th century Russia
- Research World Wars I & II
- Research allegory and personification and discuss how they are used in Animal Farm
- Research class structure throughout history such as the noble/peasant system in both Europe and China and the capitalist classes of today and discuss whether you believe humans could live in a classless society and what benefits it would have
- Research how propaganda is used for social control
Write a Letter
- Write a letter from Old Major to Mr. Jones telling him why the animals are miserable and what he could do to change it.
- Write a letter from Napoleon to Moses explaining why he has to stop talking about Sugarcandy Mountain.
- Write a letter from Mollie to Napoleon telling him why she needs her ribbons and sugar cubes.
- Write a letter from Benjamin to Boxer telling him that there’s really been no change in their lives other than who is leading them.
- Write a letter from the animals to Squealer explaining why it bothers them that the pigs are eating all the apples and drinking all the milk.
- Write a letter from Jessie or Bluebell to Napoleon telling him they don’t want him to be in charge of their puppies and why.
- Write a letter from the animals of Pilkington’s or Frederick’s Farm to the animals of Animal Farm asking them how to stage their own rebellion.
- Write a letter from Mr. Jones to the animals explaining why they should return control of the farm to him.
- Write a letter from Boxer to the stableboy expressing his regret at taking the boy’s life.
- Write a letter from Mollie to the other animals explaining why she left.
- Write a letter from Napoleon to the animals telling them why the windmill is a waste of time.
- Write a letter from the animals to Napoleon explaining why they are uncomfortable about Snowball’s banishment and Napoleon’s sudden grasp of power.
- Write a letter from Napoleon to Mr. Whymper requesting his services as a solicitor for the farm.
- Write a letter from the animals to Squealer reacting to the claim that there was never any law against trade and the use of money.
- Write a letter from Clover to Squealer questioning his claim that the commandment against sleeping in beds always contained the words “with sheets.”
- Write a letter from Napoleon to the other farms covering up the hunger of the winter of the windmill and pretending Animal Farm is flourishing.
- Write a letter from the animals to Boxer congratulating him on his hard work and telling him what an inspiration he is.
- Write a letter from the hens to Napoleon explaining why they don’t want to sell their eggs
- Write letters from Mr. Frederick and Mr. Pilkington to the animals discounting the rumors Napoleon spread about them.
- Write a letter from Clover to Boxer asking him to take care of his injury.
- Write a letter from the animals to Boxer in the ‘hospital’ wishing him well and telling him they miss him.
- Write a letter from Clover to Napoleon telling him why he shouldn’t walk upright and smoke a pipe.
- Write a letter to Squealer telling him why you agree or disagree that “some animals are more equal than others.”
- Write a letter from the animals to Napoleon responding the conversation they overheard between Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington.
- Discuss how the Soviet Union corrupted Socialism
- Discuss your opinion as to whether Socialism could really work in a human society
- Do you believe there is an inherent difference between intellectual labor and physical labor? Is one superior to the other? Should being capable of one type of labor put one above those who are incapable of it?
- Compare and contrast socialism, communism, fascism, and capitalism
- Napoleon basically rewrites history in order to get the animals on his side after he banishes Snowball (a common theme in Orwell’s work). Do you think this has ever happened in the real world? Explain why or why not.
- Discuss the similarities and differences between the animals working under Mr. Jones and working under Napoleon’s rule. Do you feel the rebellion brought the results for which the animals originally hoped?
- Discuss the way Napoleon blames Snowball for the destruction of the windmill in order to shift blame from himself. Governments have done this throughout history. Western countries even used the threat of communism to justify their own actions. See if you can find a time in history when a government blamed another entity for a problem and compare/contrast it to Napoleon’s actions.
- The actions of the pigs over the course of the book serve to remind us that supreme power corrupts. Discuss how and why it does so.
- Discuss violence as a form of governmental control
- The animals’ chant goes from “Four legs good, two legs bad,” to “Four legs good, two legs better.” Discuss how the changes on Animal Farm led to this drastic revision, and what it might mean to the common animals.
- Build a barn out of sugar cubes
- Make paper plate masks of the animals and act out scenes from the book
- Draw a windmill with chalk pastels
- Make a poster of the 7 Commandments of Animal Farm
- Make a wanted poster for Snowball
- Paint a portrait of Old Major
- Build a windmill from craft sticks and other household items
- Draw the card game at the end of the book, showing how the men and the pigs couldn’t be told apart
- Draw or paint a scene that includes all the animals
- Apple pie
- Apple butter
- Cornbread (there’s a delicious recipe in Dinner and a Movie: Squanto-A Warrior’s Tale)
- Baked potatoes with all the fixings
- Tea with sugar cubes
- Scrambled eggs
- Oh, have some sausage. Those pigs deserve to get eaten.
Before you go pick up this free printable to do the work on!
Writing letters, essays, and diary entries, researching the historical events the book allegorizes, creating crafts and food that relate to the book–all these things help your young readers to summarize, visualize, infer, compare, and question what they are reading. All the best strategies for reading comprehension can be found in these suggestions. Plus, they just make the book that much more enjoyable.
All the things. I told ya.
Don’t forget, this post is part of a series of posts on reading comprehension. Don’t miss the other posts!
Tuesday, 3/14, The House That Lalli Built- visualizing
Wednesday, 3/15, BAbies to Bookworms- activating prior knowledge
Thursday, 3/16, Not So Formulaic- inferencing through storyboards
Monday, 3/20, Happy Teacher Mama- how to teach summariazing
Wednesday, 3/22, My Storytime Corner- asking questions for reading comprehension
Be sure to follow along and learn some great strategies for teaching comprehension strategies!