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A Utopian Revolution

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Keywords: Flip Video, 1984, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, Teaching in Action
Subject(s): Reading, Social Studies, English/Language Arts, Civics, History
Grades 9 through 12
NETS-S Standard:
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Research and Information Fluency
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
View Full Text of Standards
School: Bishop Mora Salesian School, Los Angeles, CA
Planned By: John DeFour
Original Author: John DeFour, Los Angeles
A. Bell work is on board for students to write in their journals. Prompt – “Describe the perfect society. Some important points to consider: What types of government, laws, religion, agriculture, commerce, industry, etc. would you have?”.

1. While class is still writing the teacher covers the door window and classroom windows and plays “revolutionary” type music (Teacher may want to cover windows in advance if there are many). There should be another teacher or teaching assistant to help with this lesson.

2. The teacher provides explanation based on the following to students:
a. World War 3 has just occurred and nuclear weapons have decimated the world. This classroom was protected from the blast. We may be the only people left in the world. We cannot leave the classroom until the nuclear fallout and radiation has settled down. It is up to us (emphasize that everyone is equally in control) to build our own society from the beginning in the classroom. It is important to maintain a relationship of equality with students and let them make as many decisions as possible while guiding them in the right direction.
3. Students are asked what is most important in creating the new society. Request two volunteers to write ideas on the board.
4. Teacher says that before a decision can be made on the type of society everyone need to have jobs in order to build a foundation. The students are asked about what type of jobs are needed to be sustainable. The teacher can suggest Agriculture, Industrial, Security, and Commerce in order to help students understand what kind of jobs are needed.
5. The teacher asks students to pick four categories to focus on by a raise of hands.
6. Students are then split into groups by the teacher and asked to move desks to provide a work area. Each group is given one Flip Video and told to document their progress and thoughts about the new society that is being created. The teacher helping will also be given a Flip Video to document the events.
7. Teacher distributes paper and markers to students and explains that each group needs to come up with a name for their group, a motto, a flag, and two items they produce or make in accordance with which job they have. They must also decorate their papers.
8. Throughout student’s group discussions remind students that this is all for the great society that is being built where everyone is on the same level.
9. Teacher, as times goes on, emphasizes through actions the lack of equality by not having a job, and can eventually be sipping on a drink with feet up on desk shouting encouragement to students and reminders of equality. Teacher also walks around encouraging students to continue the hard work. Eventually the shouts of encouragement should sound more like orders and demands.
10. The first group to finish their objective is rewarded with candy and praise and free time to do as they please for a minute before getting back to work on another job decided by teacher (or more of what they are currently working on) Next groups to finish are not rewarded and told to continue working on the job right away until it is perfect.
11. Ask groups to present what they have accomplished and explain that they need to keep working until it is perfect.
12. The teacher helping with the Flip Video should begin privately questioning the "perfect" society that is being create: “Is this the ‘perfect’ society we were trying to make? Is everyone perfect or are some not doing as much work (motioning to the teacher with feet up on desk)”, “What about all the other things on the board that we wanted? Did the teacher forget about them?” “Why doesn’t the teacher have a job if we are all equal?” And other questions of this sort.
13. Continue to emphasize inequality until more than half of the students are vocalizing their concerns (warning: this could end with classes shouting in unison "down with [insert your name])
14. Turn off the lights and pull down covers on the windows to indicate the end of the activity.

AA. The teacher asks students how they felt about the activity. Through reflection the students develop stronger opinions about how a perfect society must work. The teacher introduces the concept of a totalitarian form of government and gives examples from history.
BB. Define Utopia and Totalitarianism together and have students use the vocabulary graphic organizer.
3. Give students the following questions to answer in their journals or notes:
a. Can a Utopian society actually exist? Why or why not?
b. Is a Utopian society dependant upon the individual and his or her inner morality or upon the outside force of a governing system? Why do you think this?
c. Which is easier to create, a utopian society or a totalitarian society? Why?
d. Can a totalitarian society be a utopia?
e. What do you think anti-utopian means?

There are many ways to incorporate technology into this lesson, but the under resourced school (not enough projectors or televisions) that I use this lesson in requires it to be simplified. Adding things like video footage of world disasters to begin the lesson and make it seem more "real" and video updates from some unknown shadowy figure (similar to Big Brother) about the disaster of the world outside (like the constant wars going on in the book).
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
This lesson can be used as a way of exploring different forms of government and societies in social studies classes.
As a follow up to the activity the teacher can edit or have students edit the footage into a montage or documentary style movie as a project or for extra credit. The video can then be viewed at the end of the unit to review what was learned and reflect upon the similarities and differences between George Orwell's world and the world we created in the classroom.
Materials: Flip Video