Although propaganda techniques are frequently explored in history classes, George Orwell's 1984 presents a unique opportunity to not only delve into the various types of propaganda, but to also explore their historical context. Book 1 is spent establishing Orwell's hellish dystopia, and it is loaded with varying examples of techniques. In this set of lessons, students will learn a set of propaganda techniques, identify them in Book 1 of 1984, and finally investigate why they are used in the text.
Teaching the Techniques
Before looking at the propaganda in context, students should understand the definition of propaganda. According to Merriam-Webster, propaganda is defined as "ideas or statements that are often false or exaggerated and that are spread in order to help a cause, a political leader, a government, etc". Using wartime examples to support this definition is very helpful (ample samples can be found online). Additionally, teaching the techniques using only definitions is less effective than using actual examples. Before analyzing 1948, students should have basic understanding of these propaganda methods. Commercials are also very useful for this purpose. Use the Propaganda Technique Note Sheet provided to review the definitions. After teaching the definitions, the provided quiz is a helpful way to reinforce. It is wise to teach the techniques before beginning 1984; this will allow students to deeply analyze how the society illustrated is a dystopia.
Discovering the Techniques in 1984
In the opening sections of 1984, Orwell highlights the various ways the government oppresses the populous, and propaganda is heavily used. For example, the numerous "Big Brother is Watching You" posters posted around Oceania embody slogan, ad nauseam, and appeal to fear. One way to have students analyze propaganda is with the attached Propaganda Presentation Activity. After reading the first section of the novel, split the class into groups and assign propaganda techniques (ad nauseam, appeal to authority, appeal to fear, glittering generalities, slogan, and transfer work very well, although the others still apply in more nuanced ways). Have each group create a presentation teaching the rest of the class how the technique relates.