George Orwell’s “1984”: Discussion Topics


Guide to level: Reading the unadapted novel “1984” will probably be too difficult for learners below a C1 CEF level. These discussion questions, however, could also work (with more scaffolding) with B1-B2 learners, who, for example, have watched a film of “1984”, acted out scenes, or read certain extracts. Tasks may need to be adapted accordingly.

Introduction: A literary studies class/lesson will necessarily a novel in a different way to an EFL/ESOL class. The tasks below are basically discussions which link some key themes from George Orwell’s “1984” to students’ modern lives and provide practise in oral communication. Other skills such as comparing/contrasting, debating, finding examples, expressing one’s own opinion, and justifying one’s own opinion, are also trained, and the discussion tasks can be used to recycle lexis or grammar structures from previous topics of study on a course.

Procedure: One way of using the tasks in a lesson would be to divide the class into small groups, each of which can work on one of the discussion tasks. To ensure that everyone in the small group participates in the discussion, you could either assign roles, or use the ‘placemat method’ to gather ideas before they begin to discuss. Each group can then present their general findings and conclusions to the class and discuss these in plenary. For classes in an EFL setting, you can also encourage students to use English-langauge press and media to find out about current affairs/events which might connect in to their discussions, and then make the project longer to include a web-quest or similar activities.

Depending on your class and course, you can choose a language focus. For example, you could look at polite phrases used in discussions (e.g. for agreeing, disagreeing, adding an example, expressing an opinion, etc) – then display these in the room whilst students are discussing tasks in small groups and encourage them to use a phrase from the list each time they speak. This may, at first, seem rather artificial, but the more often they use the phrases, the more natural this kind of language will become for them.


Task 1) Draw up and complete a chart highlighting issues surrounding privacy in the novel and today’s society. Do you see any similarities? Which situation do you think would be/is worse to live in, and why?

e.g. in the novel, Telescreens are everwhere  –  in our society, there are lots of CCTV surveillance cameras

Task 2) Compare and contrast the concepts of technological surveillance that Orwell predicted in “1984” and the forms of technological surveillance that are used today. How accurate were his predictions? What further developments do you predict we will witness in the next 20-30 years?

Task 3) “The impact of a privacy violation differs if the policy is implemented by a government or by a corporation.” Discuss –  Does it matter who is violating your privacy? Why (not)?

Task 4) Discuss ways in which the news media may shape public opinion regarding privacy issues. For example, what might be the effects of a nightly news feature that discusses economic losses due to employee drug abuse? What if it featured an employee who had a false positive drug test and was subsequently fired?

Task 5) Why are the following terms from the novel ironic? Find examples of where these ironies are highlighted in the novel and real life.

– fighting for peace
– ‘unpeople’
– thought crime

Task 6) Have you ever felt that your privacy is threatened by the government, corporations, the media, or anyone else? Have you ever had any experiences in which you felt that your rights to privacy were violated? Have you ever been in a situation that is reminiscent of a situation that occurs in “1984”? Can individuals do anything to protect their own privacy?

See also:


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