The Invasion of the Dragons

Or, pre-teaching The Battle of the Cowshed in Animal Farm

On Monday, I started class by playing epic battle music to pique the students' curiosity. I had them grab a piece of construction paper or open to a drawing app. Then I led them, step by step, to draw their home, its surroundings, invading dragons, and their familes' defense against the dragons. 

They could not believe they were drawing dragons in English class. Fair enough. I then had them share their strategies (which I later referred to as "tactics") for defending their home from the fire-breathing or otherwise generally terrifying dragons. 

These were their tactics: 

Then they predicted what might happen in Animal Farm (the invasion of the humans), and they began to read. While they were reading and listening to the chapter, they generated a list of all the elements of the battle. Then, they attempted to diagram the it. Marla found this activity, and it was fun for almost all the students and required them to pay very close attention to the book. 

There are so many elements to this book; I think I could teach it for six months and not run out of material. There are all the basic reading habits and self-monitoring strategies, plus inferential comrehension and indirect characterization, coupled with remembering all the animals, and then of course understanding the Russian Revolution and the ways it does (or does not, according to Orwell) allegorize the proletariat uprising and its aftermath. 

I often don't know what is working and what isn't. Or, I don't know what they know and what they don't. I don't know if it makes more sense to present them with content and have them engage with it or to have them discover the material for themselves. I hope that by providing scaffolding, creating an engaging atmosphere, and requiring students to make their thinking visible, that they will internalize both the reading strategies and the content we practice.

Whatever they spend the most mental energy thinking about is what will stick. I want them to remember how to read closely--not just the day we drew invading dragons in English class.