After reading Anthem (or any dystopia novel for that matter), many students might think, “Well, that was a very strange waste of my time.” You need activities for teaching Anthem that engage critical thinking. The teacher’s job is to create learning experiences that enable the students to go beyond simple imagining and reach a more profound understanding.
These are some of my favorite Anthem activities for engaging students with the novella.
10 Anthem Activities
1) Designing a New Society
The first Anthem activity is a thought experiment. I want the students to think about the biggest problems that they see with their society and design a new society from scratch.
Start by having the students create a class chart of the biggest problems with their society. Students might bring up serious issues like climate change, economic injustice, prejudice, and violence or issues like the driving age and people wasting time on the internet. I don’t dismiss ideas that I consider trivial, after all, it is all subjective.
I break the students into groups to design their new society. I like to have them create a poster in order to present.
- The name of the new society
- Goals and values
- What the society is based upon
- What it is like for the people in this society
Once the students have established the basics, have them explain
- Economy (How do people get what they need? How is wealth determined?)
- Government (Who is in control? How are decisions made? What are the responsibilities of the government? What are the limits of governmental power?)
- Individualism (What rights do people have? What are the limits on personal freedom?How are differences or disputes settled?)
Discuss the visions as a class, and discuss which groups have governments and/or economies very different from what we have today. Many students naturally include forms of capitalism and democracy, but some groups will surprise you.
Explain that for thousands of years philosophers have been thinking about how to make a perfect society. People are often trying to improve society in different ways, but there have also been revolutionary changes (some with disastrous consequences.)
Many authors have offered their hypothetical examples of strange societies. Explain that in Anthem, Ayn Rand imagines a society based on some very interesting rules, including the abolition of singular personal pronouns (I, me, my, mine, his, her, etc.) Ask students why a society would eliminate the word I.
2) Cold War Cartoons
Explain that in a capitalist economy individuals can own capital (money and resources) and the means of production (factories, fields, machines, etc.) Ask the students, “What are some other ways that an economy could work?” Explain the ideological divisions of the twentieth century and the Cold War as necessary.
The class will be analyzing the symbols and themes shown in competing propaganda cartoons. Stop after each clip and ask students to identify the symbols and themes.
- “Capitalist Sharks” (10 minutes) Pro-Soviet animation shows the Soviet workers overcoming external threats.
- “Make Mine Freedom” (10 minutes) 1948 anti-communism animation
- “American Imperialist: The Millionaire” (10 minutes) Soviet animation against capitalist dogs
- “Going Places” (9 minutes) 1948 animation about why capitalism works
Writing / discussion prompts:
Why do you think each country found it so important that everyone in their society agreed with their way of life? If their way of life was so great, what were they worried about?
How can we balance the needs of the individual with the needs of society? Should the government require citizens to work, wear a helmet, quit smoking, buy health insurance, pay taxes, join the army, or serve on a jury?
Should the wealthy be forced to share their money? Are the “haves” responsible for the well-being of the “have-nots?” To what degree?
3) Sticker Economics
Discuss how people can become wealthy in a capitalist society. Of course, some ways are based on effort and/or ability and other ways are fortuitous. Explain that the class will be conducting a demonstration to think about different economic models.
Have a trivia contest as a class. The nature of the questions is unimportant, but they should be moderately difficult. Explain that this contest is an analogy for economic models. The competition will have a capitalist round and a communist round.
In the capitalist round, each student answers until they get an answer wrong, and they receive their earnings (some token reward) individually. The communist round is identical except that the winnings go to a collective reserve. When the communist round ends, all players receive an equal share.
Ask students to reflect on the activity:
- How did the results differ between the two rounds?
- In which round did you earn more?
- Which round was more fair? Why?
- How would the game be different if everyone started out with different amounts?
- How would the game be different if the points were based on real effort or sacrifice rather than just answering questions?
- How is this game an analogy?
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4) A Collective Point of View
Ask the students to imagine that they live in a world without singular personal pronouns and where all names have been replaced. Have the students write a short personal narrative (real story from their life) that does not include any names or singular personal pronouns (I, my, me, mine, he, she, him, her, his, or hers).
5) Act out “The Allegory of the Cave”
Once the students have read enough of Anthem to discuss Equality’s experiences in the tunnel, share a reading of some version of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” The Ted-Ed video summary (5 minutes) is also helpful.
Have the students create skits based on the allegory. They might pick one plot event from the allegory and add actions and dialogue. For example, what would the enlightened escapee say or demonstrate to the prisoners upon his return? How would they explain reality?
Students might want to replace the cave reality with a different false reality (like a virtual reality). Science fiction and fantasy offers great scenarios in exploring the topic of reality and truth (The Matrix, Inception, Ready Player One, Blade Runner, Lost, The Sixth Sense, The Wizard of OZ, etc.).
After this Anthem activity, have the students discuss…
- What Plato was trying teach with this allegory.
- The limitations on human understanding.
- How we know we are not in a false reality.
- How we determine what is true .
- How Rand uses this allusion in Anthem.
6) Creative Writing Anthem Activities
A) Point of View Shift
Rewrite one chapter in Anthem from a different point of view. You may choose a different first-person narrator or a third-person narrator. Preface your narrative with a brief paragraph identifying the narration (e.g. a report from the World Council about the fight with Equality) and explaining the point of view and tone.
Make sure that your word choice and tone suit the narrator. Demonstrate narrative elements: point of view, plot, dialogue (maybe), transitions, sensory language, tone, tension, etc…
B) Utopia / Dystopia
Write a short story around the concept of utopia / dystopia. How might a society seeking perfection in one aspect go terribly wrong? For example, imagine a society that decided that the real problem was that everyone was not getting enough sleep. What extreme measures might the society take? How might the extreme measures actually make life worse?
C) Anthem II: The World Council Strikes Back
Ok, maybe the World Council doesn’t strike back, but imagine you have been hired by the Ayn Rand Institute to write a short sequel for Anthem. You could start right after the last chapter, skip ahead generations, add a missing chapter, or even write a prequel.
7) Propaganda for The World Council
The fact that Liberty and Equality have abandoned the City of Men has created a stir. The World Council is uneasy. They want to make sure that their way of life continues.
Have the students create a propaganda campaign aimed at keeping everyone in the City of Men in line. Remember that the technology is limiting them to slogans, chants, plays, and posters.
8) Propaganda for Equality’s New Society
Equality has restored a printing press from the Unmentionable Times. He plans to write a one-page pamphlet to distribute in the City of Men.
In this activity for teaching Anthem, students must write the pamphlet (or a speech) arguing that individuals should abandon the society and help Equality form his new society. Students should demonstrate the elements of written argument: claims, opposing claims, reasons, evidence, and transitions.
9) Adaptation Anthem Activity
Have cooperative groups adapt one plot event from Anthem for the stage or screen. Students work together to write a simple script and keep a record of the discussions, disagreements and decisions. They may change elements of the novella if it makes sense for the new medium, but must stay true to the tone and theme. Have students preface their presentation by briefly explaining their creative choices.
There are so many controversial issues to explore when teaching Anthem that it only makes sense to host a debate. Every teacher has their own idea about conducting a debate, but here are some resolutions to consider:
- Ayn Rand’s Anthem is contradictory to American ideals.
- Anthem communicates a positive message for society.
- Due to Ayn Rand’s themes, this book should not be read in schools.
Related post: 15 Great Anthem Pre-reading Activities
Related post: Anthem Unit Plan
Conclusions on Anthem Activities
Anthem and other dsytopia novels can be a lot of fun to teach. Nothing gets me more excited than watching students explore novel ideas as critical thinkers. The key is to have Anthem activities that force the students to dig into the themes and question the underlying assumptions.
If you found this information helpful, check out my Anthem unit and teacher guide.