Engaging students in the learning process is one of the most difficult and important aspects of effective teaching. Teaching science fiction short stories engages a high percentage of high school and middle school students. With this science fiction short story lesson plan, you can engage students and teach meaningful literary concepts.
Elements of Science Fiction
How deep you go into the elements of science fiction depends on the story and the class. Here are the main characteristics of a science fiction short story.
- Alternative world setting. Whether its outer space, Earth in the future, or an alternate universe, science fiction stories take place in a different world.
- Non-human characters. Aliens are the most famous science fiction characters. Other non-human characters include robots, monsters, and robot monsters.
- Allegory and symbolism. Although set in other worlds with non-human characters, science fiction stories comment on events and problems in modern times through allegory and symbolism.
- Science and technology. As the title of the genre suggests, science and technology play a critical role in science fiction short stories. Many of these stories exist to comment on science and technology and its role in shaping society.
- Journey. As with most fiction, science fiction involves a journey. Unlike most fiction, this journey involves long voyages to alien worlds and fantastic places.
- Dystopia. Science fiction settings may combine an alternative world with negative elements to comment on modern society.
A story does not have to include every single element of science fiction to be considered science fiction.
Science Fiction Lesson Plan Objectives
This lesson accomplishes more than reciting a list of characteristics. It teaches ELA reading standards and skills.
- Cite textual evidence to support analysis of a literary work.
- Determine and analyze a story's theme.
- Acquire and use academic and domain-specific words and phrases.
Science Fiction Lesson Plan Procedures
We have a list of science fiction short stories for high school and middle school at the end of this post. Use this lesson plan with any or all of them. Feel free to use your favorites as well. Students use a chart as their primary tool for gathering information and analyzing it. Charts help teachers differentiate instruction and help students--especially those who prefer visual learning or who need visual cues--organize information.
- Discuss the characteristics of science fiction, focusing on those prominent in the work you're about to read.
- Create a chart. In the left column, list specific examples of science fiction in the short story you are studying. In the middle column, identify which element it is an example of. In the right column, analyze the importance of the example to the overall meaning and purpose of the work.
- Discuss student discoveries.
- Optional: Write a literary analysis that examines the elements of science fiction.
Science Fiction Lesson Plan Option 2
You can focus on science fiction's ability to predict the future with these procedures. It, too, involves creating a chart.
- Discuss pertinent elements of science fiction.
- Create a chart. In the left column write predictions that the author has made in the past about future technology. In the right column, write how--if at all--that prediction has come true. Here's a sample chart from Fahrenheit 451.
Science Fiction Short Stories
You probably have your favorite science fiction short story. If not, here's a good list. There are a couple of stories on the list--although not strictly science fiction short stories--that make good stories for the above lesson plan. In other words, they have elements of science fiction and offer opportunities for analysis.
- "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury explores the dangers of technology as his protagonist time travels to hunt dinosaurs.
- "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut. The year is 2081, and we find ourselves in a dystopian society where everyone is "equal."
- "The Machine that Won the War" by Isaac Asimov. How do you defeat an advanced alien civilization? Earth uses a piece of technology you're already familiar with.
- "The Veldt" by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury warns his readers about what happens when we rely too much on technology. Perhaps he should have warned Lydia and George about the lions in the nursery.
- "Rappacini's Daughter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. One of the tenets of American Romanticisms is the dangers of technology. Hawthorne is a pioneer in science fiction. He examines the concept of genetic engineering long before such a thing seemed possible.
- "By the Waters of Babylon" by Stephen Vincent Benet. Although set in a post-apocalyptic society, Benet analyzes what happens when authorities co-opt science and religion to control the population.
- "The Fun They Had" by Isaac Asimov. In this future classroom, students do all their work using a computing device with individualized instruction. They reminisce about how much fun going to school must have been back in the day.
- "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. Unlike most science fiction short stories, the technology in "The Lottery" is primitive. It does, however, fit the dystopian setting requirement and comments on the foolishness of traditions.
- "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe. Although not strictly a science fiction story, many of Poe's famous stories lay the groundwork for future science fiction writers. In this chilling tale, Poe provides a glimpse into the horrors science can create with its machines.