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Teaching Science Fiction Writing

About this Daily Classroom Special:
Teaching Science Fiction Writing
was written  by former Teachers Network web mentor, Lisa Kihn, a math and language arts teacher at Nevin Platt Middle School in Boulder, Colorado.

Teaching Science Fiction Writing:
May the Force Be With Them

Grades 5 -8

I have a poster in my classroom that says, “Science Fiction is the bridge between science and art.” Before I begin this unit, I ask students to think about what this poster means. They may respond in writing or by drawing a picture.

We share their ideas in the classroom.


I then give them this definition:
Science fiction is an imaginary story that usually could not occur in the present time. It deals with what scientific and technological advances might make possible in the future, without the use of magic.

There are two general approaches:

  1. The technology of the future is predicted, and the story usually takes place in outer space. There may be aliens involved, but the human struggle is ever-present.
  2. Future societies are portrayed on earth with humans struggling with a changed earth, with or without the presence of aliens.

I read to my students the poem “What if…” by Jackie French Koller and have them respond in their journals. Many students choose to write a “What if…” poem themselves.

I also read Life in 1990 by Isaac Asimov, written in 1964. This piece describes Asimov’s predictions of the future, and he is surprisingly accurate. We have a class discussion about his predictions as well as our predictions for the future. 

To help students come up with an idea for their own stories, I give them this handout:


PREDICTIONS FOR THE FUTURE

What will life be like in the year 2050? Think about what life is like now and try to predict how things may change over the next 50 years. On a separate sheet of paper, write your thoughts for each of the following categories. Interview one (or both) of your parents and write down their predictions for the future too.

  1. Schools (What will schools be like in the future?)
  2. Transportation (fuel, new vehicles, speed/distance, etc.)
  3. Cities (Where will people live? What will homes look like?)
  4. Recreation (sports, hobbies, fun, etc.)
  5. Food (What will we eat in the future?)
  6. Medicine (new cures, life expectancy, etc.)
  7. Science and Technology (computers, space travel, new inventions, etc.)
  8. Foreign relations (How will the earth be divided politically? What countries will exist, if any?)
  9. Communication (How will we communicate in the future?)
  10. Environment (air, water, plants, etc.) 

The class shares their responses and then brainstorms ideas for a story. I then give students this handout:

Science Fiction Prewrite

Brief summary of your story idea
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________

Conflict (main problem in your story) 
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________


Resolution (solution to your problem) 
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________


Setting 
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________

Scientific Link (scientific theories/facts/principles) 
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________


Plot (List the 3 or 4 main events that will move the story along.)
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________


Character Profiles (main characters only)
Name: 
Physical Traits:
Personality:

Name:
Physical Traits:
Personality:

Name:
Physical Traits:
Personality:



Before the students begin writing their own stories, they should fill out the above worksheet. To clarify, be sure that students understand the following concepts:

Setting: When does the story take place? Where does the story take place? What does the setting look like? Be specific – use lots of details.

Characters: Who are the people (or beings) in this story? What do they look like? How do they act/interact? What is their importance in the story? Be specific – provide lots of details.

Scientific Link: What scientific theories/facts/principles are included to make this seem credible or convincing? What scientific terminology is used during this story? Define at least three terms.

Problem: What challenge(s) do the main characters face in this story? What do they need to overcome? What kinds of constraints or conditions are present?

Solution: How do the main characters solve the problem? What resources do they use? How do their personalities and attributes help them overcome their problems and challenges?


*****I have used this guide to help guide students in the writing of their science fiction stories and I have given this as a questionnaire for students to fill out as we watch the science fiction movie Star Wars. It enables students to see how science fiction stories are crafted.





SCIENCE FICTION BOOK PROJECT IDEAS

Here are some suggestions for book projects to use with science fiction books. These projects are usually assigned to do at home and are presented to the class.

  1. Make a 3-dimensional mobile illustrating at least 10 different, important scenes from the book.
  2. Write a poem, include an illustration.
  3. Make a diorama of an important happening in the book.
  4. Pretend you are one of the characters, and act out a scene from the book. Include a costume.
  5. Write a different ending to the story and illustrate it.
  6. Design a book jacket: include an illustration, summary, information about the author, etc.
  7. Make a map of the area described in the story.
  8. Prepare a monologue from the story; memorize it and present it to the class (minimum of two minutes).
  9. Make dolls or puppets that represent the characters.
  10. Write a new ending (minimum of two pages). 
READ ALOUD

I feel strongly that reading science fiction stories or novels aloud in a classroom allows the teacher to teach the concepts more efficiently. Because all students have a common experience with the story, the teacher is better able to highlight subtle concepts and emphasize the story structure through class discussions and activities.

I like to read Interstellar Pig by William Sleator to sixth graders. I have also read with much success Enders Game, by Orson Scott Card. 

A fun activity for the class to do is to actually make the games that are described in the books. Students can either act these out or draw the game boards.

 

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