Exploring Science Fiction

Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 2 days
1 _ hours to read the lesson and to make arrangements with the librarian
Materials: Time in the library (1 class period)


Students will read one or more science fiction short stories or an entire novel if they are so motivated. As they read they will write down in detail what aspects of the plot, characterization, setting, and theme of their piece of literature make it science fiction. They will also note what makes it good, interesting literature, beyond the considerations of science fiction. Two days are given for this lesson to accommodate the reading levels (and consequently the amount of time needed) for a classroom of students at various skill levels.

Purpose – This is the Explore Lesson. Students will use this lesson to read a science fiction short story (or two), to record their observations on what makes it a part of this genre, and to note what makes it a worthwhile piece of literature.

Students will be able to:
1. Read with understanding a piece of science fiction.
2. Analyze the literary components of the piece being read to find the aspects that make it science fiction.
3. Analyze the literary components of the piece being read to find the aspects that make it
a well-written piece.

English Education Standard
Strand 1: Concept 5: Fluency
PO 1. Read from a variety of genres with accuracy.
Strand 2: Concept 1: Elements of Literature
PO 1. Analyze the author’s use of literary elements

  • theme (moral lesson, meaning, message, view or comment on life),
  • point of view (e.g., first vs. third, limited vs. omniscient),
  • characterization (qualities, motives, actions, thoughts, dialogue, development, interactions),
  • setting (time of day or year, historical period, place, situation), and
  • plot (exposition, major and minor conflicts, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution).

Teacher Background
An appreciation for imaginative writing and science fiction

Resource Websites

http://contento.best.vwh.net/ (Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections,
Combined Edition by William G. Contento)
http://www.bestsf.net/ (Best SF aims to assist those seeking the best in short Science Fiction, in both printed form and on the web)
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0312190336/103-4794622-6853453?v=glance (Information on The Year's Best Science Fiction: Fifteenth Annual Collection
by Gardner Dozois [Editor])



1. The challenge of this lesson is that various students will approach the work with differing levels of enthusiasm and knowledge. Contact the librarian in advance and ask for his or her assistance in presenting a brief talk to the students on where to find the science fiction section of the library and what works they would highly recommend. The librarian may also be able to collect and make available a number of books that the students could use for this assignment.

2. Take the students to the library for these two days of reading and note taking. Those students who already have a book or a short story to read do not need to attend the librarian’s presentation.

3. Once students have a short story or a book to read they need to do two things. First, they need to read carefully and hopefully enjoy what they are reading. Second, they need to take notes as they are reading on how the author uses the literary elements of plot, character, setting, and theme to create a science fiction story. Some aspects will be obvious such as a setting on another planet or in the future, characters who are dolphins or Martins, plot events which are not possible in today’s world, etc. Other aspects such as themes that deal with the consequences of mankind’s actions, the universality of life, the impact of the past on the future will be more subtle and consequently a little more challenging for the students to detect.

4. Students also need to take notes on what makes the story or book that they are reading a successful piece of literature apart from the science fiction components. Literature is first and foremost good writing before it is science fiction, mystery or social commentary. The students need to determine what is exceptional (or perhaps not!) about their short stories.

5. If students finish this work early, encourage them to read a second short story just to get a better feel for the genre of science fiction.

Let the students know that the notes that they have taken will be used in the next two lessons.

Embedded Assessment
Evaluate each student’s participation in this lesson by: 1) whether or not he or she came to class with appropriate reading material or was open to suggestions on what to read made by fellow classmates and/or the librarian; 2) how on task he or she was during the open reading time in class; and 3) the quality and quantity of notes taken as he or she was reading.

If the students have not completed the reading or the note taking for this lesson, it needs to be completed for homework so that they are ready to participate in the class discussion of the Explain Lesson and are able to write the paper in the Apply Lesson.

Embedded Assessment

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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