Identifying Science Fiction

Author: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: 1 day
30 minutes to read the lesson plan
Materials: Students need the books they read in the previous lesson


Students will discuss the works of science fiction that they read in the Explore Lesson, highlighting the aspects that made each a part of the genre of science fiction. They will also bring up those things that made each story a well-written piece of literature. The information from this class discussion will constitute the basis of the expository theme to be written in the Apply Lesson.

Purpose – This is the Explain Lesson. Students will determine what constitutes a work of science fiction.

Students will be able to:
1. Identify the formal literary elements of literature (plot, setting, characters, theme)
2. Analyze their short stories using the literary elements as an organizational device
3. Synthesize information from multiple sources (various stories read by different students in class) to create a definition of science fiction
4. Identify those aspects in each short story independent of the science fiction label which makes each a well-written piece of literature

English Education Standard
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).

Strand 2: Concept 2: Functional Text
PO 2. Synthesize information from multiple sources to draw conclusions.

Teacher Background
An appreciation for imaginative writing and science fiction

Resource Websites

http://www.outsidein.co.uk/sadinfo.htm (Information on Seasonal Affective Disorder)
http://www.davidbrin.com/livingplanet.html (David Brin’s official web site)
http://www.adherents.com/adh_sf.html (Famous Science Fiction/Fantasy Authors- excellent list with information about each author and their best known works)



1. Begin this class by making a distinction between science fiction and fantasy. Science fiction is grounded in some type of real science and often challenges our current understanding of various scientific concepts whereas fantasy is based on mythological ideas and is generally escapist.

2. Next, lead a class discussion in which you and the students go through the literary elements and talk about the ways each can be developed through science fiction. Encourage multiple examples to illustrate how each literary aspect can be used to develop and enrich the science fiction aspects of a story.

a. Setting – The time is the future and the place can be anywhere, often extra-terrestrial locations or places on the earth that are not habitable now.
b. Plot – The events in the story can be much more imaginative, though still loosely based on reality, than regular fiction and often tie into a theme that examines what will be the consequences of current policies or activities.
c. Characters – Animals and extra-terrestrials endowed with human personalities are often characters and serve as a vehicle to examine human foibles.
d. Theme – This deals with the consequences of mankind’s actions, the universality of life, and the impact of the past or the present on the future. The conflict of the story will be a way for the theme to be revealed and can encompass problems just hinted at in present life.

3. After establishing those aspects of a science fiction story that make it a part of a specialized genre, look at what makes each of the stories read strong literature. Ask if the more open format of science fiction allows for more creative writing. Ask if each one of the stories can stand on its own merits apart from being science fiction or do some of the stories lack luster if the science fiction “gimmicks” are taken away.

Remind the students that the notes from the Explore Lesson and today’s class will serve as the basis of the expository theme that they will be writing in the next lesson.

Embedded Assessment
Evaluate the students’ learning in this lesson by the willingness to and quality of participation in the class discussion.


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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Last update: November 10, 2009
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