A "How To" Project in the Science Fiction Genre

You can have students use science fiction elements to create a "How To" brochure that can stir the imagination.

By Alicia Johnson


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I don’t know what the weather was like where you live this winter, but we sure had a lot of snow days! I have a sort of love/hate relationship with snow days. I love the time off, but feel pressured for time when we come back. I found myself in this situation last month. We had just completed an introduction to science fiction, and had read a short story from the student text, when we had this type of interruption. The time off gave me time to think about the fact that my students didn’t seem to grapse the idea that science fiction stories are a combination of real science and exaggerated science. While I knew we needed to move on, I wanted to make sure they understood the characteristices of this genre first. I thought "How do I cement the elements of science fiction, and have my students practice brainstorming, five paragraph essays, editing skills, collaboration skills and publishing their work in a way that encourages them to do their best . . . all in one week" This is what I finally came up with.

First, I told my students that we were going to conclude the week with a five paragraph essay and create “How To” brochure.  They groaned when they heard the dreaded“E” word (essay!). But, the brochure interested them a little. I explained that their essay would be the planning phase for their brochure. Their project would result in a "How To" brochure that explains how to do something that didn't really exist. I thought this would help them get the idea of how science fiction writers create their work. They would use a little science and a little imagination to create their own work. I let them work in partners and the results were wonderful. We ended up with brochures that explained "How to Wash an Alien” or "How to Fight an Alien with a Nacho Cheese Flame Thrower." WOW!   Needless to say, the project was a success.

Day 1: I separated my students into pairs, and gave them a large piece of paper. They had to come up with ideas of what a futuristic person might need to know how to do. I gave them 15 minutes to brainstorm with their partner. I used a timer for these assignments so that students would have time to plan, but wouldn't get bogged down in this stage. Once they chose a subject, I gave them a graphic organizer to fill out. The organizer allowed students to take their main idea and divide it into three supporting ideas, and then separate those into three details for each supporting idea. This took the rest of the class.

Day 2: We went to the computer lab, and I told my students that they needed to write three paragraphs by the end of the lab. (You don't have to go to the lab to do this.  It was available, so we went.) This would be the body of their essay. 

Day 3:  We went back to the classroom. I had students exchange papers. They read and edited each other's work to see if it all made sense. They gave each other feedback and suggestions by writing directly on the papers they read. They were also supposed to check and make sure that the details from their graphic organizers matched the ones in their paragraphs. This took the whole class period. They actually had a wonderful time reading and explaining their ideas to each other.

Day 4: We went back to the computer lab. Students corrected their essays and created introductory and closing paragraphs. They were also supposed to find one or two graphics to use in their brochure. They made a note of the source for their graphics on their essay notes. I also had several sample brochures for them to look at and showed them the outline of the one they would create the next day.

Day 5: This was the final day in the computer lab. All they had to do was transfer information from their essays to the brochure template, load their graphic, and cite their sources. They had a finished product by the end of the lab. They loved them, and so did I! Many students wanted to print extra copies to keep. After this lesson, I am certain they will always remember there is a little bit of real science in science fiction, but also a lot of imagination. There are some wonderful science fiction lessons to choose from. Here are a few that can help teach students about science fiction.

Science Fiction Lesson Plans

Space and Science Fiction

This lesson gives students a chance to research scientific facts and then create their own science fiction story. First, they look at websites that focus on space. Next, there are two sites to explore involving space fiction. Finally, there are three more sites to review which should give them enough ideas to create their own story. This is a well-organized lesson plan that should prove to be very exciting for any grade seventh through twelfth.

Science Fiction Literature

This lesson incorporates just the things I was talking about in my own lesson. Students focus on recognizing the elements of science fiction and then create a science fiction story using real and exaggerated science. Websites and vocabulary lists are provided in this well organized lesson designed for sixth through eighth grade.

Science vs. Science Fiction

This lesson is a wonderful compare/contrast discussion which will give students a chance to practice their discussion skills as the class begins to learn how to spot real science versus fiction. The discussion begins with comparing NASA science to "Star Trek"/"Star Wars" science. Fun! This lesson gives a step-by-step on how to have effective discussions in your seventh through tenth grade classes.

English Guide

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Alicia Johnson