Genre Study: Dystopia

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Students will be able to define dystopian science fiction by close reading a passage.

Big Idea

dys+topos > eu+topos? dys+topos < eu+topos?

First Read

10 minutes

Today was the first day of class after our state testing was over.  We're off our regular schedule, so the usual bellwork didn't work for today.  The kids are tired, I'm tired, we're all tired, so today we're reading about the worst place ever--dystopia. It's fitting.

I gave students two paragraphs to read about dystoia and utopia.  Here's a handout with those paragraphs.  We're close reading it, because they are difficult passages.  The first reading, of course, is done independently.  I gave students about five minutes, the time it takes for me to go around the room and collect homework, take attendance, and check for dress code.

While they read, I asked them to annotate using our symbols. A triangle used for "What in the world does this mean? I have no idea." A question mark is used for a question that is not about meaning.  Underlining or highlighting is used to show that something is important.

Most students recognized that the word dystopia was important. I asked each group to write down the words that they didn't understand on a sticky note.  Some of the words that students triangled (yes, I'm using triangled as a verb) were dystopia, utopia, post-apocalpytic, contemporary, nightmarish, extrapolated, conditioning, and masses.  I made sure to cover those words in the third reading, the one where I model and think aloud.


Second Read

10 minutes

The second read is the read where the teacher reads aloud to model prosody and pronunciation.  I was expecting the students who wrote down the word nightmarish to understand it after the second reading.  Perhaps they just didn't know how to pronounce the word, but they understood the meaning, but I was wrong.

After this second read, I asked students to work in groups to answer the questions to the left. I gave each group a dry erase board and marker and they wrote their response on the boards.  They love these boards, and since it's so easy to erase mistakes, students are often more willing to write.

It was at this point, in every single class , that one student said, "Oh! It's the Hunger Games!" As soon as they said that, I put my finger on my lips and told them that they were right, but not to tell anyone. I wanted to see how many other groups would get to that point independently.  I think more groups might have gotten there if they hadn't been so tired and worn out from the week of testing. 

After about four minutes, I asked each group to share their response.  I saved the groups that made the connection to The Hunger Games to share last.  They were totally excited to share, but I told them, with a knowing look, that I was going to save them for last.

Some of the questions that students asked during the sharing out were

  • Could someone's utopia be someone else's dystopia? 
  • Is utopia heaven?  Is it a land flowing with milk and honey? (That one came from one of my inclusion classes.)
  • How does this happen?
  • Could our time period be a dystopia?

This video, Definitions of Dystopia, shows the students' responses. I included responses from all of my classes, inclusion, honors, and everything in between.  My favorite answer is the last picture in the video.  They speak the truth, yo.



Third Read

30 minutes

I reminded students that the third read was the one where I peel the top off my brain and let them know what's inside.  eeewww!  

Some of the most important things were

  • defining post-apocalyptic in the first paragraph. 
  • highlighting that dystopias take what's going on today and write them as extremes.
  • dissecting the etymology of the word dystopia and utopia. 


Responding in Writing

10 minutes

Once I'd finished my modeling, I asked students to do something crazy--take out a sheet of paper and write their names on it. I know, it's crazy talk.

On that sheet of paper, they labeled their response as Response 1 and answered the questions right underneath the two paragraphs we'd close read.  I added a third question, though, a question I'd left off on purpose to encourage students to draw the conclusion instead of me.  I asked them to consider how The Hunger Games was an example of a dystopia. The additional question is in pink in the picture.

Their paragraph wasn't due for a couple of days, so check out the pictures in this lesson to see their responses. 

Lesson Resources

Today's lesson picture is a screenshot from the video of students' definitions of dystopia. Thanks, Animoto!

The paragraphs about dystopia were found here.