Unit Plan: Science Fiction Short Story Writing

 

Editors note: I’ve renewed my commitment to posting more unit plans in the coming year. All of these resources are collected on the curriculum page.

You would think that working at a school with the word “Science” in the title would mean Science Fiction all the time. But I didn’t develop a unit for this genre until several years at SLA. At first, it was an interdisciplinary unit developed with former Physics teacher Rosalind Echols. Since then, it’s evolved into something that I merged with an earlier unit about short story writing.

Here’s the full unit plan. The basic flow is as follows:

  • A science fiction book club, where students can pick any novel or short story collection they wish, provided 3-5 students want to also read that book
  • A series of in-class activities to introduce students to both the history and concepts of the genre
  • An introduction to the terminology and concepts of short story writing
  • A series of in-class activities to expose students to different elements of fiction, including characterization, dialogue, modes of narration, and theme
  • Time to outline, draft, peer edit, and revise a Sci-Fi short story

What makes this unit work?

I used to give students free rein to write short stories about anything at all — and the work was often unfocused or uninspired as a result. Having the short stories emerge from a science fiction book club provides just enough of a constraint to keep students on their toes. The students who claim to not be big Sci-Fi fans are often the ones who draft the most compelling stories because they care about the plot, not the potential bells and whistles of time travel or aliens.

I also make a point to expose students to two college-level texts as a part of our analytical work. We read selections from Science Fiction: A Very Short Introduction and also Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Since this is the last unit of the year, and it overlaps with asking my Juniors to write drafts of an essay suitable for college admissions, I definitely play up the idea that I am throwing them into the deep end a bit. The Oxford text, in particular, includes a lot of support for vocabulary.

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