An Introduction to Dystopia: Six Common Core Aligned Lessons

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Dystopia is the hottest genre on the market right now - especially for teens. If you're teaching high school English, you should probably be teaching dystopia!

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*Note - A NEW lesson has been added since the creation of this video! There's MORE!!

This product contains SIX lessons that introduce the genre of dystopia to students. These six lessons are Common Core aligned with targets, highly rigorous, collaborative, and develop serious critical thinking. If you're planning on tackling Fahrenheit 451, The Hunger Games, 1984, Brave New World, or any other major dystopian text, these lessons will set the tone for the unit and challenge students to start thinking about how genre works, and ultimately, about how authors use the genre of dystopia to critique US.

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Activity #1: Hoax Letter
This letter is one of my favorite activities leading into dystopia. After a bell ringer and settling the kids in, I project this letter up on the screen and read it to them once I’ve explained that there is very important information being sent out today to their parents. I tell the students that I’m very concerned about this new technology and that I thought they’d like to know. I then carefully (without laughing, smiling, or giving it away) read the letter out loud.

I’ve included our letter as a .pdf. If you choose to use this assignment, you’ll have to recreate it, but at least you have our ideas to start with! For an added effect, we put it on our school letterhead! Be sure to use the appropriate dates for your school and add any extra rhetorical techniques you’d like.

We always have a great, rich discussion on surveillance and privacy after reading this letter. I NEVER print or send home this letter… I let the students get riled up for about 15-20 minutes for a discussion, then, I reveal the truth and we discuss what kind of world it would be if we had this kind of surveillance happening. We also talk about how this letter, although a bit crazy at times, isn't too far fetched.

Activity #2: The Perfect City
Next up is a fun activity that gets students working in groups and imagining the future. Arrange your students in groups and their job is to imagine as many possible details that would be included in The Perfect City.

Once they’re all done brainstorming, determine the group with the most UNIQUE ideas. We usually use a CRISS strategy: group one stands up and reads their lists - if another group had the same idea, everyone must cross it off their list. The group with the most remaining unique list items is the “winner”.

But of course, we are not studying UTOPIA, we are studying DYSTOPIA, so when the students flip to the last page, they must now reconsider how their city would work under a new set of rules. I usually have them complete this part independently and then we have a great class discussion!

Activity #3: The Elements of Dystopia: An Inquiry Lesson
This activity allows students to start investigating the elements of the dystopian genre before being presented with the elements; here, we are following the INQUIRY based format of teaching. We begin the class by asking the students, What is DYSTOPIA? Then, using a variety of art sources and video clips, the students note their observations. After viewing and discussing the clips, it is the job of the students to (on the next page) complete the cloze notes activity using their best guess based on the discussion of the dystopian clips that they have just watched.

This lesson is so powerful - as you and your class watch each of the clips, ask them to be open-minded, to notice everything. Some clips are political cartoons (non-fiction) and others are trailers from movies (fiction). I’m careful to let students know that dystopia is a fictional genre, but that many traces of dystopia are found in our modern world (which is the entire point of why the genre exists in the first place!).

Activity #4: The Connotation of Genre
The final activity in this bundle is a connotation lesson. This lesson takes the key words of the 10 Elements of Dystopia and asks students to rank the intensity of the connotation of each word.

It’s hard to work this closely with language when reading a novel sometimes; I’ll admit that I tend to focus on character before I focus on diction, but this activity really does two things. One, it deepens their understanding of dystopia and the richness of the genre, and two, it gets kids to debate word connotation! It’s a pretty glorious 2-for-1 steal!

Activity #5: "Low Battery"
*NEWLY added to this bundle!*This is a great and quick activity to use either at the beginning of your unit or somewhere in the middle. In this lesson, students will view and discuss the spoken word poem “Low Battery” by Prince Ea. You have lots of options here - it’s a really adaptable lesson for either a quick check in OR a lot of discussion and depth!

View the poem yourself first and think about where it best fits in your unit. This could easily be a quick homework assignment: ask students to watch the video and answer the questions. You could take it a bit further in class and put the questions up around the room carousel style and have students move in pairs to answer them, then finish up with a class discussion. No matter what you do, I’d love to hear about it! Tag me on Instagram @mudandinkteaching!!

Activity #6: The Tableau
*NEWLY added to this bundle!* This is one of my favorite activities to do with my students, regardless of the unit that we are in. I have added this activity as a separate product in my store, but I thought it would be great to include with this unit as a bonus to my loyal customers! The word tableau (sometimes spelled tableaux) means “living picture”. This group activity can last as quick as a half period or take as long as a few periods to complete. A full description/sample lesson plan is included in the product. Essentially, you can take a list of questions or list of vocabulary words, assign each to a group of students, and then ask the students to physically capture the essence of the answer or definition.

In conclusion…
These are the four major lessons that we use to introduce the genre of dystopia. Please check out my store to see more products that address our specific novels and short stories for the remainder of the unit! I hope you found this bundle inspirational and challenging for your students. As all high school teachers know, one lesson from me will definitely need modifications to fit the needs of your students, so please feel free to contact me with questions or if you need suggestions. These lessons are tried and true, and ultimately lead students to discuss more than characters, plot and setting - by the end of the unit, students are telling me how an author is critiquing the United States through the lens of dystopia.

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Keywords: dystopia, fahrenheit 451, the hunger games, introduction, connotation, genre, hoax, elements, close reading, common core, rigor, inquiry
Total Pages
37
Answer Key
Does Not Apply
Teaching Duration
2 Weeks

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An Introduction to Dystopia: Six Common Core Aligned Lessons
An Introduction to Dystopia: Six Common Core Aligned Lessons
An Introduction to Dystopia: Six Common Core Aligned Lessons
An Introduction to Dystopia: Six Common Core Aligned Lessons
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