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Dystopian Fiction

30 Jul

Dystopian fiction is a standard inclusion in Years 10 or 11 in most high schools.  As part of this unit, students often study works by Orwell or Bradbury, engaging with the role played by social and political landscapes pre-dating their existence in shaping the dystopias and associated warnings in the texts.  While I am a fan or Orwell and Bradbury, I have also long been on the look out for contemporary texts that could engage students and re-energerise the unit.  I recently read Friday Black, a collection of short stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, and I think I have FINALLY found the texts that I want to teach.

I would begin the unit with ‘Zimmer Land’, a short story about a theme park in which caucasian people give voice and action to their racial prejudice under the guise of achieving justice and engaging in problem solving.  Students would be tasked with researching the treatment of people of colour in contemporary America, drawing connections between the relevant context and the dystopian world represented.  To map these connections, students would be asked to create a visual representation of the issues that have been magnified/extended/hyperbolised to create the dystopian world.  Students may, for example, simply write the relevant context and values in different sized fonts to represent the varied levels of influence and significance.  A similar activity could be used with ‘The Finklestein 5’ if one wanted to start with the story instead.

It might also be interesting to have students keep a diary/log of their responses to the various dystopian texts studied.  Students could, perhaps, be invited to compare their reactions/responses to an older text (for example an extract from 1984) and a more recent one (for example, ‘Zimmer Land’).  Paving the way for a comparative essay, students could take note of which elements of the texts render them impactful.  Is it, for example, the language features?  Or, is it about immediacy?  Or is it it about narrative structure?  Students could also use a master list of features of dystopian texts to better understand and evaluate the effectiveness of a composer’s engagement with the conventions of this type of writing.


13 Jan

Animal Farm demonstrates, in part, the power of language to invite conformity and obedience.  Indeed, the animals are offered a series of commandments that are intended to guide (and later, normalise) behaviour.  I think it would be interesting to have students compare the commandments in Animal Farm (at any stage of the text) and the ten commandments of biblical fame, exploring the language to understand the linguistic power of the proclamations.  Then, as extension, students could craft their own set of commandments, perhaps ones that would be appropriate in a dystopian world of their own creation.

‘Animal Farm’ as Writing Stimulus

11 Jan

I recently read Margaret Atwood’s article entitled ‘Why Animal Farm Changed My Life‘ and was inspired by Atwood’s discussion of her perception of the gendered nature of dystopian fiction.  Using an extract of the article for stimulus, I want to invite students to reimagine and adapt Animal Farm for the modern day, offering a new perspective.  Hopefully, this will allow students to demonstrate knowledge of the conventions of dystopian fiction while also encouraging them to be creative and innovative in their own writing.

Understanding Voice

5 Jan

What does it mean to use one’s voice?

Why is one’s voice powerful?

How do we recognise our own voice or that of someone else?


The questions above are important ones for students to answer in the junior years as they move towards a senior syllabus that increasingly demands that they demonstrate a personal voice and perspective in their writing.

To encourage students to engage with these ideas I want to show them an extract from Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, using it as stimulus for class discussion.


‘Do the other kids make fun of you? For how you talk?’


‘So why don’t you do something about it?  You could learn to talk differently, you know.’

‘But this is my voice.  How would you be able to tell when I was talking?’



Introduction to ‘Animal Farm’

3 Jan

I am about to teach George Orwell’s Animal Farm to a class that comprises a number of disengaged students.  With this in mind, I am keen to provide opportunities for students to participate in discussion and demonstrate knowledge of the text.

I recently happened upon a slide show in which students were provided with the opening of a cartoon strip about Animal Farm and encouraged to complete the cartoon strip as a means of demonstrating their knowledge of the first chapter of the novel.  I like this activity, but would probably elect to broaden it further.  For example, I might ask students to also identify key quotes for each panel of their cartoon strip.  I might also be inclined to ask students to reflect upon the different ways language (chosen quotations) and visual cause them to receive/understand/appreciate the ideas of Animal Farm.

Peer into the List of Pairs

8 Aug

My list of textual pairings now offers over 210 combinations!  I have tried to craft the list so that it offers a mix between what schools might already have in the book room and texts that could be purchased to supplement existing stock.

Re-imagining the Past

24 Jul

Yesterday I posted about the possibility of students creating a play script in which they fictionally re-imagine or extend the life of an individual whose story is explored in ‘How Far We’ve Come’.  Additional resources that could be useful include the overview of migrants’ experiences at Immigration Place and the Australian National Maritime Museum.

In a variation of the previously outlined activity, the teacher could, without telling students, provide each with a different section of the profile.  Students could then share their fictional re-imaginings, trying to find the kernel of truth that inspired each of them.  Then, with all the information provided, students could evaluate the plausibility of events represented in the play scripts.

So many pairs!

22 Jul

My list of textual pairings now exceeds 200!  I am keen for suggestions of combinations that have worked in your classrooms so that I can expand my list.

‘Night of the Hunted’

11 Jul

Studying the Gothic?  If so, this set of images entitled ‘Night of the Hunted’ is just what you have been waiting for!

I would like to give these images to students, challenging them to come up with a short Gothic narrative that engages with each image.  Students may sequence the images and the story as they wish, but each image must be incorporated.

It would also be interesting to have students engage in a peer review activity so that they can understand how the conventions of a genre can be leveraged in different ways to create a diverse range of stories.

Write the Script

9 Jul

An article entitled ‘#PlaneBae: Alaska Airlines Passangers’ Flight Romance Goes Viral on Twitter‘ has got me thinking about unexpected ways in which the real world provides inspiration for narratives.  The article details how a chance encounter and perceived burgeoning love story was live tweeted by another passenger.

It could be fun homework for students to eavesdrop on a stranger’s conversation, using the few lines gathered as stimulus for a short drama script.  Alternatively, students could be asked to select from a list of genres, creatively re-imagining their overheard conversation so that it embodies the characteristics of a particular genre.