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If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth... by Arthur C. Clarke

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Student Activities for If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth Include:

Published in 1951 in a post-nuclear world, this short story by Arthur C. Clarke takes its title from a portion of Psalm 137, which laments the destruction of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. Much like Jerusalem, which was overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians, the actions of nuclear war have destroyed the Earth in this story, leaving 10-year-old Marvin and a small band of other humans to look on the ruins of Earth from their small colony on the moon. Clarke, a scientist himself, creatively utilizes the science fiction genre to paint a horrifying picture of what the potential destructiveness of advancements in war and weaponry could do to humanity’s future.

At the time of this story’s publication, it was not an idea that was very far out of the realm of reality, with the rising tensions between the world’s two greatest superpowers creating a stressful stand-off known as the Cold War. While the Cold War did not leave the world in a glow of dying atoms, this story still serves as a warning to readers that our existence is fragile, and those countries with nuclear weapons hold a great responsibility in their hands: the future of life on planet Earth. This is a great short story for high school students to analyze

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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Connect with the Facts

Share these important facts with your students to help them connect with some of the important concepts before reading the story.

Nuclear Impact

International Space Station - A Lunar Colony

Additional Introductory Activities

  • Have students research nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.
  • Ask students to examine recent studies on thyroid dysfunction in infants and children after Fukushima.
  • Instruct students to visit NASA’s website to read about the current team of astronauts in the International Space Station. Students can access live video feed of Earth taken from the ISS, along with other videos, pictures, and updates.

Essential Questions for "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…"

  1. What are the dangers of nuclear warfare?
  2. Why is it important to have goals and a purpose?
  3. Is survival a choice?

If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram Graphic Organizer for "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…"


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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

This sample lesson plan, students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.



Example "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…" Plot Diagram

Exposition

Marvin is ten years old, and his father is taking him through the different levels of the Colony to a place he’s never been before: Outside. They hop into a little scouting vehicle with a pressurized cabin and take off away from the Colony.


Conflict

Marvin has never before seen the Outside, and he wonders where his father is taking him. Everything he knows about the Outside has come from books. He wonders why an old book of his father’s has the rhyme, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are" in it when the stars are steady specks of light.


Rising Action

As Marvin and his father leave the plateau with the Colony on it behind, they enter a darkened world surrounded by high mountains. Marvin is nervous as they pass a crashed rocket and darkened paths. He observes that his father is driving like he’s trying to escape from something.


Climax

Finally, after hours of driving, Marvin sees something strange. A silver crescent floats over the horizon, and it is not the sun. Marvin realizes that this is Earth, and it is awash in the glow of the sun; he is seeing Earth from the moon. However, there is also a glow in the darker parts of the Earth from the nuclear war that destroyed it.


Falling Action

Marvin’s father tells him the story about the days of despair that followed the war, when the people of the Colony realized they were alone. As he speaks, Marvin realizes that the people of the Colony bring their children there for a purpose: to show them that eventually, one day, after the nuclear fallout has decayed, they need to return home.


Resolution

As they drive back to the Colony, Marvin can’t look behind him. He feels the desolation of exile because he knows he will never get to go home; however, he also understands his purpose: to have children, to show them Earth, and to eventually get the human race back home.


Plot Diagram for If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth...

Example

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Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…".


  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.



Plot Diagram Template

Example

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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"If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…" Theme Graphic Organizer


Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.


Themes and Ideas to Discuss

The Dangers of Nuclear Weapons

One theme of "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…" is that it is a warning of the potential consequences of nuclear weapons. When nations arm themselves with enough power to wipe out the entire planet, the entirety of the human race must hope and pray that those nations have leaders with enough common sense not to use them.


The Importance of Purpose

Another theme of "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…" is the importance of having a purpose, or goals. Many students will be able to relate to this concept on a smaller scale: graduating from high school, getting a job, winning their next football game, etc. In Marvin’s world, his people’s purpose is important to their very survival. Without the ultimate goal of returning home, there would be no reason to continue their exile; there would be no point in trying to maintain their little moon Colony, and there would be no point in bringing forth new generations.


Motifs & Symbols to Look For

The Farmlands

An important symbol in "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…" is the Farmlands. Before they enter the Outside, Marvin gets a chance to walk through the Farmlands, which is essentially a greenhouse for the plants and vegetation of the Colony. Marvin loves the smell of life in the Farmlands. It’s a different kind of smell than the filtered oxygen found in the Residential levels. The Farmlands awaken Marvin’s instincts and longing for a place he’s not quite sure he understands: home.


The Evil Phosphorescence

Another important symbol in "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…" is the "evil phosphorescence" that Marvin observes in what should have been the dark portions of the Earth. The menacing glow highlights the lingering danger of the radiation fallout from the war. It also gives Marvin a sense of despair; he knows that that glow will be there for many years yet, and while maybe his children’s children will be able to return one day, he himself will never be able to go to Earth.


Themes, Motifs, and Symbols in If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth...

Example

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"If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…" T.W.I.S.T. Graphic Organizer


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that examine Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, and Theme. This activity is referred to with the acronym “TWIST”. In a TWIST, students focus on a particular paragraph or a few pages, to look deeper at the author’s meaning.



Using an excerpt from Marvin’s reaction to seeing Earth for the first time, students can depict, explain, and discuss what the impact of this pilgrimage will be, while getting a good idea of the author's voice.


TWIST Example for "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…"

It was beautiful, and it called to his heart across the abyss of space. There in that shining crescent were all the wonders that he had never known-- the hues of sunset skies, the moaning of the sea on pebbled shores, the patter of falling rain, the unhurried benison of snow. These and a thousand others should have been his rightful heritage, but he knew them only from the books and ancient records, and the thought filled him with the anguish of exile.

T

TONE

Marvin is in despair. He knows that Earth holds many wonders that he should have been able to experience, but he will never be able to.
W

WORD CHOICE

abyss, wonders, hues, unhurried, anguish, exile
I

IMAGERY

"... the hues of sunset skies, the moaning of the sea on pebbled shores, the patter of falling rain, the unhurried benison of snow."
S

STYLE

The author uses a very descriptive narrative of the beauty of Earth that Marvin will only ever know from afar: it is a shining crescent with many wonders. The fact that Marvin will never see any of it in person fills him with anguish.
T

THEME

This passage highlights the unfairness for Marvin that is a direct result of humanity’s own failure. What should have been his rightful heritage will never be something he can have because of the carelessness with which nuclear weapons were used.

TWIST-ing If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth...

Example

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Perform a TWIST analysis of a selection from "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…". Remember that TWIST stands for Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, Theme.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of TWIST.
  3. Write a few sentences describing the importance or meaning of the images.
  4. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  5. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.



TWIST Template

Example

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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"If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…" Vocabulary Lesson Plan


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the story, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.

Example Vocabulary Words from "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…"

  • ozone
  • vacuum
  • exile
  • phosphorescence
  • pilgrimage
  • ramparts
  • purge
  • scintillating
  • steadfast
  • cairn
  • squat
  • crepitation
  • ruinous
  • discern
  • anguish
  • pyre
Vocabulary in If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth...

Example

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in "If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…" by creating visualizations.


  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



Vocabulary Template Blank

Example

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•   (English) If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth...   •   (Español) Si te Olvido, oh Tierra ...   •   (Français) Si je Vous Oublie, Oh Terre ...   •   (Deutsch) Wenn ich Dich Vergesse ...   •   (Italiana) Se Dimentico Te, Oh Terra ...   •   (Nederlands) Als I Forget Thee, Oh Aarde ...   •   (Português) Se eu Te Esqueço, Oh Terra ...   •   (עברית) אם אשכחך, הו כדור הארץ ...   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) إذا نسيتك يا أرض ...   •   (हिन्दी) अगर मैं तुझे भूल गया, ओह पृथ्वी ...   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Если я Забуду Тебя, о Земля ...   •   (Dansk) Hvis jeg Glemmer Dig, Oh Jord ...   •   (Svenska) Om jag Glömmer Dig, Oh Jorden ...   •   (Suomi) Jos Unohdan Sinua, Oh Maan ...   •   (Norsk) Glemmer jeg Deg, Oh Earth ...   •   (Türkçe) Seni Unuttuysam Oh Toprak ...   •   (Polski) Jeśli Zapomnę, o Ziemi ...   •   (Româna) Dacă am Uitat de Tine, Oh Pământ ...   •   (Ceština) Kdybych na Tebe Zapomněl, Země ...   •   (Slovenský) Ak ťa Zabudnem, Oh Zem ...   •   (Magyar) Ha Elfelejtem Néked, Ó Föld ...   •   (Hrvatski) Ako te Zaboravim, Oh Zemlja ...   •   (български) Ако те Забравя, о, Земя ...   •   (Lietuvos) Jei aš Neužmiršiu Tavęs, O Žemė ...   •   (Slovenščina) Če Pozabim Tebe, Oh Earth ...   •   (Latvijas) Ja es Aizmirstiet Tevi, Ak Zemes ...   •   (eesti) Kui ma Sind Unustan, Oh Maa ...