We all dream of perfection: the carefully honed physicality and skill of an olympic athlete; the perfect family meal, like a Norman Rockwell painting; the perfectly harmonious society, with everyone happily going about their lives. But perfection comes at a cost, and remains perpetually out of reach. This contradiction is just one of the reasons dystopias have captivated readers of all ages. The idea of a utopia, juxtaposed with the stark reality that it can never exist, makes a compelling setting for social commentary and critique.
As we expose our students to reading multiple genres, it's essential for them to understand the patterns and nuances an author uses. What makes dystopian fiction different from an epic or a play? In this lesson plan, you will find the elements of a dystopia, characteristics of dystopian literature, and ways to teach the terminology while getting students to create fun storyboards about the concept.
The word “utopia” was coined by Sir Thomas More for his book about an ideally organized society. It is from the Greek topos meaning “place”. The prefix is intentionally ambiguous; in Greek the prefix ou- means “not”, while the prefix eu- means “good”. So a u-topia could either be a “good-place”, or a “not-place”; an imaginary place.
One of the oldest recorded and most widely known utopias is the Garden of Eden. A utopia is a perfect society, where everything is ideally organized, and residents go about their lives happily.
Define dystopia as the opposite of a utopia, using the prefix dys-, from the Greek for “bad”. It is a flawed society, dys-functional and undesirable. In literature, these two terms often coincide. Many dystopias look idyllic to begin with, but over the course of the story reveal their true nature: sinister and flawed.
Some dystopias are savage desert wastelands, empty of plants and filled with lawless bandits and warlords. That kind of dystopia isn’t often confused with a utopia though; the really dangerous dystopias are the ones that appear to be perfect on the surface, but are secretly horrible.
Here are so common elements of these “totalitarian” dystopias:
|The people are restricted from independent thought and action||People are not free to make their own choices in life, the government chooses for them.|
|The government in control is often oppressive||An oppressive government is often overbearing, has constant surveillance on its people, creates curfews, has military control, and suppresses its people.|
|The setting is often futuristic or in a fictional universe||The setting is often in the future, or in a fictional universe, after a massive war or catastrophe. This helps explain the different structure of society, and justify the power of government.|
|Contains elements of conformity, or extreme equality||People are forced to be very similar and conform to the rules and expectations that the government has set forth.|
|The government portrays their society as a utopia||They use propaganda and subtle manipulation to trick their people into believing things are perfect.|
|The protagonist wishes to restore the people to conventional life||The main character has a moment of clarity and realizes the problems in the society. They try to make a change to 'free the people'.|
Although this lesson can be used for many grade levels, below are the Common Core State Standards for grade 8. Please see your Common Core State Standards for the correct grade-appropriate strands.
Students will be able to define dystopia and utopia. They will also understand how this genre differs from other genres of literature.
Before reading a novel with a dystopian world, go over the definition and the common elements of this genre with your students. It is helpful to have students compare and contrast the meaning of utopia and dystopia. Have students think of movies with elements of dystopias and utopias, and have a class discussion about them. Coming up with a list is a great activator to get them started. They could also create a storyboard comparing and contrasting two movies, or a dystopia and utopia.
While students are reading, or after they have completed the reading, ask them to create a storyboard showing the major elements of a dystopia. They can include, characters, settings, direct quotes, and explanations of each element.
Choose a literary text that prominently features settings that significantly impact the narrative. Identify the key settings within the text, considering their role in shaping the plot, characters, and themes.
Explain to students the concept of setting maps as visual representations of the story's settings. Highlight the purpose of setting maps in facilitating a deeper understanding of the text and its literary elements.
Create exemplar setting maps as models to showcase to students during instruction. Ensure the exemplar maps effectively depict the important elements of the settings and their relationship to the narrative.
Provide step-by-step instructions to students on how to create their own setting maps. Encourage students to include significant details, such as geographic features, landmarks, and symbols that represent each setting.
Facilitate discussions with students on the relationship between the settings and various literary elements such as characters, plot, mood, and themes. Help students analyze how the settings influence and shape these elements, discussing specific examples from the text.
Guide students in interpreting their setting maps, encouraging them to draw conclusions about the story's themes, conflicts, or character development based on their visual analysis. Prompt students to support their interpretations with evidence from the text and their understanding of the settings.
Storyboard cards can be used to visually represent the key themes and concepts of dystopian literature, such as conformity, government control, and the dangers of technology. By creating a series of cards that represent different scenes or moments in a dystopian story, students can analyze how these themes are presented and develop a deeper understanding of the author's message.
When creating storyboard cards for dystopian literature lessons, it is important to focus on key moments or scenes that illustrate the themes and ideas of the story. Use images or symbols that are evocative and help to convey the mood and atmosphere of the story. Additionally, consider the pacing of the story and how the use of storyboard cards can help to break down the narrative into smaller, more manageable parts.
Dystopian literature is relevant today because it allows us to explore important real-life issues, such as government control, social justice, and the dangers of technology. By using dystopian literature as a teaching tool, students can develop a deeper understanding of these issues and become more engaged in the world around them. Additionally, studying dystopian literature can help students to develop critical thinking skills and become more aware of the potential consequences of certain actions or policies.
Storyboard cards can be used to encourage students to analyze the narrative structure of a dystopian story, identifying key plot points and how they relate to the story's themes and message. By creating their own storyboard cards, students are forced to think critically about the story and consider how different elements fit together.