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Out of This World #2: Genres and Science Fiction

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students are introduced to the concept of “genre.”  They also discover a bit more about Science Fiction by listening to a story by one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, Ray Bradbury.  Last week’s emphasis was on factfinding and non-fiction.  This lesson makes a connection between the Unit of Inquiry and literature.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



To be able to explain the concept of genre as well as a few characteristics of the Science Fiction genre.

Suggested Time:

40-45 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each student will make complete notes that will include the definition of “genre,” examples of at least six types of literary genres, and characteristics of the Science Fiction genre.

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Remind the students that last week they worked on a factfinding mission.  In this lesson, they will discover what a genre is.  Understanding the concept of genre is a big step up for Grade 4 students.  For Grades 3 and below, we talk about chapter books, fiction vs nonfiction, and the Five Finger Rule.  While very helpful, there is more we can learn about fictional (made-up) stories.  Today’s lesson begins that effort.

Distribute the student handout (attached).  Ask students to put their names, class, and the date on their papers, then read through the first page of the assignment.

Ask the students whether they have ever heard the term “genre” or have any idea what it means.  In my years of teaching this lesson, I’ve had kids able to give examples of genres, but no one has ever been able to define it well.  I like to define “genre” as simply “a category of literature or art.”  Ask the students to record this simple definition under question #1.

2. Main:

Continue the introduction to genres by showing some of the genre categories.  I usually print the Genre Studies PowerPoint (attached) and simply show the students the names of various genres found in the school library.  Please be sure to adjust the presentation to reflect your collection and your school’s genres.

Once students have written down at least six examples of different kinds of genres, ask them to come to the carpet or storytelling area.  Advise them that you are going to read a short story, and they will have to try to work out which genre it best fits.

Read Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day.  The story will be a challenge for fourth or fifth graders.  There is no happy ending and the cruelty described in the story takes students by surprise.  But, this is classic science fiction and is easily identifiable as science fiction.  All Summer in a Day is:

  • Set on Venus
  • Imagines a future in which there is space travel
  • Imagines colonization on other planets in our Solar System
  • Portrays characters whose lives are shaped by the confines of life on another planet (examples: Underground homes, constant rain)

A lot of students are shocked because there is no resolution with Margot.  A few of them even forget about Margot and get caught up in the glory of the few hours in the sun.  All Summer in a Day makes an impact on your learners, which is exactly what we hope for!  We want the students to have a reaction to this story, to be awed by it, frustrated by it, or confused by it, and then be able to sort out their reactions.  Although we are not working through All Summer in a Day as a piece of literature, the students will almost certainly sense that this is different from other stories they have read.

Before sending the kids back to finish the written work, show them several examples of titles from the science fiction section that are in the library collection.  This is a bit of a “show and tell”, but it usually gets them excited about trying something from the genre for themselves.  Bring eight to ten books, the covers of which you can show and the stories of which you can highlight.

3. Conclusion:

Have the students return to their seats.  Project the characteristics of science fiction (see the attached PowerPoint slides) and have them add at least four of these to their notes.  Finally, ask them to wrap up the written assignment by providing an example of a story or book from the science fiction genre.  They can use All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury or any of the additional titles you showed them.

  1. Student Handout (attached)
  2. Genre PowerPoint presentation (attached)
  3. Copy of any book that contains “All Summer In A Day” by Ray Bradbury. One example is Science Fiction Stories chosen by Edward Blishen and published by Kingfisher.
  4. Additional Lesson Materials for “All Summer In A Day,” found here: http://www.storyboardthat.com/teacher-guide/all-summer-in-a-day-by-ray-bradbury  Be aware that these are recommended for Grades 6-8 and go more into depth on the piece as a work of literature.  In this lesson, I have only used it as an example of the science fiction genre.
  5. A collection of eight to ten Science Fiction books from the library collection.

Even my most unruly classes are spellbound by Bradbury’s story.  I love reading this to the students because it asks so much more of them!  The vocabulary is challenging, the genre is probably new, the author is almost certainly unfamiliar, and the story ends unexpectedly.  It succeeds as a lesson because the children can identify it as science fiction, but it leaves them with so many more questions about literature.

After this lesson, kids usually flock to the Science Fiction section of our library!

Recommended books for this lesson:

Science Fiction Stories chosen by Edward Blishen (Kingfisher).  You will find All Summer in a Day reprinted in this short story collection.

Key Terms:

Ray Bradbury, Science Fiction, Genres, Genre, SciFi, Short Stories

Student Handout, Genre Studies

Genre Studies PowerPoint