Dystopian Literature: Brave New Worlds?

With the recent huge popularity of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy and James Dashner’s The Maze Runner trilogy, teens are already flocking to dystopian literature—though they likely don’t know it by that name. In this project, high school teachers juxtapose classic dystopian literature with the newer young adult publications (L1), then ask students to draw their own conclusions about what makes a dystopian society (P2, P8, K1, K5).

To begin, the English classroom teacher teaches classroom units on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell. While many methods for teaching these novels are available, some sample materials are available on this page (P8, K1, K8). The bulk of this page, however, focuses on the next part of the study, which is an independent project taught collaboratively by the English classroom teacher and the school media specialist (P3, P10, K6, K7).

For the project, each student selects dystopian novel to read independently. To aid in this selection, the school media specialist (K6) will create a list of suggested novels (P1, L1), though students are still welcome to select dystopian novels off-list if they wish (P2, L1). The library media specialist (K6) will provide a list of “book blurbs” on the suggested novels for students to peruse. The media specialist (K6) can also provide links to a variety of book trailer videos that can be found online (P6, P7, P9, K10, L3, L5). These tools will assist students in making their book selections (P4). For students who are still uncertain what to pick, the school media specialist (K6) will conduct individual conferences to determine interests and the best match (P1, P4, K8).

Next, the students will need to read their selected books (L1). In addition to the novels themselves (P1), the school media center will have a wide variety of resources available to students to aid them in this process. Auditory learners may wish to listen to their books on CD or MP3, using headphones while at school (L2, L4). Visual learners may check out DVD versions of their books to watch before or after reading (L2). Some students might choose to read their books on Kindles, while others will opt for traditional print versions (P5, P6, P7, P9, K8, K10). Students who want more information or clarification about their novels can use school laptops (L5) to access authors’ websites and other authoritative literary websites (L3). Throughout this process, students will have access to a variety of work areas (L7), including large tables, open spaces, computer labs, and comfortable seating.

After reading, the students will use concept mapping (K3) to identify similarities in the themes or “big ideas” of the three novels (Brave New World, 1984, and their choice novel). Each student will then work collaboratively with the English teacher or school media specialist (K6) to examine their maps and decide on a focus for his/her project (K7). Maps can be created by hand or by using online tools such as Diigo (P9, K10, L5). Each student will decide on some common element (or combination of elements) that is present in all of the dystopian societies in their novels. What is this element, and how does it help to create the dystopian society? In what way is it oppressive or harmful to the people in the novel? (P2, P8, P10, K2, K5)

Once each student has selected their dystopian element, they may progress to the next stage of the project, which is creating some kind of final product to demonstrate that element and its effects across all three novels (P2). Students will have full access to their English teacher, the school media specialist (K6), and all media center resources to aid them in creating these products (P1). Students will use a variety of pre-product strategies to brainstorm ideas, including outlining and free writing (K4). Students can also create organizers (K9) to firm up their ideas before embarking on their final products.

After solidifying his ideas, a student might choose to check out a digital camera and take pictures to represent each novel, then assemble them on a posterboard or a PowerPoint slideshow. Another student might use a video camera (L6) and video editing software on a media center laptop (L5) in the video production area (L8) to create book trailers of their own (P5, P7, P9, K10). Other students might write original poetry or a short story that demonstrates their chosen theme, then use a microphone and speakers to present a reading to classmates (L4). Still others might choose to partner with history teachers to examine the historic roots of the dystopian elements in their novels, work with science teachers to question the reality of scientific elements in their stories, or art teachers to create unique murals, sketches, or paintings (L10) to represent their novels (P10, K7, K8). While creating their projects, students will interact with each other to perform peer edits and get peer feedback on creative projects in order to improve their products (K4).

When all projects have been completed, the school media specialist (K6) will host a presentation open house in the media center (P5, L9). Each student will have a chance to present his project (L9), explaining what choice book he read, what element or dystopian society he chose to focus on, and how his project represents this element (K5). In this way, classmates, other students, teachers, parents, and other community members will have the opportunity to learn about a variety of dystopian novels and their applications to the students’ real lives (P10, K2).