The dystopian book genre comprises the bulk of Mr. Star Wars’ 8th grade book stack (check out my other BLOG POST about middle school boy books). Dystopian books are a sub category of science fiction and are a favorite YA book genre. Science fiction books are generally geared to middle and high school students because the content is heavier. Themes and common story lines in science fiction stories deal with apocalyptic events, death, disease, dying, wars and typically have a dark tone.
In dystopian books, the protagonist or main character faces a big challenge that will possibly save the world, and he/she uses various skills and cunning to make that happen. I believe this is the appeal of the dystopian book. A character who is the same age as the reader takes on an important cause and succeeds in some way. It gives the reader a sense of empowerment.
How do you know a book is science fiction?
- The story answers a “what if” question. What if we could time travel? What if we lived on Mars? What if the temperatures on Earth rise significantly?
- The story incorporates the impact of scientific or technological changes on people.
- The setting is in the future or alternate universe.
How do you know a science fiction book is dystopian?
- Division of citizens into distinct groups or classes
- In the future
- War or apocalyptic event has happened in the past to change society
- Individuals have little power, information or free thought is restricted
- Illusions of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control
- The hero/protagonist sees the problem with society and wants to change the system
Many middle school classrooms will include a dystopian book as part of the reading curriculum this school year. Use THIS ACTIVITY PAGE to identify general science fiction characteristics in books, dystopian characteristics, and then compare to a specific book.
My Dystopian Book List… so far
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- The Maze Runner by James Dashner
- Divergent by Veronica Roth
- Matched by Allie Condie
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
- Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Teaching resources available HERE)
- Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
- The 100 by Kass Morgan
- Dry by Neal Shusterman
- Scythe by Neal Shusterman
- The Neptune Project by Polly Hollyoke
- Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
- The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
- Empty by Suzann Weyn
- 1984 by George Orwell
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
- Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
- Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
- The White Mountains by John Christopher (Teaching resources available HERE)
A Pinterest page writing activity can be a great way for students to summarize and share key information on a topic you have been studying in class. My students recently designed a Pinterest page to show what they learned about Native Americans in the Southwest, but I have also used this writing activity with novel studies. My students were able to double up on some technology skills too, but the activity could be used with a printable template and handwritten if you don’t have access to computers.
A Social Studies Pinterest Page
- I started the activity by giving my students THIS PLANNING PAGE in order to brainstorm. They chose the Southwest group on which they wanted to focus, selected four sub-topics based on our class readings and notes, and jotted their notes down on the planning page.
- Students needed a general description of the Native people that included the region and climate where the people lived. This is the equivalent to the profile information in a real Pinterest account.
- Next, students sketched a simple drawing of the item that would be the image for the pin and a brief description (about three sentences) for the image on the planning page. Each pin represented a specific aspect or attribute of the Native American group. For example, my students who were creating a Navajo Pinterest board might have pins for weaving, a hogan home, turquoise jewelry, or sheep because these were some of the key details we read about in our textbook and supplemental readings.
- Since we were also reviewing how to identify topic, main idea, and details, many students recognized how this project broke their information into topic (the name of the board), main idea (each pin topic), and details (the description with the pin).
- THIS PINTEREST TEMPLATE could be used for any social studies topic. Students open the PowerPoint document and click in the text boxes to add their text using the ideas from their planning/brainstorm page. They can delete the blank rectangle image place holders and insert their own images or leave the rectangles, print, and hand draw pictures. If you want students to handwrite the entire activity, use THIS PRINTABLE TEMPLATE.
A Book Character Pinterest Page
- The character Pinterest page is a unique writing activity for students to share what they know about a favorite book character. It requires students to identify key character traits and design a board that represents the book character. I tried this activity for the first time last year, and it was a good challenge for the students to explain why a character would choose to “pin” a certain item. The thinking process involved in designing the character Pinterest page was more involved than it appears at first glance.
- I give the students THE PLANNING PAGE. They choose a key character from a book and think about specific traits for that character. The trick is to identify traits that define the character and translate that into a pin image with a description that shows understanding of a character. For example, Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web might pin the latest edition of a thesaurus because she needs word ideas to help Wilbur. We created Pinterest boards for the main characters in a graphic novel called Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise. Next to the profile picture, students wrote a general description of the character and then dug deeper into the character with the pin choices and descriptions.
- THIS CHARACTER PINTEREST TEMPLATE could be used for any novel or story. If you want students to handwrite the entire activity, use THE PRINTABLE TEMPLATE.
For even more fun writing activities you can use in your classroom, CLICK HERE.
I am a sucker for inspirational teacher characters in literature. I love books that include a teacher (or coach or mentor) who provides quiet support for a main character at just the right moment. I just finished reading Towers Falling by Rhodes and cheered for Mrs. Garcia when she quietly helps Deja adjust to the new school and anticipates Deja’s frustrations. In Hate That Cat, by Creech, I want to be the character, Miss Stretchberry. Miss Stretchberry is that once-in-a-lifetime teacher who changes a child’s entire school career. She sees all of the hidden strengths in Jack, the narrator in the story, and spends time nurturing those qualities.
Characters such as Miss Stretchberry and Mrs. Garcia are some of my favorites. They are not the only teacher characters in literature who inspire me. I love the way Mr. Burton in No Talking embraces the students’ creativity in participating in class with as few words as possible. I have so much respect for Miss Harris in The Great Gilly Hopkins when she negotiates Gilly’s anger in a positive way. I learn something valuable for my teacher toolkit from every teacher character in these books.
My Favorite Inspirational Teacher Characters Book List
- Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
- Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
- Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
- Hank Zipzer by Henry Winkler (pay attention to the music teacher)
- Homesick by Kate Klise
- Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
- Mrs. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson
- No Talking by Andrew Clements
- The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen, 7th grade+ (pay attention to the math teacher)
- The Secret School by Avi
- A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
- Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes
- The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
- The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
- Wonder by R. J. Palacio
- Word after Word after Word by Patricia MacLachlan
- The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
For adults (and particularly teacher adults), try the book Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell.
Need more book ideas? CLICK HERE for a list boys will love, and CLICK HERE for a list with strong girl characters.
I abandoned my traditional Teacher Emergency Kit back to school gift this year for a teacher snack bar that all the teachers at my school could enjoy. My children attend the school where I teach, and traditionally, I have made THESE KITS for my kid’s homeroom teachers. Well, my son and daughter are in middle school now (*sniff*), and they see multiple teachers throughout the day. I thought setting up a snack bar in the teacher kitchen for everybody to enjoy would be a great way to thank all the teachers.
Last spring during Teacher Appreciation Week, I put together a BEVERAGE BAR, and I used that same idea but with snacks. The interesting thing is that everyone commented on loving the salty snacks. I think when people bring treats for teachers, it is often cookies, cakes, muffins… I made a mental note to provide salty teacher treats more often.
Setting up a Teacher Snack Bar
I made Spicy Ritz Crackers, Tijuana Tidbit Snack Mix (CLICK HERE), and my daughter baked brownies. We put the mixes in cookie tins, the brownies on a platter, and set out napkins, small plates, and small 5-oz plastic tumbler cups to hold the snack mix. All the snacks were on the counter in the common teacher kitchen, and people walked by throughout the day and grabbed a little bite. The seasoned Ritz crackers were the crowd favorite. I was worried they would be too spicy but that is why everyone loved them.
- 1/2 c. melted butter (one stick)
- 1 packet Ranch dressing mix
- 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 T. red pepper flakes
- 1 t. garlic powder
- 1 box original Ritz crackers
- Let melted butter cool slightly. Mix butter, Ranch dressing mix, grated Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder.
- Put Ritz crackers in a mixing bowl.
- Pour butter mixture over the Ritz crackers and gently stir to coat crackers.
- Put crackers on a foil lined baking sheet in a single layer.
- Bake at 300 degrees for 15 minutes.
- Let cool and store in a Ziploc bag or airtight container.
All the snacks were gone before lunchtime! It was an easy teacher appreciation gift, and I will definitely set up something similar again.
I have several weaknesses, and cool office supplies is definitely one of them (mini sized things and cupcakes are close behind). Recently, several sizes of Post-it Big Notes caught my eye as I wandered up and down the Staples aisles. How could I resist? Post-it notes are a teacher’s best friend, and there are so many uses for them. With a regular sized Post-it note, my favorite activity is to print rubrics with them LIKE THIS. But, the giant Post-it notes opened up a whole new catalog of classroom activity ideas.
I decided I needed an activity tout de suite for the giant sized sticky papers. I emailed the 8th grade teachers to see if we could plan a group activity to review summer reading the first week back at school. I wanted the students to compare aspects of a hero. Both grades read books over the summer that dealt with heroes and mixing the two groups helped encourage more discussion about the topic.
We asked the students to create a thinking web. The students wrote the word hero in the middle of the sticky note. Students added words that describe a hero to the first layer of the web. Attached to the vocabulary words, students added details from their summer reading books that supported the descriptive words. Finally, the students made a generalization about heroes. The older students read Unbroken by Hillebrand and my students read Poppy by Avi. Even though the books are vastly different, there was quite a bit of common ground. The finished webs helped the 8th graders develop an essay about what makes a person a hero. The 4th graders used the webs to trace Poppy’s hero’s journey.
Since we could move the Post-it notes and stick them to the board, walls, or other areas around the room, the students could easily compare ideas with other students. I could have students working in different locations whether they were standing up or sitting down, and we could move and group the giant notes based on our different discussions.
Other Ways to Use Post-it Notes with Students
- Have students write their favorite detail from a story and then move them into the order that follows the story plot.
- At the end of a unit, have one giant Post-it note for a specific sub-topic or concept within the unit. Students add notes about the topic. Each Post-it note becomes ideas for a paragraph in a writing assignment or summary of the pieces of a unit to build a final overview of the unit.
- Write the title of the novel you are using as a read aloud, in reading groups, or in book clubs at the top of the Post-it note. As students find favorite quotes, copy the quote on the big paper. Or, copy quotes onto regular sized Post-it notes and attach to the big Post-it. Quotes can be moved or grouped to reveal character information, themes, conflicts, etc.
- Write a book genre name at the top of the Post-it. As students complete books, they add a title that matches the genre to the appropriate big Post-it. The book lists become a book recommendation wall. In place of writing the title, you could print a small image of the book cover and attach the picture to the giant Post-it.
- Practice perspective and point of view by pasting an image that includes a group of people in the middle of the big note and assign a group of students to each Post-it. Students practice point of view by making a comment from the point of view of people in the picture using first person, third person, third person limited, etc.
- Write a spelling rule, pattern, root word, or any specific vocabulary “family” at the top of the paper. Add examples as you find them and keep the Post-it in view, so student can see the growing list. This would work well in science and social studies classes too.
- Design a timeline for history topics. Label a Post-it for a time period and add notes, images, ideas to the Post-it. As you study new periods, stick the Post-its side-by-side in time order. It is a great visual to see progression in technology, culture, industry, movement of people and goods, and other themes.
- Write a topic or concept that you are studying in class at the top of the Post-it. Any time students find examples in their daily life, they write the example on the big note. If you are reviewing comparative adjectives, students can write words they use during the day that are this type of adjective (faster, slower, sharper, colder…). This idea would also work well in a math class, so students could see a variety of examples of a new concept.
- Any type of anchor chart! The fact that the Post-it paper sticks to most surfaces and can be moved and re-stuck is great for teacher anchor charts. You can have the information in a prominent area and then move it to a side location in your classroom where it can still be viewed but is not taking up prime real estate.
There is one drawback to the big Post-it notes– the price. They are a little more expensive than chart paper, so I am saving them for special activities. To read about more classroom activity ideas, CLICK HERE and HERE.