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Science Fiction for ESL Students

Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

Science fiction books generate fascinating discussions about 'Could that really happen?' This lesson describes seven accessible science fiction novels, indicates their approximate reading levels and provides jumping-off points for discussions.

Why Science Fiction?

Science fiction is a lot of fun to read, but it also gets your students thinking. It asks the question, ''What if?'' ''What if we were able to bring the dead back to life?'' ''What if nuclear war forced us all to live underground?'' ''What if aliens landed on our planet?''

The following stories all use language accessible to ESL students. They have entertaining stories to get your students reading, and fascinating plots sure to develop lively discussion. The books have been divided into three categories (beginner, late-beginner to early-intermediate, and intermediate) and they have been listed from least to most complex in terms of reading ability. Additionally, a discussion question is provided for each novel to start students reflecting and responding.

Beginner Books

The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel, written by Jeanne DuPrau, adapted by Dallas Middaugh, and illustrated by Niklas Asker, is an excellent choice for elementary-aged students with very low reading levels. The writing is simple and the visual elements aid comprehension. The underground city of Ember, built 241 years ago, is running low on supplies and its infrastructure is beginning to fail. The young protagonists, Lina and Doon, stumble upon a clue that leads them to discovering the secret of the city and hope for saving its inhabitants.

  • Discussion: Did the builders adequately prepare for Ember's inhabitation? Why or why not? What could they have done differently?

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is perfect for older students who read at the elementary level. The scientist Victor Frankenstein successfully brings a dead body back to life, but quickly regrets his achievement. His creature, rejected by both its creator and the rest of mankind, becomes violent and evil, taking revenge on Dr. Frankenstein's family.

  • Discussion: Dr. Frankenstein's creation is not given a name in the book. Popularly, however, it is referred to as 'Frankenstein.' Why do you think this is? What does this indicate about our culture?

Late-Beginner to Early-Intermediate Books

The dystopian Divergent, by Veronica Roth, is a great choice for older students with lower reading levels. Sixteen-year-old Beatrice (Tris) Prior's society is divided into five factions based on the results of the inhabitants' aptitude test. Tris's results, however, are inconclusive, and she is labeled as 'divergent.' As she soon learns, being divergent is dangerous. Tris must make a choice that will affect her, her family, and her entire society.

  • Discussion: Tris is heavily influenced by her family, her boyfriend, Abnegation and Dauntless. Which of these influences had the biggest impact on her choices? Why do you think so? Is Tris truly divergent, or is she Dauntless through and through? Explain your answer.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle is a classic science fantasy novel. Young Meg Murry's father, a government scientist, disappears after experimenting with the top-secret 'tesseract.' Meg, her younger brother Charles Wallace, and popular Calvin O'Keefe begin an adventure through space and time to battle The Black Thing and rescue her father.

  • Discussion: In your opinion, what is the most significant event for each of the three protagonists? Why? Describe how the main characters have changed throughout the novel.

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