Dystopia Novel Study

This week has been one of the best weeks I have had with my fifth graders so far!  We just started our dystopian novel study, and I have been amazed at the level of interest and thinking my students have shown.  

I love love love books that take place in dystopian societies.  These books are challenging, complex, and make you question the world you currently live in.  I use to hate to read because it was extremely difficult for me.  Finally, my sixth grade teacher introduced me to The Giver by Lois Lowry, and I fell in love with literature.   I figured since this is a topic I am interested in, my students might get a kick out of it too!

To start our study, I presented my class with a list of “new” rules that would take effect immediately.  Let’s just say they were not thrilled with the new direction of our class 🙂

The rules included:

  1. You are no longer allowed to talk or communication with anyone unless given permission by me.
  2. You can not discuss your past or family with anyone for any reason.
  3. You are being placed into three groups: high, medium, and low and cannot converse with anyone that is not in your group.
  4. During class, you must stay in your seat at all times.

I then had them journal about their feels about the new rules, reasons why rules like these would be implemented, and how these rules affected their rights and freedoms.  At this point I could tell how upset they were (some kiddos looked like they were going to cry), so I finally told them that they didn’t need to worry because these are the types of rules that you might see in a dystopian society.  I don’t think I heard a greater sigh of relief ever in my life as I did at that moment.   

Before students are able to choose their dystopian books on Friday, they are learning about the 6 characteristics of dystopias and identifying these characteristics in a short story.   Each day I have had at least ten kids stay after to talk to me about the lesson and other dystopian books they have read.  It has been so much fun!   I am thrilled that I found a topic that my GATE students universally love!  

What a great way to start a new unit!


Survival Week

Survival Week has been a blast. My fifth graders just finished reading The Cay and as their culminating activity all 35 students in my GATE class got to build solar ovens, create shelters, classify real plants using a field guide, tie knots, and construct water filters.  These projects were so much fun and allowed my kids to experience what Philip went through in the novel.  In addition, they continue to develop their problem solving, critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills.



By far, constructing shelters was the class favorite. I gave each group 4 pieces of wood, 3 feet of rope, masking tape, and a plastic tarp. Only one group successful completed the challenge, but it was so much fun to watch everyone problem solve and adjust their designs to create the most stable shelter possible.

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Solar Ovens

The other favorite was making solar ovens. I provided each group with directions, a pizza box, plastic wrap, tin foil, scissors, black and red construction paper, and a Popsicle stick. After groups made their solar ovens, it was time to test them out by making SMORES! Students couldn’t believe that the ovens actually worked (especially since it was only 50 degrees outside).

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Classifying Plants

Students worked in their groups to identify plants using a field guide.  I found this great guide and went out one Saturday and collected ten of the plants from the book.  I then put each of the plants into a ziplock bag and numbered it.  Students looked at the pictures and descriptions in the guide to classify them.  This proved to be very hard for my class. Three groups were able to successfully match 7 of them and all the other groups only matched 4 or less.  I loved this activity because students had to pay very careful attention to detail and the answer was not always obvious!

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Tying Knots

I found the Boy Scout Knot Tying Guide and made a copy for each of my students and gave them two feet of tope.  Students had to use the guide to tie as many knots as possible in 20 minutes.  I wasn’t sure if they were going to like this station as much as the others, but everyone had a great time!

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Water Filters

The final rotation was to the water filter station.  Each student was given directions, cheesecloth, sand, gravel, plastic water bottle, rubber band, and a pair of scissors.  Once students believed they had successful built a water filter, they came me to get a cup of dirty water (potting soil mixed with water).   Some kiddos struggled but they eventually made adjustments when they saw their peers successfully complete their filters.  All of the filters worked great!

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I will definitely be doing this project again next year!