10 Activities for Any Dystopian Novel

It’s no secret that teens love dystopia, whether it’s The Giver, Scythe, Divergent, The Hunger Games, Fahrenheit 451, or any text from this wildly popular genre.  Not only is the genre popular, but it’s incredibly teachable, too. Dystopia resonates with teens who see themselves in the rebellious protagonists questioning corrupt governments. Dystopia gives readers a chance to grapple with some seriously complex issues and contemplate how to create change. While some may call dystopian books “dark” or “depressing,” the truth is that many of these texts offer a slice of hope, a blueprint for standing up against a cruel, corrupt world. 

Like many other ELA teachers, this is why I LOVE teaching dystopia. The possibilities are always endless and the engagement is always extra high. (You can read more about why I believe dystopia deserves a spot in middle and high school curriculum HERE.)

So when I looped up to 8th grade after teaching The Giver in 7th grade for years, I knew I had to find a way to teach more dystopia. Since we had the shared reading experience and background knowledge of the genre from The Giver, I decided to teach dystopia via book clubs, or literature circles. (FYI: I use these two phrases interchangeably).

To keep the unit focused and effective, I knew I’d have to get creative with designing lessons, activities, and assessments that would align with any dystopian novel. While this was intimidating at first, I realized that focusing on the genre and its common elements would open up so many possibilities! By keeping it simple and structuring our book clubs on dystopia, I would be able to tie in the standards I wanted to teach and make the unit meaningful, whether the text in question was The Last Cuentista, Legend, Sanctuary, or Unwind. During my unit creation process, I read and reread many of these titles so I could brainstorm and “test out” my various lessons, resources, and activities. 

Ultimately, I created a collection of adaptable dystopian resources that could work for ANY text to use for my dystopian book clubs and any future dystopian novels I might teach in my education career. I am so proud of the final unit, because it’s flexible, creative, engaging, and thought-provoking: specific enough to dig deep into the genre, but generic enough to adapt to any dystopian text. 

If you’re looking for fresh new ideas and flexible activities to pair with your next dystopian whole class novel or book clubs, here are 10 of my favorite engaging lessons to teach dystopia:

Dystopia: What Do You Notice?:

This is a unique, student-centered, and inquiry-based way to launch any dystopian unit. Similar to a book tasting, a “What do you notice?” activity gives students a chance to explore dystopian books and learn as much about the genre through this discovery. To do this in your classroom, round up a big stack of different dystopian books and/or give students a “digital menu” (like the one pictured below). Then, challenge the students to “investigate” the genre and record what they notice and wonder about dystopia. When students have finished exploring the genre, facilitate a whole-class discussion about what they noticed, and add their observations to an anchor chart or Google doc. 

Chances are your students will surprise you with what they notice and you won’t need to spend as much time “defining” the genre or introducing its elements with that old PowerPoint of yours. You can kiss that boring slideshow goodbye and introduce the genre with this hands-on activity that empowers students AND gets them hooked on the genre at the same time. You can find this “What do you notice?” activity HERE or in the dystopian bundle HERE.

Dystopia: Introduction Learning Stations

After introducing the genre, you’ll probably want to prepare students for some of the essential questions and dystopian elements they’ll encounter in the book and get them excited about reading. My favorite way to do this, no matter what book or unit I’m teaching, is via learning stations. Stations are the perfect way to hit all the pre-reading bases, and dystopia is no exception. Here are the 5 stations tasks I designed for our dystopian introduction stations:

  • Station 1: Anticipation Guide 
  • Station 2: Exploring the Genre (2 variations included: browsing books OR watching book/movie trailers)
  • Station 3: Elements of Dystopia
  • Station 4: “Would You Rather?” featuring dystopian scenarios from popular dystopian novels
  • Station 5: The Appeal of Dystopia featuring a 4-minute mini-podcast

If you are teaching a dystopian book club unit where students are reading a variety of titles, these stations are perfect because they are specific enough to focus students on the genre but generic enough to work for any text. If you’re teaching a whole-class novel, such as Fahrenheit 451 or The Hunger Games, the stations are editable, just in case you want to edit some of the questions or content to fit what students will encounter in the text.

For more information on using learning stations to introduce novels and units, check out the following blog posts and resources:

Dystopian Quickwrites and/or Discussion Prompts

Dystopia is inherently engaging for teens, but if you want to capitalize on this, get creative with crafting questions that will spark juicy conversations, insightful writing, and maybe even some debate! Whenever I teach a novel or book club unit, I always like to have a set of questions on hand for quickwrites/bell-ringers, small-group discussions, exit tickets, and more. Even in the middle of a reading unit, I’m always searching for ways to incorporate daily writing practice, whether it’s reader response, analysis, or a real-world prompt. So I created a slide deck of 30 thought-provoking questions that I knew would work for any dystopian text–and made it easily editable so I could adjust things whether I was teaching The Hunger Games or 1984!

If you’re struggling to imagine the types of questions that could work for ANY dystopian novel, here are a few examples:

  • How does the dystopian setting impact the characters in your book? How does it impact their relationships? Explain with examples.
  • How do characters in your book resist or rebel against rules, control, or the status quo? Think about small acts of rebellion AND organized resistance efforts. Explain with examples.

You can find my dystopian writing/discussion prompts available separately or in the dystopian bundle.

Dystopian Elements Gallery Walk

If you’re asking students to identify and analyze dystopian elements in their novels–and even compare them across texts in lit circles–it’s important to give them multiple opportunities to practice this skill in other texts. To familiarize my students with dystopian elements and help them spot these common characteristics across texts, I gathered up a variety of examples from different dystopian novels. Then, I turned these examples into a simple but engaging “gallery walk” activity where students walked around the room and worked on identifying and explaining the elements in each excerpt. 

This activity works well as part of pre-reading, so students are prepared to notice these elements in their books, but you can also use it during reading to encourage students to find similar examples and make connections. We did the latter, and it made for great discussions and comparisons! 

You can find this gallery walk activity HERE or in the dystopian bundle HERE.

Dystopian BINGO Activity

Once students have practiced identifying dystopian elements in multiple texts, they will be ready to start discussing and analyzing these elements–and more–in their current text.  As I mentioned earlier, the genre is our focus, we spend a lot of time discussing these elements, dissecting them, comparing them across texts, and analyzing how they impact the characters, plot, and theme. We are constantly digging into these core elements, so for it to not feel too repetitive, I thought of a creative twist to literary analysis: Dystopian BINGO!

Here’s how it works: Students get a BINGO board full of dystopian elements and other common characteristics, tropes, and patterns found in the genre. Once they identify a BINGO of the elements present in their book, they explain each with specific examples and/or evidence. This is a great way to mix things up in the middle of any dystopian unit, but it’s a fun way to facilitate review before a final assessment or project, too. For example, if you’re asking students to write an essay on dystopian elements in their book or how their book’s setting reflects our society, this would be a perfect pre-writing lesson.

You can find this dystopian BINGO activity–and over a dozen other lessons for any dystopian text–in my bundle HERE.

Postcard from Dystopia Activity

Want to add a dash of creativity to your dystopian uni without sacrificing the standards? Whether your goal is to focus on point of view, impact of setting, character relationships, or theme, a “Postcard from Dystopia” activity can help your readers think about their dystopian books in a unique, engaging way. 

Not only is this activity creative and fun, but it gets students critically thinking and helps to scaffold more complex literary analysis. Here are some powerful extension questions to pair with the “Postcard from Dystopia” activity.

  • Why do you think the author chose this point of view/narrator? How does it impact the story?
  • How does the dystopian setting impact the characters, plot, and/or theme?
  • Which character relationship is the most important, and how does this relationship impact the plot and/or theme?
  • What does the protagonist learn that could be considered a theme? How does the protagonist learn this?

Like everything else mentioned in this blog post, you can find this engaging activity HERE.

Dystopian Power Pyramid & Reflection

Control, inequality, and oppression play a significant role in dystopian literature, but students often need support in analyzing power structures and accessing some of the most complex themes in these texts. This is especially true in middle school, when many students are reading and analyzing dystopian novels–like The Giver or The Hunger Games–for the first time. It’s challenging, but entirely possible with the right approach. 

One way to get students thinking about the hierarchy of power and why it matters is a “power pyramid.” This simple activity helps readers visually analyze power structures by asking them to organize people and groups in the novel in order of how much power they hold in the dystopian society. A power pyramid is a great activity to have students complete in groups because it will often spark a bit of healthy debate. If you’re doing literature circles with different dystopian books, this is another assignment that students can discuss and compare across texts, too. I highly recommend following up this collaborative, visual activity with a written reflection piece to help students analyze why the power pyramid matters. Both the graphic organizer and a written reflection sheet are included in my dystopian bundle for any text HERE.

Conflict in Dystopia Pie Chart

If you haven’t noticed, I’m all about scaffolding literary analysis with creative activities, graphic organizers, and unique alternatives to traditional reading guides! Another engaging but effective example of this is the conflict pie chart, a strategy that requires students to critically think about the conflict and break it down into parts. I’ve used this lesson for everything from “The Crucible” in 11th grade to A Long Walk to Water in 7th, but it’s especially perfect for dystopian novels, since the setting fuels the conflict.

Like the power pyramid, this is another activity that works well in a small group setting, but I’ve also used it as an assessment because it requires critical thinking, analysis, and textual evidence. (It’s also very difficult to complete if you’re slacking on reading homework!) If you’re facilitating book clubs or lit circles, this is another activity you’ll want students to discuss and share out about, too. You can find this resource in my dystopia activity pack HERE.

Dystopia vs. Reality Activities

Since the purpose of dystopia is to exaggerate current flaws, issues, and fears and “warn” readers of what could happen if we are not careful, it only makes sense to compare dystopian settings to “the real world.” Along with studying the genre and its elements, this is another big focus of our unit. How does the dystopia reflect current issues? How “close” is our society to this dystopian future? What is the warning to readers? And what can we do about it all? 

These are tough questions, but to tackle them with the level of depth all ELA teachers dream of, we have to support our students along the way. This is why I planned several activities and “entry points” to help students explore these questions throughout our dystopian book club unit. For example, they make connections to dystopian elements in history/current events during the introduction stations. Then, they begin to track the parallels in a simple Venn diagram. As they read more, I ease them into the questions. Later, they analyze the exaggeration and portrayal of current issues. And finally, they are reading to dissect the book’s warning to readers and the author’s purpose. It’s heavy, complex stuff, but you CAN get there with the right approach!

You can find all of the aforementioned activities in my bundle for any dystopian text HERE.

Dystopia Speed Discussion

So you just finished the book. Now what? Before you facilitate a post-reading discussion or jump into assessments, give your students time to process, reflect, and practice their thinking in a low-risk, engaging way. In other words, set up some “speed discussion” to get them talking, and THEN try a whole-class discussion after you’ve already warmed up their brains. If you’ve never heard of the speed discussion strategy, it’s simple: you pair students up for quick rounds (think 60-90 seconds) of discussion. Each round, students are paired up with a new peer and a new discussion starter. By the end of class, students will have talked to multiple peers about a variety of prompts. 

Here are a few examples of prompts from my dystopian speed discussion activity. As you can see, I like to include a mix of text-based questions, essential questions, and other interesting questions to keep things engaging:

  • What are the main character’s traits and strengths? How do these help the character navigate and challenge the dystopian society? Explain.
  • Does power corrupt people? Explain, connecting your insight to this dystopian story and others you have read.
  • 6-Word Summary: Summarize this dystopian story in just 6 words. Choose each word carefully.

You can find this dystopian speed discussion HERE and speed discussion resources for other texts, including The Hunger Games, Scythe, The Giver, and The Last Cuentista HERE. To learn more about the speed discussion strategy, check out my blog post HERE.

BONUS: “Examination Day” Escape Room

Whether you want to introduce dystopia, review plot/theme, or just surprise your students with a super-fan activity, this “Examination Day” Escape Room is the perfect complement to any dystopian unit. The short story is short and accessible but it gets to the heart of dystopian questions and themes, so it’s a great starting point/foundation for students. If you do this at the beginning of your unit, you can reference it throughout, make connections, and use it for modeling, examples, and more. I designed this mini escape room to challenge middle school students, but I’ve heard from high school teachers who use it for review, quick pairing, or just as a fun activity for the genre.

I hope these activities help you fill in your unit calendar for your next dystopian whole class novel or dystopian literature circles! If you’d like to check out the full bundle of activities that are editable and adaptable to ANY dystopian text, you can find that HERE. To see some of these lessons in action and learn more, check out the following posts and videos below:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *