Sixth graders are an excellent age for Science Fiction. I might even go so far as to say the perfect age.
My group for the first lesson contained four boys and two girls, which was a nice mix of enthusiasm and maturity, since the girls at that age are much better at following instructions. I was a little concerned that the students either wouldn’t have had enough experience with Science Fiction in any form, or that they wouldn’t recognize it when it was presented to them, and as a result they might struggle with coming up with things for their own sci fi stories.
I shouldn’t have. 12 year old brains are ripe for the Sci-Fi picking.
After rattling off several book series and movies (Star Wars is huge in 6th grade. It was when I was their age, too, but I’d sort of forgotten, because it was never my favorite. Please don’t strike me down.) I asked them to brainstorm things that they think of when they think about Science Fiction. And they were off:
And when prompted to think outside the Space Odyssey subgenre…
“Gummi space worms!”
Space worms were a recurring theme. Once they were started, all worries about getting them thinking about sci fi were gone, and instead the unexpected problem was wrangling their imaginative momentum and guiding their focus onto one thing at a time. It’s a good problem to have, definitely.
We started with characters: a human astronaut and an alien of their own creation. I gave them this criteria as a diving board, which I soon realized they didn’t really need, when one student piped up with the question “can the astronaut be humanoid?”
Absolutely. That’s a level of subtlety and potential conflict that I had hoped to get to a few sessions down the road, not in the first one. These kids are impressive.
Creating characters came easily to them, and they went well beyond the prompts that I was giving them. A few had whole stories composed based on the characters, when all I was really looking for were notes and ideas. The exercise highlighted something we’ll be working on in the next session: mechanics of a story.
The creative part is definitely their strong suit, so I’ve adapted my plan for the next lesson to focus more on what makes a story complete. How do we map out a beginning, middle and end, and not rush through those things in half a page? What are the highs and lows of a story arc? What sort of journey should our characters experience?
We’ll be making fantasy maps of the worlds they’re creating, so they’ll need to think in terms of what details are necessary to create a whole, functioning world–what is the planet made of? Is there atmosphere? How much light/heat does it get? Is there water? Magnetic fields? We’ll also look at some story “maps,” including, but not limited to, the widely recognized “Plot Roller Coaster.”
Story maps and world maps in their future. It’s almost like I planned it.