Educational Strategies

Using Fiction to Teach 21st Century Learning Standards

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In many of the curriculums designed today, fiction has taken a back seat to non-fiction essays as the tool of choice to teach research and essay writing. However, if an instructor selects fictional works with care, s/he can incorporate fictional works into lessons that not only lend themselves to research, analysis, and writing, but also involve many of the standards for 21st century learners, both in subject content and technology.

Today’s learners need to know how to evaluate all the information with which they are daily bombarded from every direction. They need to be able to identify logical fallacies, hidden agendas, suspicious websites, as well as the impact of the media on mass perception. These are life-skills that we, as English teachers, can easily work into our curriculum.

Using one fictional work, such as a novel, and supplementing it with readings about writing as well as some non-fiction essays would be an effective mix. After all, we are always trying to encourage our students to become lifelong readers as well as lifelong learners. Reading for pleasure is an excellent pastime to encourage. You might poll your students to discover their reading interests by asking them to take an online reading survey. Newer, trendy novels can lend themselves to effective assignments with a bit of planning by the instructor and guided reading and assignments.

Michael Crichton's Next

Michael Crichton’s novel Next (2006) is a wonderful exciting read; it is a work full of ethical issues that are relevant today and greatly impact our future. As the readers witness the effects of genetic modifications gone awry, we are shown how the media reports and exacerbates these problems. We read from the perspectives of various characters how they will work the media in order to achieve their desired results. In one case, we even witness a woman creating websites to further credit erroneous information she wishes her daughter to believe. Additionally, much of what is written in this fictional work has some basis in truth, so it would lend itself well to students conducting research to determine to what degree certain elements are truth or are total fiction.

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Michael Crichton includes an Author’s Note and an extensive bibliography (including websites) at the end of the novel. In the Author’s Note, he mentions the currency of many of the issues covered in the novel and his recommendations for what needs to be done to protect the American public.

Creating Assignments from Fictional Work

Using this novel in a semester-long class, an instructor could easily incorporate many common assignments that would engage students because of the relevancy to a hot-topic today. Most of these exercises incorporate technological tools.


Use for discussing the ethical/moral issues in the novel (you could leave this open or post weekly questions to focus students’ comments)




Technological Expressions

Oral presentations or debates

Website Evaluation Project Webquest


Contact: Created April 12, 2010 Updated April 25, 2010 © 2010 Shoshana Gray
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