The Art of Conversation

story by Kathryn England , illustrated by Queenie Chan

Success Criteria:

I can accurately identify the genre of science fiction and the subgenre of dystopia

I can locate and analyse dystopian features in a text

I can create dystopian scenarios based on their own context

Understand the genre of dystopia and make a dystopian prediction about the future.

Before reading the text, provide students with the definition of genre: how texts are distinguished and categorised based on their subject matter (see the NESA Curriculum Glossary). As a class, brainstorm a range of genres (e.g. detective fiction, romance, science fiction, fantasy fiction).

Read and project the first paragraph of ‘The Art of Conversation’ up to the line:

the even more outdated smartphone.

Ask students to predict the genre of this text, based on its opening. Direct them to find specific evidence. Students should recognise that this text is science fiction, referring to the futuristic terms used (blackout, handheld communication device/HCD, technophone) and a reference to time (that smartphones are historical devices).

Before continuing with the story, provide students with a list of typical features of a science fiction text:

Exploring a time that is different from ours, usually in the future

Describes a very different society from our own

The inclusion of non-human characters

The plot centres around new or different science and technology

Characters often go on a journey or use time travel

They are often set in a dystopia, a society with great social problems, injustice or suffering

Read the story. After reading, provide students with a checklist that contains the typical features of science fiction and asks them to find evidence in the story. For example:

1) Feature of Science Fiction:
Exploring a time that is different from ours, usually in the future.

In the text?

Students attend school at home, view each other through a screen and communicate through a range of symbols to shorten sentences.

2) Feature of Science Fiction:
Describes a very different society from our own.

In the text?

Conversation (people talking to each other) has been replaced by text communication. Conversation is taught on the history curriculum.

3) Feature of Science Fiction:
The inclusion of non-human characters

In the text?

All characters in this text are human.

After students have completed their table, draw their attention to the term dystopia. Conduct a class poll on how many students thought that this text was set in a dystopia and record the response. At this stage, students’ opinions will vary.

Expand on the definition of dystopia: an imagined future universe in which there is the image of a perfect and functioning society, however, underneath peoples’ lives are controlled or limited. Dystopias, through an exaggerated worst-case scenario, make a criticism about a current trend or a societal norm. (For more information, view the ReadWriteThink document Dystopias: Definition and Characteristics.) At this stage you may want to list some dystopian texts that students are familiar with, such as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent.

Instruct students to complete a second table that locates and analyses dystopian elements in the story. This table can be completed as a class, or through gradual release of responsibility. Alternatively, you may wish to provide students with a range of dystopian elements and then let them interpret the criticism they make about our society. For example:

Dystopian Element:
Students need to keep their devices near and in sight; devices are said to be as ‘comforting as a mother’s hug’.

Criticism of our society:
People (especially teenagers) are becoming too emotionally reliant on their technology.

Dystopian element:
Students don’t go to school in classrooms, they work from a computer at home.

Criticism of our society:
That students need to be around and learn from each other; that long periods of learning from home might be damaging to society.

Finally, to apply knowledge about dystopias, create a class list of criticisms about our current society. This could include: climate change, fast fashion or animal extinction. Ask students to come up with a future scenario in which this problem is exaggerated and the impact it has had on society. For example:

People have to wear a new outfit every day and at the end of the day burn their clothes in a public incinerator.