Standard Lesson

Paying Attention to Technology: Exploring a Fictional Technology

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 50-minute sessions
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From personal computers to the latest electronic gadgetry for the home or entertainment, Americans seem to have fallen in love with just about anything that will make our high-tech lifestyles more comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable. Students first complete a survey to establish their beliefs about technology before using a literary elements map to explore the role of a fictional technology in a novel such as 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, REM World, or Feed. Next, students discuss and debate what they believe the story's author is saying about technology. By exploring the fictional technology, students are urged to think more deeply about their own beliefs and to pay attention to the ways that technology is described and used. This lesson plan can also be completed with short stories, video games, films, and other fictional resources that examine issues related to science and technology and their possible effects on society.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century, Cynthia L. Selfe urges that educators "must try to understand-to pay attention to-how technology is now inextricably linked to literacy and literacy education in this country" (24). Just learning to use a piece of software or new digital gizmo is not enough. We need to explore technological literacy, which Selfe defines as "a complex set of socially and culturally situated values, practices, and skills involved in operating linguistically within the context of electronic environments, including reading, writing, and communicating" (11). In other words, our classroom activities need to consider not just how to use technology but also to pay attention to why we use the technologies we do when we do.

In "Confronting the Limits of Technology," Larry Johannessen focuses on a classroom activity that falls within the exploration of technological literacy that Selfe defines. Johannessen explains that "our students . . . are fascinated by the latest developments in high-tech wizardry; they can talk endlessly about how they ‘must have' the newest CD player or video game and ‘can't live without' a Walkman or some rock star's music video. Yet, our students have embraced the benefits of a high-tech society without thinking about the possible negative effects of relying too much on technology" (83). This lesson plan asks students to think about their own opinions about technology as well as the representation of technology in fictional readings and to draw conclusions about the failure to pay attention to technology.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

Novel, short story, video game, film, or other resource that examines issues related to science and technology and their possible effects on society (see booklist)




  • Choose the resource that your students will explore from the booklist or another resource. You might invite students to brainstorm a list of items they are aware of that would fit the criteria as well. There are numerous television episodes, films, and video games that could work for this activity. Be sure to brainstorm any list with your students after you have completed the survey.

  • Make copies of the Technology Survey—one copy for each student in Session One and one copy for each group in Session Three.

  • If desired, make an overhead of the Technology Survey to tally class responses on. Alternately, you can tally the results on the board or on chart paper.

  • If you prefer to arrange a more private response to the survey, you can distribute the sheet and have it returned before the discussion session so that you can tally the responses without asking students to reveal their answers to the entire class. If you choose this option, return the completed surveys to students before the first session so that they can check the class responses against their own original response.

  • If you plan on formal assessment of the letters that students write, make copies of the Taking a Position on a Fictional Technology Rubric.

  • Test the Literary Elements Map and Letter Generator on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • complete a short survey to establish their beliefs about technology.

  • compare their opinions to the ideas in a fictional resource that depicts technology.

  • analyze the ways that technology is described and used in a fictional resource.

  • be urged to reexamine and think more deeply about their own beliefs.

Session One: Prereading Survey & Discussion

  1. Explain that you are about to begin an exploration of the role that technology plays in people’s lives and that the first step will be to complete a survey.

  2. Distribute copies of the Technology Survey, and ask students to fill out the sheet.

  3. After students have responded to all of the questions, compile the results on the board, chart paper, or an overhead. You’ll refer to the survey responses in later sessions so use an overhead or chart paper if you’re likely to have to erase the board between sessions.

  4. Begin class discussion with the statements for which there is the most disagreement. Encourage students to explain the reasoning behind their responses and to debate differing opinions. Share the results of this NPR Survey with students and discuss how their views compare to the survey results.

  5. Be sure to challenge students’ views of technology as you discuss the responses to the survey. Many students have an oversimplified view of technology. They readily accept the notion in the first statement on the survey that technology makes life better for everyone. Urge students to think about the ways that technology can be defined.

  6. In discussion of the survey, students may be surprised to discover that everyone does not share their optimism regarding technology. Some students point to pollution or to problems with nuclear power plants or to other technology-related disasters as examples of the potential drawbacks of technological advances. Be sure to ask students for such examples as they discuss their responses.

  7. Encourage students to consider the ways that technology has influenced their lives. As students discuss the survey results, invite them to share any personal experiences that have shaped their opinions.

  8. Once you have discussed most or all of the questions on the survey, ask students to read the story or novel that you’ve chosen.

Session Two: Story Mapping & Discussion

  1. Lead a brief discussion of the reading that students have completed to answer any immediate questions and ensure that students understand any unusual jargon or word choice in the piece.

  2. Establish the names of the main characters and any special place names or significant objects.

  3. With the basics explored, have students use the Literary Elements Map to explore the role of technology in the story in more detail. Students can work individually or in small groups.

  4. If students need additional help with the questions in the tool, you might provide the following tips:

    • Character: Think about technology (however it is defined) as the main character, or focus on the reaction of a key character in your story who is affected by technology.

    • Conflict: Look for conflicts that involve science and/or technology and their possible effects on specific people or on society as a whole.

    • Resolution: The resolution may be a disaster or catastrophe, or it may be a realization on the part of one of the characters. The story doesn’t have to work out to a “happily ever after” conclusion.

    • Setting: Realize that there can be more than one setting in the story. Pay particular attention to the information about the setting that influences the main conflict.
  5. Remind students to print out their information at the end of the session. Explain that if they desire, students can print their responses for a particular literary element (e.g., for a key character in the story using the Character Map) then complete the questions and print them again for a second instance of the element (e.g., for technology as a character in the story using the Character Map).

  6. If time allows, have students share their observations with the class.

Session Three: Technology in Fiction

  1. Divide students into small groups and give each group a new copy of the Technology Survey.

  2. Ask students to use their printouts from the Literary Elements Map and additional evidence from the story to determine how the story’s author would respond to the survey questions.

  3. In addition, ask students to review all their findings and answer the question, “What is the author of this story saying about technology?”

  4. After students have worked out responses to the questions, reassemble the class to discuss and debate their findings.

  5. As groups report their answers, encourage them to compare the responses that characters in the story would give to the Technology Survey to the response that the author would give to the statement. Ask students to draw conclusions about the role of technology in the story and the author’s message about technology based on their class discussion.

  6. When students have explored the survey in relationship to the story, post the students’ own answers to the survey from the first session.

  7. Ask students to compare their own responses to those for the story’s author. Often their opinions will have changed. Encourage students to explain how the story has affected their own opinions.

  8. Encourage students to draw conclusions about the influence of the description and use of technology in the story on their own understanding of and opinions of technologies in the survey and in their daily lives.


  • With some adaptation, this lesson plan can be completed in literature circles—each group exploring a book or story that examines issues related to science and technology and their possible effects on society. The connecting investigation of opinions on technology and the description and use of technology can yield exciting findings as students note where the different authors agree and disagree on the influences of technology on society.

  • Students can use online versions of Brave New World or 1984 for close explorations of text and to track details through the body of the texts. Because of their length, the novels do not lend themselves to being read online; however, students can use the Find command in their Web browser to locate instances of a particular word quickly. For example, if readers of 1984 wanted to find references to the word “telescreen,” the online version would help them move through the book quickly. This capability can be used to find a particular passage that the student is looking for as well as for information going through the text and investigating the use of a term in more details (e.g., noting who uses a term or how often it is used). The online versions will not align with the printed texts that students have, but textual markers such as chapter titles will help them narrow in on the location in their own copies.

  • If your students are exploring M. T. Anderson’s Feed, look for the audio version of the book (Listening Library, 2003), and play excerpts of the Feed broadcasts to help students more vividly imagine the effect of the technology. After hearing the audiobook’s broadcasts, students will likely find comparisons to radio and television very easy.

Student Assessment / Reflections

There is normally considerable disagreement among students discussing which statements on the Technology Survey the author would agree or disagree with and why. This disagreement provides a natural follow-up writing situation that can serve as an assessment for the activity. Ask students to write a letter about why they think the author would agree or disagree with one of the statements from the survey that the class could not come to agreement on. The letter should be addressed to someone else in the class who disagrees with their viewpoint.

Students can use the Letter Generator and include their responses in their journals for informal assessment or submit the letter for more formal assessment. Look for details from the readings that support the position that students argue in their letters. Students can exchange letters with others in the class then continue the discussion of the author’s position. In their discussion, encourage students to refer to points from the letters that they agree or disagree with.

If formal assessment of the piece is desired, share the Taking a Position on a Fictional Technology Rubric to establish the expectations for the activity then use the document to guide your response to student work.