If you’re looking for stories to engage your middle school students, then Ray Bradbury short stories are your magic ticket! His science fiction is sure to illicit inferencing skills, critical thinking, thoughtful discussions, and literary analysis. Bradbury’s stories can be used together as a dystopia unit, or you can use your favorite(s) to review the story elements of fiction.
Ray Bradbury is especially gifted at showcasing dystopia through technological control and life on a new planet. His short stories invite rich discussion when we ask students to consider the strengths of technology: What advantages do we have thanks to technology, including robots and artificial intelligence?
I’ve compiled a list of students’ – and teachers’ – favorite dystopian short stories from Ray Bradbury – both well-known works and some lesser-known, too. See what made the list!
#1) The Veldt
Peter and Wendy Hadley are children who are never told, “No,” and they are given every technological advantage, including a playroom that can shift into whatever the kids imagine, like an African veldt. Unfortunately for Peter and Wendy’s parents, the imagined lions have been trained to kill.
When reading The Veldt, you’ll appreciate the opportunities to showcase imagery (like sensory details), inferencing, predictions, plot analysis (especially setting and characterization), and the author’s use of dialogue in this short story. A mini-lesson on plot can include breaking students into groups to act out and/or create in a comic strip an assigned part of a specific portion of the plot. The “HappyLife Home” also offers a unique opportunity to incorporate creativity by designing a sales brochure for the smart home. You can also wrap up the story using an “Escape The Veldt” escape room. Turn up the scary lo-fi music, and have students analyze the literary elements and devices as they try to break free.
Students always love how creepy the Hadley children turn out to be!
#2) Zero Hour
In Zero Hour, students meet Mink: a strong-willed, spirited, and spunky seven-year-old. Mink has an imaginary friend who turns out to be an alien planning a hostile takeover of Earth by utilizing children and their quest for freedom and autonomy. Told from Mink’s mom’s perspective, this story captures the fear of losing control and the innocence of children.
Like many other Bradbury stories, Zero Hour ends with a chilling final line. Fortunately, this makes for a great creative writing opportunity to have students write what happens next. Another idea is to turn this tale into a reader’s theater version and allow students to perform in the classroom; afterward, you can view one of the movie adaptations shared online. Using this Zero Hour escape room, you can reinforce the concepts of conflict, foreshadowing, and much more.
Students will enjoy discussing hints that showcase how Drill manipulates Mink’s innocence.
#3) All Summer in a Day
Perhaps one of Bradbury’s most popular stories to teach, All Summer in a Day captures what it might be like to live on Venus, a planet with near-constant rainstorms and only a couple of hours of sunlight every seven years. The students, who are nine years old in the story, team up to bully Margot because they are jealous of her experience with the sun (she moved from Earth five years earlier).
Teachers will have the opportunity to focus on the setting by allowing students to compare and contrast Margot’s life on Earth versus her life now, on Venus. Teachers can also focus on thematic analysis by helping students to explore the lesson learned by the children in the story after their choices have affected Margot.
Students will enjoy thinking about how their lives would be different if they lived on a different planet.
#4) Dark They Were and Golden Eyed
Dark They Were and Golden Eyed is about a time when Earth is at war, and rockets filled with humans have been sent to inhabit Mars. The humans begin to be lulled into complacency on this new planet, and while they notice minor changes in themselves and their surroundings, they accept their fate and become new creatures. Eventually, people from Earth travel to save the original Mars settlers, but those people no longer exist, so the cycle begins again.
Teachers can bring in non-fiction articles to help students create real-life connections to life on Mars, which will make the conflict of this story come to life.
Students will be intrigued by the imagined reality of life on a different planet due to a war-torn world.
#5) The Pedestrian
The Pedestrian shows what a sedentary society completely dominated by television viewing each night might look like. Leonard Mead is the only citizen who goes on walks at night; everyone else is stuck inside and hypnotized by the T.V. Leonard is eventually picked up by a robotic police car and taken away to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.
This short story can inspire a classroom discussion about the dangers of too much screen time, be it television, computer screens, or cell phones. You might also incorporate non-fiction articles on this topic, so students have the real-world background knowledge needed to take a stance either for or against screen time limits.
#6) There Will Come Soft Rains
Perhaps one of my personal favorites, this story is a haunting testament of what a home entirely run by technology might look like in an apocalypse – the alarms continue, the food is prepared, the music plays, the bath is filled…
Teachers can conclude a dystopian short stories unit by having students compare the imagery of this story with their own imagined utopia. What elements would they include in their “perfect” home?
Students will be excited to plan for their ultimate utopia.
These Ray Bradbury short stories are a fantastic jumping-off point into independent reading or dystopian-focused book circles. If your students enjoyed learning more about broken utopias, then you might recommend the following novels: The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer; Legend, by Marie Lu; Cinder, by Marissa Meyer; Scythe, by Neal Schusterman; and Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card.
Consider asking some of the following essential questions when guiding your students through these engaging short stories:
- Why would an author choose to write a story about a futuristic society with serious and sometimes dangerous faults?
- What current trends, or ideas, exist in our world today that the author might be thinking of when writing this type of story?
- What benefits do dystopian stories lend to you and your world?
Ultimately, dystopias remind readers that literature has a deep purpose in holding a mirror up to society. I hope you’ll try one (or more) of these Ray Bradbury short stories and get your students thinking, analyzing, and discussing real-world concepts!