Fermilab LInC Online

English Survivor



Impending Doom. . . . How do we make decisions? Why do we react in a certain way in a given situation? What really influences how we behave in a crisis situation? Does experience with emergency situations and/or knowledge of emergency medical techniques influence one's reaction in a catastrophe? Students and teachers join in examining how they would react given a sudden impending cataclysmic event. Thirty-two students share common English, world history, and science teachers. Teachers and students create an interdisciplinary study during this ten week unit. Conversations in one class are encouraged to continue in the next one. Students create a means of escaping the cataclysmic event and plan of self-government. English class directs attention to how people relate to transitions in life and what causes them to react in certain predictable ways to emergency situations. World history curricula examines past cataclysmic events and highlights how people survived in those times; develops contact with experts in survival techniques; and examines theories about mass extinction as well as speculates about future cataclysmic events and related survival strategies. Science instruction explores the Solar System; certifies students in CPR and/or First Aid; exposes students to emergency services such as ambulance and police ride-along programs; and explores the Internet for resources about survival.

Beginning/Getting Started

The project begins with a group discussion of the question "What would you do if you were involved in a surprise catastrophe?" Students brainstorm for 10 - 15 minutes about their reactions. The purpose of group discussion is to stimulate students' thinking and call up their prior knowledge, their schema, for survival. Journal writing follows on the same topic. Students enter their journal responses on-line at the computer lab. Subsequent journal entries focus on transitions initiated by the crises the protagonist experiences in the assigned novel. Through this journal writing, students focus on survival strategies as they read and reflect. They understand the protagonist's issues are the same issues they themselves will face in their survival project. Early in the process, to hook students into the task, the teacher reads key sections from the novel Tangerine, by Edward Bloor. Hearing the protagonist's struggle to survive creates pathos for his crisis in the students. In this section the protagonist faces a sudden catastrophe. This engages students because the protagonist, Paul Fisher, is an 8th grade student who is mature beyond his age. He is able to deal calmly and sensibly with other students who are trapped by a sinkhole, which swallows 20 portable classrooms. Miraculously and because of Paul's response, no one is killed or even injured. The protagonist emerges from his status as a loser to become the stoic hero. The teacher guides student response to the reading by listening to responses the students verbalize. Students are encouraged to share personal experiences in which they have been faced with sudden crises. For example, a crises could be no toilet paper in the girls' bathroom. Or it could be a fight on campus involving friends.

Middle/In Progress

The next four weeks are spent reading the novel in literature circles. Students are grouped into discussion pods where they explore the various themes of survival threaded throughout the novel. During this time students respond to the day's reading assignment (done for homework), noting the protagonist's reactions to various challenges within the plot. The teacher helps students determine their reading rate to determine how many pages they need to read per day to get through the novel. (294 pages equals roughly 15 pages per day to complete the novel in four weeks, 20 school days) Students record notes and quotes in their journals, as they did on day one. (beyond) When students complete the novel, they do internet research on literature of survival. The teacher will give them URLs to begin their action plan of finding survivors' stories. By reading about literature characters' survival they will glean ideas for forming their own survival plans, which ties in to the science and history projects. Their notes provide information for a persuasive essay in which they analyze the protagonists' responses to disaster. These essays examine whether survivors responded appropriately to the catastrophes.


A presentation, Crash & Burn, Learn & Live Demonstration, forms the core of the last two weeks in all three classrooms. Students create a diorama, PowerPoint presentation, and/or simulation game to: embody their knowledge of survival, show why government must find ways to assimilate those with different values and beliefs, and point-out exemplary decision-making processes in their model. A final assessment will require teams to face a new crisis situation where their previous learning experiences and expertise will be called upon. Cumulative student on-line journals will be examined for evidence of growth in their decision-making processes as well as to find out how they view what is important in a crisis situation.

Created for the Fermilab LInC program sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office and Friends of Fermilab, and funded by United States Department of Energy, Illinois State Board of Education, North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium which is operated by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), and the National Science Foundation.

Author(s): Linda Nelson, vhsivaloo@hotmail.com
School: Vallejo High School, Vallejo, Ca.
Created: April 4, 2001 - Updated: December 28, 2002
URL: http://www-ed.fnal.gov/lincon/w01/projects/survivor/englishscenario.html